Mr Westerwelle, Switzerland has bowed to EU pressure and lifted its visa restrictions on Libya. You played a leading role in these negotiations. How did you bring about this outcome?
The German Government is keen to do what it can to help resolve the conflict between Switzerland and Libya. At Switzerland’s request I, too, have held talks. Of course we have respected the decisions Switzerland has taken over the past months, as is its sovereign right. In the same way we respect its most recent decision.
As a Schengen area country Switzerland acted within its rights in denying 180 Libyans entry to the Schengen area. Why was it pressed to lift the visa restrictions?
Switzerland has taken a further step towards solving the problem. The ball’s now in Libya’s court. We want to see the lifting of the disproportional visa restrictions on European Union nationals followed now by the release of Max Göldi.
But that’s something Libya has not conceded as yet. How will you prevent Switzerland being left empty-handed?
What we expect from Libya is clear: the release of its hostage, Göldi must be set free immediately.
The European Union is now in crisis because of the parlous state of some of its members’ finances. Is the euro something that simply cannot work?
An integrated Europe is a response to globalization and the emergence of major new markets in Latin America, India and China. We’ve created a huge internal market, one effect of which has been that the financial crisis has hit us less hard than we originally anticipated. Our internal market and single currency have brought us stability.
The English economic historian Niall Ferguson takes a different view. A week ago he told our newspaper the death knell has sounded for the euro. In future countries would go back to their own national currencies.
As a horseman myself, I say we should leave the horses of the Apocalypse out of it. Since I first became interested in politics I don’t know how many times Europe was said to be on its deathbed. Any fair-minded person can see that Europe is a model for cooperation. It has not only brought us peace but also safeguarded our prosperity in difficult times, for the benefit of all its members.
But the euro has become an unstable, weak currency.
That’s not the way I see it. People always forget of course what things were like before we had the euro. Can they no longer remember how exchange rates fluctuated and what a problem this was not only for export-oriented countries? The euro is strong and will remain strong. The euro is a success story, on that I have not a shadow of doubt.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed that it should be possible to exclude from the EU members which don’t stick to the fiscal rules. What you call a success story is perhaps not as successful as you think if such steps are now being considered.
The Chancellor has pointed out – and made clear this has nothing to do with the current debate on the situation in Greece – that it is important to reflect on how the monetary union can be made altogether more crisis-proof. Germany’s policy is very pro-Europe.
Other countries take a different view. France has criticized Germany for keeping wages excessively low. That produces a German trade surplus that is not good for Europe. In other words, you export too much and import too little.
We owe no one any apologies for our success. We see this rather as an incentive to others to join us in a healthy competition. One shouldn’t criticize anyone for good performance. The real question is what needs to be done to make Europe as a whole more competitive.
Europe fares well with a strong and successful Germany.
That’s not the case for European countries that can’t sell their products abroad because Germany's export industry is too strong.
If Germany was weaker and less successful, that would weaken Europe as a whole. If a train happens to have a powerful engine, you can’t hold that against the engine. Germany is also Europe’s biggest market for imports.
In Israel the situation is deteriorating. Do you see right now any prospect of a settlement?
If there is to be peace in the Middle East, a two-state solution is the only way to achieve it. And that’s why we support a policy aimed at bringing this about. That means Israel has the right to live in peace and security and the Palestinians have the right to govern themselves in their own state.
Like the whole international community, we are critical of any expansion of Israel settlement building. We call on all parties to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.
Can Germany assume a special role here?
Germany has a very close relationship with Israel. The reason has to do with our past, the darkest chapter of our history. But we have a special bond with Israel also because we share the same values. We’ll use our influence wherever we can.
In 2011 you want to start withdrawing German troops from Afghanistan. What makes you confident the situation will improve so quickly?
If we want to withdraw one day, then we have to do more and become more effective now. That’s why the German Government has developed a new concept and why we agreed at the London Conference on Afghanistan on a change in strategy. The new priorities are civilian reconstruction and training for Afghanistan’s own security forces. Our aim is to be able by the end of the year to hand over responsibility entirely to the Afghan authorities in a first batch of areas and next year for the first time to downsize our contingent. In this legislative term we want to map out a prospect for withdrawal, for we support President Karzai’s goal of taking over full responsibility for security by 2014.