Minister, today and tomorrow you will be visiting Turkey. Is the country going to join the EU?
If a decision had to be reached today, Turkey would not be ready to accede, neither would the European Union be ready to accept the country into its fold. Nonetheless, we are very keen to see Turkey moving in a European direction. I would like to see Turkey on Europe’s side. Not only for economic reasons. The country can lend very constructive support in the search for solutions to many conflicts – whether it be Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen or the Middle East.
Should there be a referendum on Turkish accession to the EU?
We shouldn’t be speculating now about things that won’t be on the agenda for some years. Of over thirty chapters in the negotiations, over half are currently blocked. Anyone who gives the impression that accession is just round the corner has got it completely wrong. In reality it is important not to offend Turkish people, nor give the impression that we’re not interested in them.
Does the Turkish Government need to persuade Turkish people in Germany to integrate themselves more into German society?
Prime Minister Erdogan has called on immigrants with Turkish roots to learn the German language. I support that. Integration and acquiring the German language are the keys to success in our society.
Afghanistan is the most difficult area of Germany’s foreign policy. When will the last German soldier return home from Afghanistan?
Afghan forces are expected to assume responsibility for security in the first few provinces in 2011. Once the necessary conditions have been fulfilled, we can start winding down the Bundeswehr presence. It is expected that responsibility for the security of the whole country will be handed over to Afghanistan in 2014.
Will all German troops then withdraw?
No. Setting a date to hand over responsibility for security is not the same as setting a date for withdrawal. We don’t want our mission in Afghanistan to go on for ever, but our support must continue once we have handed over responsibility, in terms of both troops and civilian reconstruction. We must prevent Afghanistan becoming again a training ground for terrorists who then launch attacks here in Germany and Europe just because we want to live in freedom.
Can the Taliban be a partner in the negotiations?
The process of reconciliation is a matter for the Afghans themselves, but there must be limits. The freedom and constitutional rights that have been achieved, for example for women, must not be sacrificed.