Mr Westerwelle, for how many years can accession negotiations go on?
That depends on how they progress. The rate of progress of internal reform also sets the pace of accession negotiations, as Turkey knows.
Only 40 percent of Turks still want to join the European Union, compared with 74 percent five years ago. Should this trend be cause for scepticism among the EU countries, too?
It’s definitely a trend that we need to pay close attention to, since it’s also in our interest for Turkey not to turn away but rather to continue to look in the direction of Europe. Turkey is not only of great economic significance but is also highly significant politically and strategically. Turkey can build a bridge, for example, in regions where regional solutions to conflicts are needed. That’s why it’s such a welcome development when, for example, Turkey joins in politically with solving problems in the Middle East.
Turkey is already doing this – let’s take the debate over Iran’s nuclear programme, for example. Turkey is already playing a part there. Talks are planned to resume next week in Turkey.
What role does Turkey play here?
Turkey is a country that has – above all in the past ten years – developed economically in a tremendously positive way. Turkey has been our equal at the economic negotiating table for quite a while, and this is of course attended by an increasing strategic interest and significance. That’s why it’s so important to make use of the opportunities Turkey offers. Turkey is engaged with Afghanistan, it’s engaged with dissuading Iran from pursuing a programme that could lead to acquisition of nuclear weapons. This merits praise and should, in my opinion, be a part of this discussion.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel nonetheless offers only a strategic partnership?
If the decision had to be made today, the European Union would not be prepared to offer Turkey accession, and Turkey wouldn’t be prepared to accede. But it isn’t a matter of deciding today, and Turkey also doesn’t expect to be promised something that can’t be fulfilled. It’s a matter of treating Turkey fairly. This is something that can reasonably be expected of all parties. When you’ve entered into contractual negotiations, you need to carry them out fairly, respectfully, as equal partners, and you also have to offer criticism where there hasn’t yet been adequate progress – for example, in terms of women’s rights, in terms of rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and especially freedom of religion. But the progress that has been made also needs to be recognized – for example, domestic reform efforts such as constitutional reform. This, along with progress in the economic realm, is something that deserves recognition
You say that economics and politics go hand in hand, and that both play an important role. This is also the case when we look at something much nearer at hand than Turkey’s possible EU accession, that is, the G20 meeting which begins tomorrow in Seoul. Economics and politics will play a role there, too, especially in the debates between China, the USA and Europe. What sorts of negotiations do you expect there?
I hope the negotiations will be successful, but it’s actually quite interesting that you mention this in the interview on Turkey, given that Turkey has been present at the G20 for a long time. While my generation grew up with the G7 or G8, that is, with a small number of truly leading countries, now we have 20 countries sitting at that table and negotiating with each other. Some of them are countries that we still defined as classic developing nations 10 or 20 years ago. This shows that the architecture of the world is changing and it also shows that the countries of the so-called West can’t be satisfied just to talk amongst themselves, but rather need to come to terms with important new players in international politics, with two obvious examples being China and India. That’s why monetary policy is highly significant not only for everyone sitting there at the table, but also for the global economy as a whole. Monetary policy has to be fair. We can’t allow future subsidies to cause difficulties for other countries in the interest of giving our own economy a very short-term boost, which is usually just a flash in the pan anyway.
But what are the limits to the compromises we should make? China is in many regards much, much further removed from our European cultural context than Turkey or other countries – and China has become one of the most important, if not the most important player internationally. At the same time China is a country where, for example, a warning is issued against participation in the Nobel Prize ceremony. How do we reconcile that? How far can we go politically in the face of such major differences of opinion?
One has to stand by one’s values clearly here, and must not allow oneself to be swayed from them. I myself have always addressed the human rights situation as well as freedom of opinion and freedom of the press in my discussions with the Chinese Government. But we still need to engage with one another, because if you want to bring about change for the benefit of the citizens, the only way to act is to also focus on economic exchange. But to return to the G20, these debates also have to deal with the news from the United States of America, the matter of monetary policy, that enormous amounts of new money are, in a manner of speaking, being thrown onto the market. What I cannot allow to stand is this discussion that says the German economy remains too strong, that it’s too dominant in the global export economy. If German products are good, if they are competitive around the world, that’s not something that should be held against us, it’s something that deserves praise. And other countries could take it as an occasion to reorient themselves such that their own products would be more sought-after in the global economy.