Interview: Foreign Minister Westerwelle on the situation in North Africa and the refugees from the region (Welt)

16.02.2011 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in an interview with the Welt newspaper on support for democratic and economic development in North Africa and on dealing with refugees from the region.The questions were put by Jens Meyer-Wellmann.


Minister, how should the EU deal with the North African refugees landing in Italy?Should Germany shoulder some of the responsibility?

First and foremost, we should help make conditions in North African countries better, for example by way of investments by the business community and by opening our markets.

Opening markets, what does that actually mean and how quickly can that happen?

We now have to discuss that with our partners in the European Union. The peaceful revolution in Tunisia was successful. However, people have to see the fruits of freedom soon and to be able to take advantage of them. The demonstrators didn’t only take to the streets for democracy but also for work and future prospects.

Should Germany take in refugees – or help Italy?

What matters is that we work together to improve conditions in the countries from where the refugees come. Incidentally, Italy has already approached the European authorities and the European External Borders Agency FRONTEX has pledged concrete assistance.

How should Europe react should a considerably larger number of refugees come?

Naturally, Europe must safeguard its borders. However, it’s even more important to take preventive measures. If people see they are needed in their own countries, and if they also see opportunities there, then that’s the best way to combat migratory pressure. Therefore, we now have to take decisive action so that conditions in Tunisia can be improved quickly. During my recent visit, we discussed a whole package of measures which are intended to help ensure that Tunisia can again look to the future with confidence.

Is this also meant to be an appeal to German business to become more involved in Tunisia?

Around 270 German companies are already active in Tunisia today. I was accompanied to Tunisia by State Secretary Ernst Burgbacher from the Economics Ministry and we agreed to approach German business and encourage it to invest more in Tunisia. There’s no point in waiting for an invitation. This is a phase of transition when new opportunities arise. Our business community should take advantage of that, for example in the energy sector.

How do you think the situation in Egypt and in other Arab countries will develop?

The Egyptians have a great opportunity for genuine democratic change. The spark of freedom is not only to be found in Tunisia and Egypt but also other countries in the Arab world and in North Africa. We as democrats stand on the side of democrats. However, these countries have only advanced a few metres along the path to democracy. It’s important that the democratic forces persevere and that there is no return to autocratic structures or that religious fundamentalists don’t come to power in the wake of the freedom movement.

What can we do to influence developments positively?

There are a whole host of measures: we want to strengthen civil society in these countries. Our political foundations have an important role to play in this. We also want to provide help in the education sector and with academic exchange. We want to support the development of the freedom to express different opinions with training programmes for journalists, and we also want to support the development of the rule of law. In addition, the economy in the Arab world has to be stimulated and promoted – through investments and the elimination of trade barriers.

Were Western governments wrong to support ex-President Mubarak over many decades?

We did address human rights, indeed I did that during my very first visit to Egypt. And it’s a historical truth that Egypt was the first country to enter into a peace agreement with Israel. And, of course, all Governments in the West acknowledged Egypt’s constructive role in the Middle East peace process. We’re also concerned about the security of our friend and partner Israel. Therefore, the current change in Egypt must foster peace both at home and in the region.

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