Federal Minister Westerwelle talks about the stability of the euro and the situation in Libya. This interview was published in the Straubinger Tagblatt on 9 March 2011.
The European Union is still wrestling with the effects of the economic crisis.Should we be worried about the euro?
Certainly not. The euro is stable. What we do need to do, however, is really get to grips with the things that caused the crisis. The first is that too much debt built up in too many countries in a short time. We therefore need to see to it that we get back to sound budgetary policy. Secondly, we need to make the EU member states more competitive. That is why we want the EU to enter into a pact on competitiveness. This would involve, for instance, prioritizing investment in education, research and training rather than consumption expenditure. I am also thinking of member states’ social security systems. In Germany, we have with regret raised the pension age to 67. It therefore cannot be possible that other countries want to keep theirs at 59 or 60 and have the Germans even finance it.
The Governments in North Africa are reeling.How surprising did you find these rapid developments?
Their speed was surprising, but the freedom movement per se was not. I have known Tunisia and Egypt, and other Maghreb states, for a long time. It was tangibly obvious that people, particularly the young, were extremely discontent. You could see it in the lack of opportunities to achieve their potential which many others around the world enjoy, and you could hear it in their own absolutely justified calls for new opportunities. In the Jasmine Revolution, people in Tunis took to the streets not only for more democracy but also for better living conditions and more jobs. What will be the key issue here is that people soon realize that freedom brings economic opportunity and therefore better standards of living.
What developments do you expect this region on the EU’s borders to undergo now?
The first few steps have been successfully taken along what is a difficult road. We know from our own experience in Germany and Eastern and Central Europe that a lot of stamina is needed to ensure the lasting victory of liberal values – and that setbacks will need to be faced. We are supporting Tunisia and Egypt in enabling democratic development by strengthening civil society and in improving young people’s economic opportunities through trade and investment. My response to the many pictures of refugees we are seeing is this: the best way to prevent floods of refugees is to make sure that people have a good chance of carving out futures for themselves in their own countries. Our interests as a major exporter speak for this course of action. The new middle classes in North Africa could become Germany’s next great business partners.
What can the European Union do to prevent civil war in Libya and get rid of ruler Muammar Gaddafi?
A dictator who wages war on his own people has reached the end of the line. There is therefore only one thing for the international community to say: the dictator has to go. We are doing our bit in imposing targeted sanctions such as freezing assets and issuing travel bans. I do not think this will be enough; we need further sanctions to stop the money that is flowing into Libya and so prevent it falling into the hands of the dictator or his family who are committing acts of violence against their own people.
Why are you against the no-fly zone which is currently being discussed for Libya?
That is an option we need to be examining – as I said very early on. However, a no-fly zone is more easily announced than enforced. For example, Libya has an air-defence system which would first need to be neutralized. Careful consideration of the risks is required. In particular, it is absolutely necessary that all measures which go beyond the targeted sanctions be mandated by the United Nations and carried out with the agreement of the Arab League, meaning the other Arab nations. We do not want to start down a slippery slope towards German participation in military conflict.
What are your goals for Friday’s EU Summit on Libya?
The other Foreign Ministers of the EU and I are going to meet tomorrow to discuss the issues and draw up a declaration for the summit on the following day. Discussion will cover sanctions but also humanitarian aid. Germany, for example, helped Egyptian refugees who had fled from Libya into Tunisia return to their families in Egypt. We will also discuss the long-term prospects for stabilization and development. After all, the emerging middle classes in North Africa present a great opportunity in which our own economy can have a part.
With Israel in mind, are you afraid that Islamicization and destabilization may be on the cards?
So far, it is clear that Islamicization does not have any great part in the developments underway in Tunisia and Egypt. Nonetheless, we need to exercise constant vigilance. We do not want this freedom movement to end up as a stepladder to power for religious extremists or new autocrats.
This interview was conducted by Gerald Schneider and reproduced with kind permission of the Straubinger Tagblatt.