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Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to start by addressing a few remarks to the Social Democratic parliamentary group. I am aware that you have been going through a serious process of consideration – not just this week, but ever since the debates we had at the beginning of the year about the Afghanistan mandate as a whole. I make no secret of the fact that my aim ever since the start of the year – not least when we tabled the motion for this mandate in the Bundestag – has been to get the broadest possible majority for the Afghanistan mandate. I don’t think that’s unrealistic, it’s right.
It’s my belief that the broader the majority is in the Bundestag for the involvement of the women and men of the Federal Armed Forces in Afghanistan, the more support they are getting from politicians. That is appropriate, necessary and also right. We should never forget that this mission began under very different political circumstances. We have now arrived at a joint realistic prospect for withdrawal, having worked together responsibly.
I would like to make another comment, if I may, because I attach such great importance to the procedures in this House, in the Bundestag. It’s not as if you weren’t involved in the discussions. The Minister of Defence tried to talk to the opposition parliamentary groups this week. He contacted the opposition parties’ working groups responsible for security issues. He held talks with the leadership of the parliamentary groups. And of course prior to the decision in New York I myself outlined my views and leanings not only in my policy statement last Wednesday, but also in confidential talks with each of the leaders of the parliamentary groups. To say that Parliament was not involved in such an important decision is, I believe, inappropriate. It is, rather, a bit of a fuss designed with Sunday’s elections in mind. But it is not appropriate.
I still remember what it was like when we were in opposition. Once in government, we resolved to talk with the opposition, to discuss issues like this, to exchange views. Not once in all my years in opposition did I see you doing that.
A third comment. It’s surprising that the opposition speakers said four times that this all had something to do with the Landtag elections on Sunday. They say the matter shouldn’t have been brought up here in the Bundestag before Sunday’s elections. Well let me put this to my colleague Mr Steinmeier: if you say that the Bundestag shouldn’t have to deal with this kind of thing in such a hurry just three days before the regional elections on Sunday, then I have to say that you haven’t noticed what’s going on in the world just now. I can’t leave decisions like this to wait until after Sunday’s elections if decisions have to be taken at international level.
I want to state quite clearly that the AWACS decision is the correct one; but it is also right from the point of view of the alliance. The two aspects are interlinked. The decision is correct because air traffic over Afghanistan must be regulated, controlled and monitored. This applies to both military and civil air traffic. But the decision was also necessary in terms of alliance policy.
We have decided that we are not sending any German soldiers to fight in Libya. Because we have taken this decision, we must therefore correspondingly step down our commitment in the AWACS context. Anything else would be unconstitutional. But that would mean that the AWACS planes could not fly off Libya, because our personnel are needed. They are to be replaced by personnel currently in Afghanistan. We won’t send German soldiers to take part in a military operation in Libya. But that does not mean that we are putting our allies in Libya in danger. Of course we do not want to suggest that we are neutral. We will ease the burden on our allies, even if we will not ourselves participate in military action in Libya. That is a sensible policy for the alliance.
The penultimate comment I wish to make concerns the question of ceilings. It is wrong to give the impression that the Afghanistan mandate passed at the beginning of the year has been changed. That simply is not the case. We are retaining the ceiling. No additional contingents of soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan. The mandate approved by the Bundestag remains unchanged. In our view, this is right and necessary. But naturally we will do our part in Afghanistan to help ensure that this very necessary AWACS mission is successful.
All in all, we are very concerned about how things are going to develop. I can only warn us all not to start a debate about this now, about how things are to continue, in other countries too. We have taken a responsible decision after much reflection. We are also committed to civilian sanctions. The Federal Government, and in particular the Federal Chancellor, scored a great success at the meeting of EU Heads of State and Government yesterday in getting a decision to extend sanctions, including those that affect oil exports. That is a good policy, and it should have the support of this great House.
Thank you for your attention.