You’ve decided to keep Germany entirely out of the NATO war against the Libyan regime.Do you think this decision has strengthened or rather weakened Germany’s position in the alliance?
Our NATO partners have respect for our decision not to send Bundeswehr combat troops to Libya. Outside of the alliance too, our culture of military restraint and preference for political solutions is held in high regard. Our decision was the right one.
Are we still militarily the most significant European member of NATO?
Germany is recognized for using military intervention only as means of last resort. And it appears not to be the case that political solutions always take longer than military interventions.
You are working on behalf of peace in the Balkans.Former Foreign Minister Genscher played a decisive role there 20 years ago.Do you see your work as following in his footsteps?
I’m continuing this work. There must not be war in Europe in the 21st century. We have worked hard to help Croatia fulfil the requirements for EU accession. Our engagement is valued. We’re trusted, and we can build on this trust.
But a lot of Germans also feel overwhelmed by the constant expansion of the EU …
Croatia is a good example of the attraction that the European Union continues to exert. We all benefit when countries like Croatia fulfil the requirements for accession. The country is on a good track economically; it’s a part of Europe and it belongs in the EU. We want Europe to grow even closer together. Europe has always made major steps forward in times of crisis. Europe is our future. I hope to experience the United States of Europe firsthand someday. This has nothing to do with giving up national identities.
What makes the political unity of Europe so important?
A united Europe guarantees our prosperity in the age of globalization. We’d be dangerously overestimating ourselves if we as Germans thought that we could maintain our prosperity without Europe. Whoever calls Europe into question is undermining prosperity and jobs in Germany. The European internal market is vital to us. We export more products to Belgium and the Netherlands than to China. We can only compete effectively with the world’s new centres of power as a Europe that stands united and seeks new opportunities – for example, through partnership with Russia.
Despite all the current crises?
These crises are rooted not in too much Europe, but in too little. What I mean by this is that we have a single currency but we don’t coordinate our policy enough – for instance, when it comes to consolidating public finances or building competitive strength. European unification is a monumental achievement. The European dream of peace, freedom and prosperity was born of the horrors of the Second World War. Today, with the debt crisis, Europe is being tested. We need to ensure that we Europeans tackle these massive challenges together. Now it’s about developing a stability union. We’re making progress with this. There will also be differentiated cooperation – that is to say, the possibility of closer cooperation among certain member states. Nobody will be excluded. But at the same time nobody should limit those member states which want to progress towards greater competitive strength, cooperation and coordination.
Palestinian organizations are planning to apply to the UN for recognition as an independent state without any further negotiations with Israel.What is Germany’s stance on this?
We seek a two-state solution, which can only be attained through negotiations. Israel needs to be able to live in freedom from the fear of missile attacks and terrorism, while the Palestinians should have their own viable, autonomous, democratic and peaceful state. We’re currently talking about this with both sides as well as with our European partners, the USA and Russia. President Obama’s speech offers a good foundation for a common position for the international community.
Obama calls for an acceptable solution that follows the 1967 borders. He won’t agree to a unilaterally declared Palestine.What will you do then?
It hasn’t even been applied for yet. When the time comes we will make a decision about how we’re going to vote.
What are your intentions for the next two years?
Since becoming Foreign Minister I’ve been following three tenets of foreign policy, and these will also remain my areas of focus in future. The first is Europe growing closer together. Europe especially needs friends in these times of crisis when it is being called into question. Secondly, I’m interested in a broad-ranging peace policy, from conflict resolution to disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. We cannot rest until we have brought an end to the danger that terrorists or irrational national leaders will gain access to nuclear weapons. Thirdly, I would like to develop new strategic partnerships with the world’s new centres of power so that we as an export nation are a winner and not a loser in the new global political architecture.
Ten years after the attacks of 11 September, how do you see the future?
We are undoubtedly on the threshold of a new world order. Alongside troubles I also see optimistic developments. The fact that the Arab Spring witnessed people taking to the streets for the same values that underlie the concept of Europe is an encouraging result of globalization. This story remains unfinished. We want to shape it in a way that strengthens peace, freedom, democracy and prosperity.
Minister, thank you for your time.
Interview by Gunnar Schupelius, reproduced with the kind permission of Focus magazine.