“The grand idea of Europe is in danger”

21.06.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle calls for solidarity within the EU in the face of the debt crisis. He also warns of over-burdening Germany.

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle calls for solidarity within the EU in the face of the debt crisis. He also warns of over-burdening Germany. Published in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on 21 June 2012.


Antonis Samaras now heads Greece’s new government. People breathed a sigh of relief when the parliamentary election results were announced. But isn’t it much too soon to give the all clear?

I was relieved by the Greek election results. Greece has been given a second chance. But our work is not yet done. We must continue to cooperate in order to bring the crisis to an end.

On the evening of the elections, you seemed to suggest that the timetable for reforms could perhaps be changed. But the head of the CDU parliamentary party Volker Kauder insisted that all agreements must be upheld to the letter and called on the Greeks to implement reforms and austerity targets even more quickly. Which is it to be?

There can be no concessions on the substance of the reform agreements. The reform programme must be implemented, with no exceptions. It is therefore a very positive sign that the Greeks have elected a parliamentary majority that campaigned on a pro-European reform platform. The troika will not take long to assess the situation for itself. It is obvious that valuable time has been lost in the past months while two elections have been fought. But this is the situation we have to deal with. By the way, the implementation of the reforms in Greece is an issue of great significance for Europe, which should not be made the subject of party politicking here in Germany. Safeguarding the future of Europe is a fundamental German concern. We must all work together wholeheartedly to this end.

The row between the Government and opposition over approving the permanent European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the European fiscal compact continues. Can we look forward to a breakthrough in the negotiations today?

States that have taken on too much debt now have to sort themselves out. Germany’s stance will be more credible if it leads by example. I hope that the party and parliamentary party leaders will today reach an agreement in principle with the Government on the fiscal compact. And I trust that the opposition will be public spirited enough to shoulder its responsibility for Europe. The German Government will of course push for a financial market tax in Europe, as we agreed. We keep our promises.

The calls for Germany to do more to help solve the euro crisis are becoming ever louder.

Even German shoulders are only so wide and so strong. Too little solidarity could cause Europe to collapse, but so could too much. Germany is helping the other countries in an exemplary manner. We can be grateful that the German taxpayers are still backing this policy of support for Europe. We have invested a lot, but it is in our own interest to do so. If we don’t help now, the price-tag will be a multiple of today’s guarantees. Debt “communitarization” is the wrong path to go down. If we had not stuck to our strategy we would never have been able to impose budgetary discipline and persuade others not to keep on increasing their debts. That is no small achievement. Unfortunately, many people out there keep on recklessly questioning the survival of Europe and the euro.

You would like there to be a directly elected European president, a European army and a political union. Is more Europe really the right answer to the debt crisis?

It is the worst crisis that Europe has ever faced. We have to learn the right lessons from it. Decision-making in Europe is often too slow. There are too many dissynergies, and competences are not always clearly defined. Unfortunately, a cold wind of repatriation is sweeping through the European Union. The grand idea of Europe is in danger. But the truth is that we need more Europe, not less. Europe must stand up for itself, for the idea of cultural unity. Steps towards a genuine political union would make a tangible contribution to ending the crisis.

CSU leader Horst Seehofer wants to give the Germans the right to vote in a referendum on additional billions for the euro rescue mechanism. Why not?

Years ago I called for more direct democracy on fundamental issues. But with no success. At present, there is no constitutional basis for holding referendums.

The Federal Constitutional Court has held that the Bundestag must be more closely involved in decisions on saving the euro. Is legislation needed?

The Government will give effect to the ruling with all due care and without delay. From my point of view as Foreign Minister, it is important that we have as much support in the Bundestag as possible on European policy issues. To that end MPs must be informed of the issues in good time and all parliamentary parties properly consulted.

To change the subject, the carnage in Syria continues, without a peaceful solution even being remotely in sight. What needs to happen now?

The situation in Syria is still appalling. Working on a viable political solution remains the best option, in spite of all the many obstacles. We support the efforts of UN Special Envoy Kofi Annan. The next step is to link the peace plan to non-military sanctions. That’s what we are pushing for at the United Nations.

Questions: Andreas Herholz and Rasmus Buchsteiner. Reprint with the kind permission of the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

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