Anyone making such statements stirs up resentment against our country

20.08.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Westerwelle in an interview on the situation in Europe and on developments in Syria.

Foreign Minister Westerwelle in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel newspaper on the situation in Europe and on developments in Syria (published on 19 August 2012)


Mr Westerwelle, what do our European neighbours think about Germany?

We have arrived atan important moment for Germany in the course of Europe’s history. The image of Germany’s relationship with Europe that is being created right now will remain with us over the next few years. That is why I am very unhappy about what a number of German politicians have said in recent months. It seems to me our European neighbours are being intentionally maligned, for the sole purpose of causing a stir here at home.

Do you mean the CSU Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder, who wants to expel Greece from the eurozone and is saying that “an example must be made of Athens”?

Such faux pas are ideal means for spreading the false cliché of the ugly German. Anyone making such statements stirs up resentment against our country. Hearing something like that makes me shudder.

Hans-Dietrich Genscher says the debate about the euro is striking “neo-nationalist chords”. Do you agree?

I, too, am seriously concerned about this. In other countries people do not notice that it’s only a few individuals who are prating on about this, and that they are so obviously motivated by party politics. Do not get me wrong: Of course we consistently support the German position. But what I’m concerned about is the tone of voice. If we aim to impress upon our partners the importance of budgetary discipline, economic growth and reforms, then we must treat each other with respect. The days when the people of Europe held only clichés about, and prejudices against, one another, should be over and done with. Germany is a strong country that is a focus of attention not only in Europe. With this comes special responsibility. Anyone who speaks of using the big stick of renationalization must also be aware that it would become a boomerang, diminishing prosperity and threatening jobs. We have no raw materials. Germany runs on ideas, and thrives thanks to its international networks.

The Economics Minister says that, for him, Greece leaving the euro is no longer something to fear.

It is unfair to draw the Minister of Economics into this. Philipp Rösler has pointed out that Greece must implement its agreed reforms. He is absolutely right to say so. I would wish – especially considering the complexity of the work that lies ahead – that we conduct the necessary debate based on diversified points of view. It is my impression that in Germany much discussion is focused on the price of this crisis, with far too little attention being paid to the value of Europe. That must change.

This week, the Greek Prime Minister will be visiting Berlin. Should the Greek government be given more time to carry out the reforms?

Let us await the Troika report on the state of reform efforts in Greece. What is clear to us is that there must not be any watering-down of the reforms in terms of substance. How can the Spanish Prime Minister implement his decisive reform efforts at home if we abandon agreements elsewhere? That would not be in Europe’s best interest. What is more, it would also not be in Greece’s best interest. I would ask that the Greek government take Germany’s position very seriously. I seriously hope the eurozone will remain intact. The key to Greece’s future – both in the eurozone and in Europe – is in Athens.

Could you imagine a eurozone without Greece?

I do not engage in such speculation. On the contrary: The people in Greece are not to blame for the fact that in recent years Greek officials disregarded their responsibilities. Numbers were manipulated, and false statistics were presented. That is why I feel solidarity for the people in Greece, and why I feel sympathy for what they are going through right now. That said, there is no alternative to the reforms.

The alternative would be a Greek exit.

It is the Federal Government’s aim to keep the eurozone intact. I certainly hope no one believes that fraying of the eurozone would not bring with it substantial economic risks.

You argue for deeper European integration. Why would this help fight the crisis?

Because decisions in Europe were often not taken with sufficient speed, efficiency and transparency. Although we have a monetary union, we do not yet have a true political union. I regret that it has so far not been possible to create a European constitution. I want a Europe of home countries. If you look at all of the wonderful European diversity, there is a shared European spirit, a European “way of life”. I hope we will one day be able to relaunch the project of adopting a European constitution – and that Europeans will be able to have a referendum.

Yet more integration means giving up sovereign rights.

The citizens know that the debt crisis would not have been so severe had there been greater access to, and transparency of, national budgets, and had those states that are now experiencing problems changed course more quickly. I think that in Germany a clear majority would vote in favour of a convincing European constitution. This is not about creating a European “super state” or even remotely about giving up our constitution. The aim is for Europe and nation-states to readjust and rationally divide up responsibilities, within the framework of a European constitution that is even more firmly rooted in democracy.

How can youendorse a common budget policy for Europe while at the same time ruling out joint and several liability for debts?

Considering it has been more than 60 years since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Länder have still not assumed joint and several liability for their debts. Joint and several liability for debts through eurobonds would mean that one country, for example Germany, would bear responsibility for the debt of all other countries, that is, for all of Europe. This would be a very big design flaw. It would overburden even a strong country such as Germany. (…)


Minister, moving on to another issue, how long will the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad cling to power?

We are witnessing how the erosion of his dictatorship has reached his innermost circle. This became clear at the very latest when the Syrian Prime Minister spectacularly decided to join the opposition.

Is there a danger that the conflict may further escalate, also following the toppling of the dictator?

The longerAssad is able to pursue his policy of violence, the greater the danger that the bloodshed will continue after he falls from power. That is why it would be very significant if Russia and China would now finally withdraw the protective hand they are holding over Assad.

The US and Turkey are talking about establishing a no-fly zone in Syria. Would Germany participate in enforcing such a zone?

I advise strong prudence. There is a great danger that what we are witnessing in Syria could engulf the entire region. Turkey’s interests are being severely threatened, both by the refugees and by the support Syria provides to the PKK. A militarily-protected zone is being discussed.

How great is the danger of Germany being drawn into a war if there are conflicts along the border between Turkey and Syria?

So far, Turkey has acted prudently and responsibly. And it has done so even though it must provide aid to many thousands of refugees on its territory and despite having to deal with the downing of a Turkish aircraft. But our focus is not only on Turkey. The large number of refugees is causing great problems for Jordan. I am deeply concerned that the violence in Syria could spill over into Lebanon and rekindle the civil war in that country.

Reproduced by kind permission of Der Tagesspiegel. Questions asked by Hans Monath and Antje Sirleschtov.

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