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“We’re working to keep the eurozone together”

23.08.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Westerwelle speaks to the Ostsee-Zeitung about the European debt crisis and the situation in Syria.Published on 23 August 2012

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Foreign Minister, how much of your holiday was really time to relax? How often did global politics come knocking at your door?

Well, it was a nice change to be able to hold important phone conversations outside under a tree rather than in the office. The world has serious problems, and crises don’t take summer holidays.

So no holiday from the euro crisis or Syria?

The debt crisis in Europe is indeed a major challenge for us these days. We’re working on combating the causes of the debt crisis through budgetary discipline, growth policies, and of course solidarity with our EU partners. However, we categorically reject holding Germany jointly and severally liable for the sovereign debts of Europe, as the German opposition has suggested.

There’s a perception that Angela Merkel, not the Foreign Minister, is the number one manager of this crisis.Are you too just toeing the Chancellor’s line, as Chancellor Kohl’s former advisor Gertrud Höhler has claimed?

The German Government works as a team. Naturally, the summit meetings of presidents and heads of government are highly visible. But the Federal Foreign Office played a major role in working out the tenets of our crisis strategy.

Is it true that Europe fails if the euro fails?

Europe is currently going through a defining phase of historic significance. Europe’s image in the world is at stake: will we remain a forward-looking continent which can act effectively or do we want to rest on the laurels of our history and prosperity? Beyond this, it’s also a matter of how Europe is perceived by its own citizens: will Europe’s institutions prove their worth domestically in the crisis? And finally, the image of Germany which is currently being shaped will linger in Europe and the rest of the world for years to come. That is why I’m urging us not to destroy the understanding and respect we’ve spent decades building up in Europe by speaking too hastily and carelessly.

Philipp Rösler is a close second to Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder in the competition for biggest advocate of kicking Greece out of the eurozone.What are the limits of politically responsible behaviour here?

It’s unfair of you to equate Philipp Rösler with what the Bavarian Finance Minister has said. I too am in favour of taking a clear stance. Greece needs to know that we want to help, but that there can’t be any substantial deviations from the agreed reforms. But it’s not only what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s hurtful and completely uncalled for to say things like Greece should be made an example of.

Many fear that billions of euros in assistance are being dumped into a bottomless pit.Shouldn’t Greece leave the eurozone?

We’re working to keep the eurozone together. Athens holds the key. I can only caution those who are ready to write off Greece that pursuing this path would pose serious risks – for Germany too. That’s why it’s important to wait for the troika report before making a decision.

Brutal cuts are, however, just a path towards even deeper recession.At what point does budgetary discipline become absurd?

There is no such thing as sustainable growth through new debt. This strategy has failed utterly and is what led us into the crisis in the first place. The opposition is wrong in thinking that making it easier to incur debt is a way of combating the crisis.

But your fellow FDP member Wolfgang Kubicki isn’t the only one calling for a banking license for the ESM.How is that anything other than incurring debt?

I’m aware of this proposal, and I’m also aware of the serious arguments against it. I’m opposed to Germany assuming joint and several liability for Europe’s debts. Putting excessive strain on Germany doesn’t help Europe. The current crisis is evidence in support of the old principle we liberals have always adhered to: you can only spend what you’ve earned. We need to stop straining the capacity of the state and incurring debts. I urge my party to make this a key plank in our campaign platform.

To change the subject,US President Barack Obama warns that the Assad regime will be crossing the line if it uses chemical weapons.Does that mean the West will attack Assad militarily if he uses chemical weapons?

Germany is not going to get into any speculation about possible military scenarios. As difficult as it is, we’re working to end the violence and find a political solution, and we want to further isolate the Assad regime, economically as well as politically. US President Obama is right to make clear that the use of chemical weapons would cross a serious boundary. I can only urgently caution all the forces in Syria, and especially the regime, against playing with fire here. This could have unforeseeable consequences for the entire region. It’s evident that the regime’s inner circle has begun to erode. I’m counting on the Syrian opposition to follow those voices which seek a democratic and pluralistic Syria.

Assad might use chemical weapons as a response to being backed into a corner.Shouldn’t he be allowed to leave the country with impunity?

Assad should face trial before an international court. But if having Assad flee the country and go into exile were to make it possible to end the violence, then punishing him wouldn’t be my number one priority.

Russia and China keep blocking stronger resolutions and sanctions against Syria.

We will not give up on our work in the United Nations, because if we did so we’d be giving up on the Syrian people. Russia and China are called upon to stop backing the Assad regime.

Is the strategic partnership with Russia in jeopardy?

It would be a mistake to reduce this partnership to economic matters. It’s also about a dialogue on the rule of law, it’s also about artistic freedom. We spoke out about the disproportionate sentence imposed on the group Pussy Riot, because we in Europe are a community of shared values. But I don’t think it’s ever advisable to consider closing off channels of discussion with Russia.

Don’t German spy boats off the Syrian coast further the conflict?

Military details are a matter for the Defence Minister to address. But it makes sense for the German Government to gain its own picture of the situation with the conflict in Syria.

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Reproduced with the kind permission of the Ostsee-Zeitung. Interview conducted by

Joachim Riecker and Reinhard Zweigler

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