“Our foreign policy is value-oriented” – Foreign Minister Westerwelle in “Interview der Woche” on Deutschlandfunk

02.09.2012 - Interview

In “Interview der Woche” on Deutschlandfunk, Federal Minister Guido Westerwelle talked about cooperation with China and developments in the eurozone. The questions were put by Stephan Detjen. The interview was posted on www.dradio.de and is available there in an audio version.


Deutschlandfunk: Minister, let me put a question to Guido Westerwelle, the Liberal. What is the future of a country which guarantees economic freedom but consistently fails to respect fundamental political freedoms, such as freedom of opinion, as well as the dignity and freedom of the individual?

Foreign Minister Westerwelle: In the long term, no society will be successful if it allows private property and a market economy to create wealth but denies people their civil rights. It’s therefore important that we look at these two elements together. We know from our own history that the principle of change through trade works, that’s to say that economic exchange brings with it ideas of freedom to a country, that growing prosperity comes with better education and education leads to enlightenment. And, as a rule, this makes society more open and freer than ever before.

DLF: Mr Westerwelle, we are conducting this interview in China – in Hong Kong, which, of course, now belongs to China. You’re on your way home from the Sino-German intergovernmental consultations, in which you took part along with six Cabinet colleagues, including Annette Schavan. In Beijing, you had talks with political leaders in an authoritarian one-party regime. Which politicians, what kind of politicians, sat opposite you?

I already knew the majority of the politicians I met there from previous talks. A change in leadership is taking place in China and it’s important to get to know not only those currently in power but also those who are likely to take over in future. And, of course, there are different schools of political thought and different directions in a country of this size, despite the one-party system in Communist China. Some politicians are more steeped in the old way of thinking, while others are more modern, have travelled and are aware of the success of free societies. And, of course, I hope that the latter will win the day.

You mentioned the change in leadership which is expected to take place in the coming weeks – at the next Communist party congress. According to observers, there has been an intense, in some cases brutal, struggle for power behind the scenes. Were you told there were such tensions within the leadership?

No, I believe that it has been like any change at the top in such systems. Naturally, there’s been quite a struggle behind the scenes. However, it isn’t visible to the outside world. We only really notice it in very rare cases, for example when something spectacular happens, such as the recent trial against the wife of a senior party official, which has a very different background. . .

... who himself was ousted from office and probably abducted ...

... I can’t speculate about that. Indeed I don’t want to speculate about it. Of course, we are trying to follow developments within China closely. However, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we have the full picture or that we can predict what will happen next. At any rate, we are equipped and prepared to continue the strategic partnership with China’s new leaders. And China wants to continue the strategic partnership with Germany, which is the most important outcome of all the talks with the present, as well as with future political leaders. They attach considerable importance to it. Although we bring up difficult issues such as freedom of the press, although we mention civil liberties, even support human rights lawyers, we can see that good cooperation with China, both political and economic, is still possible.

But you realized during your trip before last to China the consequences this may or may not have. That was in April 2011 when you opened a major exhibition in Beijing, “The Art of the Enlightenment”. I believe that 450,000 people have seen it. However, not long after you left China, the famous artist Ai Weiwei was arrested. So, how much mistrust remains after something like that, something which you experienced personally?

As you know, I expressed my concern about the fate of Ai Weiwei and others, not only internationally but also in concrete talks. It’s vitally important that we keep up these efforts. The exhibition “The Art of the Enlightenment”, which was often criticized in Germany, attracted almost half a million visitors in Beijing. And if so many people suddenly start thinking about the Enlightenment and its ideas thanks to good art, historical art, then that will also go some way to boosting our value-based foreign policy. For our foreign policy is not only interest-led: we not only want to resolve global issues or promote our chances as a trading nation of gaining lucrative deals and economic investments, or of creating many new jobs. Pursuing a value-based foreign policy means that we bring up and discuss issues such as civil society, civil rights, human rights or freedom of the press in our dealings with partners with whom we share important business interests.

But the danger is that this can become an empty ritual, also for the other side. They know that when the Germans come then these issues will be brought up – but what actions should we take? You’ve just experienced this yourself: shortly before you came, German correspondents complained the Chinese authorities were harassing them and attempting to hinder them from doing their work. Angela Merkel brought this up on Thursday during her press conference with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. She made it clear that she expects these appeals and talks to have an impact. But do you see any movement on the part of political leaders, who only have room for manoeuvre in so far as they don’t detract from the party’s power monopoly?

We have to look at recent developments without losing sight of the bigger picture. In the short term, there are always ups and downs but in the long term, over the decades, it cannot be denied that China has opened up. And, of course, this is partly due to the Internet, despite all the attempts to impose censorship. Many human rights lawyers have played their part in this. And when you rightly talk about the fate of one artist and others, I have to point out that we have been able to provide quite concrete help to many. You don’t read much about that in the newspaper because we’ve resolved these matters quietly through wise diplomacy for the sake of individuals involved. But, of course, the mere fact that in a press conference today – standing next to the Foreign Minister or with the Chancellor standing next to the Prime Minister – it is possible to bring up these issues is a sign a progress. Three years ago, I experienced what can happen when difficult issues are addressed in China. It was shortly before the Olympic Games when I had to take a closer look at events in China for the first time. When as the new Foreign Minister I brought up these issues three years ago, my partners in talks would often listen but then the shutters came down. It was obvious that the talks were over. Today, the Chinese side listens and a dialogue has developed. The simple fact that things can not only be brought up in private but also in public without the talks being ended represents crucial progress.

This week’s “Interview der Woche” on Deutschlandfunk is coming today from Hong Kong on the journey home from the Sino-German intergovernmental consultations. We’re talking to Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. Mr Westerwelle, you had another tricky issue on your agenda, namely Syria. China stands firmly alongside Russia and is preventing stronger action being taken against Syria in the Security Council. While, as you’ve just mentioned, you were talking to China’s Foreign Minister Yang, we journalists were able to watch an interview with Assad on Chinese state television in which he justified and defended his fight against insurgents and rebels. Did you perceive any change in China’s position?

We have a strategic partnership with China, which means that we can bring up any issue – the economy, as well as the Rule of Law Dialogue or many foreign policy issues. And in the case of Syria we have an undeniable difference of opinion. We’re certainly not happy with the actions of China and Russia in the UN Security Council, for we’re convinced that Assad’s time is over and that we should help people by bringing the violence to an end. That will only be possible if Syria experiences a peaceful and democratic fresh start without Assad. On the other hand, my impression is that progress has been made. After all, the six-point plan put forward by the United Nations, which was initiated by Kofi Annan, came about with China’s approval. To date, this is the best basis for a fresh political start, for a political solution. We will therefore continue in this direction. I hope that the remarkable speech made by Egypt’s President Morsi this week in Tehran in which he clearly stated that responsibility for the violence lies with the Assad regime will have an impact – also in Beijing. For there’s no doubt that China has strategic interests in the Arab world. And the fact that a key country such as Egypt has stated so clearly its views on the violence in Syria, on the acts of violence also committed by the Assad regime and on the oppression, is most certainly important news for countries within the international community which are currently hesitating and perhaps have other strategic interests which they consider to be more important.

Minister, let’s take a look at the economic aspects of Sino-German relations, which were one of the focuses of this meeting. Some 18 cooperation agreements were signed. However, relations between the two countries have changed dramatically during the last few years. Not so long ago, China was receiving development aid from Germany while today you and the Chancellor are supplicants forced to ask China to continue supporting the euro and to deploy its vast currency reserves to invest in European government bonds.

No, that’s not how I see things. I believe that we have a partnership which is in our mutual interest. It is very much in our interest that China invests in Germany, in Europe and, of course, in the eurozone. Incidentally, it’s not only in our interest that government bonds are bought but, above all, that tangible economic investments are made. In that sense, our visit was very successful. We have concrete figures, as well as orders and investments, to prove this. In turn, a stable Europe and a stable euro are very much in China’s interest, for it is in China’s strategic interest to ensure that the dollar is not the world’s only truly international currency world. The euro is a very stable currency. What we’re currently experiencing in Europe is not a euro crisis but rather a debt crisis. And China’s aim to diversify its own investments, to distribute its own economic power among different spheres and pillars, shows that it is thinking ahead.

But you encountered a very insistent and concerned investor. Prime Minister Jiabao stated publicly during his press conference that he personally was very concerned. For the Chinese, that was unusually frank and direct.

But he also expressed his great confidence, namely that Europe and the eurozone in particular can overcome these difficulties with Germany’s help and strong commitment. For the first time, I can again see light at the end of the tunnel. I see, for example, that productivity has grown again somewhat in the highly indebted countries which have introduced reforms. I see that Ireland and Portugal are on the right track. We see that the reform policies in Spain and Italy are starting to have an impact. And it’s crucial that Greece takes this as a model and recognizes that the reforms agreed upon must be implemented. For that will restore investors’ confidence.

But there is still deep mistrust. You can see that here in Hong Kong. Just before you came to record this interview, you gave a speech to representatives of business and the financial sector. You were asked questions. Listening to conversations in the auditorium it became clear how great the scepticism is that such a European project really still can succeed.

Well, it’s understandable that there are considerable concerns. After all, we in Europe share these concerns. And I as German Foreign Minister am deeply concerned when I hear some populist remarks in our own country about Europe. Some people in Germany talk as if they believe that no investor anywhere in the world will ever hear them. After all, there are bound to be repercussions if well-known figures in Germany, and especially in Bavaria, carp on about the euro, talk about permitting the eurozone to fray at the edges or call Europe as a whole into question, thus sending our continent down a slippery slope. The Chinese read German newspapers and know exactly what we’re saying about Europe and the euro. I therefore believe it’s unpatriotic to complain about the euro and Europe. We have to protect our jobs and our economy. And we can only do that by protecting our own currency. Our currency must be stable. It also has to inspire confidence in all international investors. It’s therefore crucial that the German Government is committed not only to the single currency but also to European political union. And we are committed to it. At the same time, we’re convinced that the reforms must be advanced. Otherwise we will fail. This three-pronged strategy – solidarity, budgetary discipline as well as growth through reforms and competitiveness – is convincing. Incidentally, this strategy has been very well received in China.

Good. The next major decision will be made in Karlsruhe. On 12 September, the Federal Constitutional Court will announce its decision on the ESM. Would it also be unpatriotic if the Federal Constitutional Court were to veto the Government’s course?

The Federal Constitutional Court is a wise tribunal and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me as a member of the Government to try and tell it what to do. I myself studied constitutional law. Indeed, I wrote my doctorate on constitutional law and am very well aware that it says in the Preamble to the Basic Law that we must promote world peace in a united Europe. I want to emphasize this. Europe is one of the fundamental tenets of our constitution. That’s why I’m very optimistic and hopeful that everyone in Germany recognizes the necessity of greater European integration.

Does that also apply to the judges in Karlsruhe?

No. The Karlsruhe judges are completely independent. To date, they have made wise decisions. And they will continue to do so. However, as Foreign Minister I’m keen to see us forge ahead with European integration and apply the measures adopted in the German Bundestag and Bundesrat by more than a two-thirds majority. I think I can say that.

From a foreign policy angle, what damage would be done if the Federal Constitutional Court decides against the ESM or against German ratification on 12 September?

I refuse to speculate about that.

[…] This is about confidence […]

I’m sorry but I can’t engage in any speculation about this. I have great respect for our Federal Constitutional Court and also great confidence in the Court’s work. That’s why I don’t want to speculate about its decision. I can only repeat that the Preamble of the Basic Law is clear, namely it states that we must promote world peace in a united Europe. Europe and European integration play a fundamental role in our Basic Law, our constitution. And that’s why I’m quite confident that this Government’s policy will receive widespread support in Germany. For this is the path we are following: we are safeguarding national interests, safeguarding Germany’s interest in protecting its prosperity while, at the same time, recognizing that in a globalized world we can only hold our own with new global players if we Europeans stand together.

Against the background of this process, some here in Germany are thinking about an amendment to the Basic Law and a possible referendum on a new Basic Law. You’ve also launched an initiative at European level for a European constitution. Do we have to reinvent democracy, do we have to reinvent our constitution to make Europe fit for the future?

The German Basic Law is the best constitution Germany has ever had. I’m quite certain that we won’t abandon it. The question is whether we in Europe have to be better, for we not only want more Europe but also a better Europe. We want a more democratic and more transparent Europe. We want a Europe which is effective and efficient. That doesn’t mean that more money will solve our problems but rather that we have to better invest the money available in future. I believe that this political direction is supported by a large majority of the general public. If one day, therefore, we get a European constitution – and an attempt has been launched before – it must envisage a genuine separation of competences, that’s to say a European Parliament with real decision-making powers. We need a Commission with genuine executive powers. Incidentally, I would like the Commission President to be directly elected by the whole of Europe. For then every candidate would be obliged to get their message and ideas across throughout Europe. And then the current councils would become a second chamber, that’s to say they would also represent national interests. I hope that one day we will be able to put such a constitution into place. Unfortunately, the first attempt failed. It didn’t work out. But we mustn’t under any circumstances give up. A referendum should be held on such a constitution. And I predict that despite all the things which our citizens rightly criticize about Europe, and I can think of many because I’m out and about in Europe every week and have seen some problems first hand, ultimately everyone in Germany knows that we can’t stand on our own in the world. How can we with just 80 million inhabitants hold our own against new players such as China with 1.3 billion inhabitants. In India alone, the world’s largest democracy, there will soon be three times as many inhabitants as in the entire European Union. We account for just nine per cent of the world population, and this figure is falling. Germany is relatively large within Europe but in the world we are relatively small. We Europeans therefore have to stick together. Europe is not only a community of homelands with a shared culture but also a community linked by a common destiny. And we have to see that this is in the interest of our country’s prosperity.

Before a European President is directly elected or the Germans vote on a new Basic Law, there will be Bundestag elections next autumn. What are your personal plans for the time after the elections? Do you want to continue making your contribution to Europe as Foreign Minister if the voters and your own party let you?

To be honest, at the moment I’m concentrating on how we can get Germany through the storm which is raging around us. Time will tell what else happens, for this is not about us personally, about individual politicians. This is about us doing our job and shouldering our responsibility. And I believe that voters will acknowledge that next year. For, not surprisingly, I support this coalition. I was one of those instrumental in creating it. And when I consider that the opposition is even proposing that all of Europe’s debts be pooled at Germany’s expense, then I believe that this Government is our best option, especially in the current situation in Europe.

Minister, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us here in Hong Kong on your Asia trip.

Thank you.

Related content


Top of page