“We must not damage our reputation in Europe”

04.09.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the crisis in Syria and the German debate on the euro.(This interview appeared in the Berliner Zeitung and the Frankfurter Rundschau on 4 September 2012.)


Minister, more and more people are fleeing the violence in Syria.It is increasingly difficult for neighbouring countries such as Turkey to take in and provide for all the refugees.How can Germany help?

Germany has already made more than 22 million euros available for humanitarian aid for those affected by the conflict in Syria. That makes us one of the biggest donor countries worldwide. I also recently offered my Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu our support in providing aid for the refugees. The offer still stands.

Can you imagine Germany taking in refugees from Syria?

I do not rule that out, but local assistance is the priority right now. It is unfortunately clear that as long as the violence against Syria’s civilian population continues, there will be refugees. Germany holds the presidency of the United Nations Security Council in September. We want to use this to isolate the regime even further. We want to help a new, peaceful, democratic and pluralistic Syria come into existence.

Turkey recently pushed in the Security Council for the establishment of zones of protection in Syria – without success.Would that be a reasonable way to reduce suffering and remove some of the burden from neighbouring countries?

I advise considering how to act on this point very carefully. A zone of protection would possibly have to be enforced militarily. There is currently no UN mandate for this. We want to see a political fresh start in Syria. One example of work being done towards that end is the meeting of the Working Group on Economic Recovery this Tuesday in Berlin under the auspices of the “Friends of Syria”. The group is jointly chaired by Germany and the United Arab Emirates. Our goal is to find smart policies to prevent a wild fire from spreading through the entire region.

So far, Syria’s dictator Bashar al Assad has been able to count on Russia and China,who have blocked the worldwide condemnation of his regime with their veto powers in the UN.You were just in Beijing.Could you see any movement there?

China is a strategic partner, but on the question of Syria there are still differences of opinion. Nevertheless, I hope that China and Russia reevaluate the situation. It is not only the West that is urging this. Assad cannot count on much support in the Arab world, either, as Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi has just made clear. I call on China and Russia not to hold their protective hands over Assad any longer.

For many months, the West has been saying that Assad must go.But where should he go? Should he be brought before the International Criminal Court or go into exile?

Assad’s time is over, but it is not yet clear exactly when he will go. It is to be hoped that he will one day appear before the International Criminal Court to answer for his actions. If, though, through his departure from the country the violence in Syria could be stopped and a peaceful transition started, that course would be justifiable, too.

The euro crisis is stirring up people’s emotions. Even inside the governing coalition and your own party there are lively discussions about the right approach.The General Secretary of the Christian Social Union, Alexander Dobrindt, wants to throw Greece out of the euro area.Is there a danger that the debate will get out of hand in election year 2013?

The euro is not in crisis. It is and will remain a stable currency. What we have in Europe is a debt crisis, which has become a crisis of confidence. Our policy of budgetary discipline, solidarity and focus on growth provides the right response. Still, we Germans must take care not to do lasting damage to our reputation in Europe and the rest of the world with statements that are motivated by party politics. The discussion in Germany and its sometimes very ugly comments echo far beyond our borders.

What tells you that?

I am just back from visiting Beijing, Hong Kong and Kuwait, where many people asked about the situation in Europe and also about the debate in Germany. Unfortunately, some statements incorrectly call into question our commitment to the common currency and even to Europe. They give the impression that we do not respect other European countries. Neither of these things is true, but unfortunately that is not how it comes across in other countries.


Questions: Thorsten Knuf. With kind permission of the Berliner Zeitung und Frankfurter Rundschau.

Related content


Top of page