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“We’ll make sure that Europe stays together” (Interview in the FAZ newspaper)

15.09.2012 - Interview

The following interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper on 15 September 2012. We are publishing it on diplo.de with the kind permission of the FAZ. The questions were put by Klaus Frankenberger and Majid Sattar.

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Question: Minister, there was almost universal jubilation following the Karlsruhe ruling. The feeling was that this was a good day for Germany and a good day for Europe. Was it really such a good day for German taxpayers?

Foreign Minister Westerwelle: German and European interests go hand in hand. The stability of our economy hinges crucially on the stability of our currency. Although our country is very strong at the moment, Germany cannot flourish in the long term if Europe flounders in the long term.

So we’re providing ever larger rescue packages?

So we’re protecting our currency. And making sure that Europe stays together. Incidentally, the Federal Constitutional Court has also strengthened our policy by putting a stop to the Opposition’s efforts to introduce unlimited joint and several liability in Europe.

What does limiting Germany’s liability to 190 billion euros mean for Germany in concrete terms? And in what form should Germany express its reservation with respect to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) under international law?

We’ll find a suitable way to implement the provisions laid down by the Federal Constitutional Court.

You’re said to have advocated a joint protocol declaration by all signatory states in the Bundestag Committee on the Affairs of the European Union on Thursday.

It’s customary in a parliamentary democracy to first of all brief Parliament. I could imagine, in coordination with our partners, anchoring the Federal Constitutional Court provisions in a declaration on the ESM Treaty.

You said that Europe must stay together. There have been comments made within your party about Greece’s exit from the eurozone and you also seem to have thought at some point that the eurozone would cope with such a scenario.

We should focus all our efforts on keeping the eurozone intact. That’s not a new belief. On the contrary, that’s the reason why I helped push the first aid package for Greece through the Bundestag in spring 2010 in the face of considerable opposition, also in my own party, and putting aside regulatory reservations.

The Federal Constitutional Court clearly strengthened national – German – budgetary law. And this at a time when Greece has had to relinquish a large share of its competence. Is there now a two-class system in Europe when it comes to legal provisions?

No. Every country that applies for assistance from the rescue package knows that it has to do its homework. It goes without saying that we have to monitor whether or not the reforms agreed upon have actually been implemented. That’s the troika’s job and we’re currently waiting for its report on the situation in Greece.

You’ve sounded relatively optimistic recently ...

I hope we’ve all taken note of the good news from Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland – and also from Greece, by the way.

So everything is on the right track?

We can’t be happy with the current situation. But I can now see a ray of hope on the horizon. If we keep up the good work and fate is relatively kind to us then I think we'll look back on this September as the turning point in the drive to overcome the sovereign debt crisis: the elections in the Netherlands, the Federal Constitutional Court decision, the decision by the European Central Bank …

to start printing money …

The ECB did not decide to unconditionally buy an unlimited volume of government bonds. There will be clearly formulated conditions.

Does ECB President Mario Draghi have a mandate along the lines of “Believe me, it’ll be enough?”

As with every crucial decision in a difficult situation, there are risks. We Germans will also ultimately pay a price for overcoming the crisis. However, this is about stabilizing our own currency and economy. It would all be much more expensive if we didn’t act.

Rainer Brüderle, the FDP floor leader, is much more critical of Mr Draghi. Does your party – similar to Angela Merkel and Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann – have an informal division of roles? One champions sound regulatory governance, while the other is glad that the ECB’s policy means that no new rescue packages are necessary for the time being?

Although we used different words, I don’t detect any disagreement. We see that we can create new confidence in Europe. We should take advantage of this momentum.

You talk about the price which Europe has for us. Are you hinting that we may be heading towards a debt union?

In contrast to the Opposition, I don’t consider joint and several liability through eurobonds to be an option, not even at the end of an integration process. Not even the German federal state adheres to the principle of joint and several liability. We have fiscal equalization between the federal level and the individual states, but …

... in future also Germany bonds, which Federal Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble – much to the annoyance of the FDP – has offered to federal states with a SPD-Green government in return for their approval of the European fiscal compact.

No, even they only envisage partial rather than joint and several liability. This Government is firmly opposed to eurobonds. Let me remind you what the Chancellor said to the FDP parliamentary group.

As long as I live”, she said. And Wolfgang Schäuble, is he also strongly opposed to eurobonds?

We have a common position. Asking too much of Germany would mean expecting too little of our partners and their will to reform.

Another aspect of the good news of the potentially historic month of September 2012 are the elections in the Netherlands. Germany hasn’t lost a partner, after all. We’re assuming that you’re relieved about that. However, Prime Minister Rutte, who won the elections, made some relatively eurosceptic comments during the campaign.

I’m delighted with the outcome, also because once more populist remarks and calls for areas of policy to be repatriated didn’t lead to success at the ballot box. Common sense prevailed. It’s not the job of politicians to give in to the popular mood. Rather, we have to change the mood so that it's possible to do the right thing. Political leadership is required. Those who earnestly put forward good arguments to people will succeed. That’s what the election campaign in the Netherlands showed us. I’ve learned that during my political career, too. It’s possible to win majorities if you take a stand, and only a clear position can transform opposition into support.

Can’t the CSU feel particularly vindicated by the election outcome in The Hague? Your ally Rutte acted the same way as Mr Söder and Mr Dobrindt: he strongly criticized southern Europe but supported Angela Merkel’s policies.

That’s not how I saw the election campaign conducted by my fellow Liberal, Mark Rutte. It’s important to say what needs to be said. And it’s equally important to stay on course.

Making an example of Greece”, as Mr Söder said.

… That was an extremely unfortunate choice of words. We Germans don’t want to make an example of other nations. Germany’s image for years to come is being shaped at present. “Made in Germany” must continue to have a positive ring to it.

Such lines, as well as the election campaign in the Netherlands, do indeed stem from an underlying current of euroscepticism. What can be done to counter that?

We mustn’t get lost in the undergrowth and reduce Europe to technicalities such as rescue packages, the fiscal compact, the six-pack, the European semester, etc. As the European response to the crisis, they matter. However, we have to look beyond this and emphasize the value which Europe has for us all. If the world was in a different situation, we could take 20 years for this. But we don’t have that much time. Europe’s future role in the world will be decided during the next five to ten years. That’s why we have to begin now to realign Europe and make it stronger.

You’ve proposed a new European Convention which would try once more to draw up a European constitution – with the option of a referendum. The Chancellor wants to do things the other way round: proposals on deepening Europe at the December summit in Brussels and only then a discussion on how we can achieve this, whether we need a treaty amendment.

What needs to be done in the short term can be done without losing sight of what needs to be done in the long term.

Do you have an ally in France?

Yes. I hope that France will be actively involved in shaping our European future. Of course, there are some philosophical differences of opinion between a Socialist government in Paris and a Christian Democrat-Liberal government in Berlin. Take tax policy, for example. However, that was also the case in earlier times: Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand achieved a tremendous amount for Europe with the same constellation. What matters today as it did then is that we develop a common understanding on how we want to take Europe forward.

What about the other major partner in Europe, Britain? When Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy argued about European economic governance two years ago, one of Berlin’s arguments against the French proposal was always: we mustn’t give the British an excuse to leave Europe? And now? Have we reached that point?

When I talk of Europe, I mean the Europe of 27. However, the maxim must be: everyone who wants to help build the European house is welcome. However, those who don’t want to continue along that road shouldn’t be allowed to stop the others. We’ve chosen the path of European integration, not out of naive idealism but out of urgent necessity in the face of the new global players. The fiscal compact is very important. I wish Britain had joined us. It has a standing invitation!

How can we prevent Britain drifting further out into the Atlantic?

London has very close ties with the economies of continental Europe. The single market is of overriding importance to Britain’s economy. It’s in Britain’s own interest to stay on board. Incidentally, I believe that ultimately those forces in Britain which want to keep their country on a European course will win the day.

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