Ahead of Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s trip to Athens, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle calls for Greece to be treated with fairness and respect as it struggles with its debt crisis. Commenting on the Syrian‑Turkish conflict, he warns of the danger of it spreading. Published in the Bild newspaper on 8 October 2012.
The Chancellor is travelling to Greece on Tuesday. What message do you think that sends?
It’s a European gesture, an acknowledgement of the efforts of the Greek Government, which is under great pressure due to the reform policies it is required to implement.
Does the Samaras Government deserve that? After all, little progress has been made in implementing the reforms?
The Greek Government wants to, and indeed must, do its homework. I refuse to simply write Greece off. The Greeks deserve fairness and respect. And they don’t deserve to hear us pass judgement on them without knowing the full facts. We have to wait and read the report submitted by the troika (EU, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund).
The report has been delayed several times because the Government hasn’t made any progress.
It takes time to closely examine the situation in an entire country. And we should also take note of good news. Genuine progress has been made in several European states. For the first time in ages, there’s a ray of hope on the horizon.
The crisis is not over in Europe and the eurozone. Do we need a whole new political order?
In the short term, we need budgetary discipline, reforms and solidarity. In the medium term, treaty amendments are unavoidable. And in the long term, I hope we’ll have a genuine European constitution one day.
Europe can only regain the confidence of the rest of the world if we Europeans show that we believe in ourselves. We have to send a clear message and continue the process of deepening the EU. Europe needs more efficiency and transparency. Therefore, this isn’t only about more Europe, it’s about a better Europe. Much can be achieved without a new treaty, but not everything. My proposals are on the table.
Isn’t this all just a distant dream?
No. We need better rules to prevent countries running up too many debts – and the instruments to impose them. Not sometime in the future, but now. That’s the lesson we’ve learned from the crisis. That’s the difference between the Government and the Opposition, which is in favour of eurobonds. Germany would then have to assume joint and several liability for the debts of other euro countries. That would place too great a burden on us and would not fully exploit the ability of other countries to implement reforms.
Shots have been fired and bombs have been dropped at the Turkish‑Syrian border. Is this a war?
The danger that this conflict will spread is certainly growing. The Syrian regime must stop its attacks immediately and refrain from further provocations.
Turkey is a NATO partner and could call for support from its NATO allies under the mutual defence clause. Bundeswehr troops would have to be deployed then, wouldn’t they?
There’s no question of that happening. Our ally Turkey has NATO’s solidarity. I can well understand the indignation in Turkey; after all, the victims have included innocent children. Nevertheless, calm and de‑escalation are needed now.
How long will it be before the Assad regime falls?
The disintegration of the Assad regime is in full swing. We’re going to step up our support for a new democratic order in Syria.
Germany held the Presidency of the UN Security Council, but the Council has failed to agree on a united position. Are you frustrated?
It’s disappointing that Russia is still supporting Assad. The longer that lasts, the longer the violence continues, the more difficult the transition to a new, democratic Syria will be.
A final question on the German election campaign. Do you rule out a coalition made up of the FDP, SPD and the Greens?
The economy is growing, salaries are rising and the unemployment rate is falling. What’s more, this centre‑right government has pursued an austerity programme with determination. That’s one of the reasons why the international community has so much confidence in Germany today. I would appeal to parties not to start the election campaign at this early date. A year‑long election campaign would be bad for Germany. Germany can’t afford political paralysis in the light of the huge challenges facing Germany, Europe and the world.
This interview was conducted by N. Blome and S. Haselberger and reproduced by kind permission of the Bild newspaper.