An interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on border clashes between Syria and Turkey, the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme, the debt crisis in the euro area and Croatia’s planned accession to the EU. Published in the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and the Neue Ruhr Zeitung on 17 October 2012.
Iran, Syria, the euro crisis: what is Germany’s biggest foreign policy concern at the moment?
Those are three big concerns, but unfortunately not the only ones. The tension between China and Japan, North Korea’s nuclear programme, Afghanistan, the grave dangers facing the Sahel, especially Mali – there is plenty to be done.
Let’s take Syria: was it a wise decision on the part of Turkey’s parliament to authorize military operations inside Syria?
I am not going to pass judgment on any specific domestic decisions, but I want to explicitly recognize Turkey for its very level-headed reaction on the whole. What would it be like here if grenades from a neighbouring country landed on our territory, killing a woman and four children?
Turkey is complaining about the stress caused by the 100,000 Syrian refugees now there. Can Europe help? Must Europe help? And, if the answer is “yes”, how can it help?
Europe can help and is helping because it has to. Germany, for example, is among the countries doing the most to provide humanitarian aid to refugees.
Is it conceivable that Germany will also take in refugees?
It is conceivable that refugees will come to Germany, for example, to receive medical treatment. But helping the refugees where they are is a clear priority. These refugees do not want to leave their country permanently. They want to return as quickly as possible to build a new democratic Syria.
This week the EU surprised the world with the acknowledgement that there is room for new sanctions against Syria. Does that mean that so far the sanctions policy has only been half-hearted?
On the contrary. It is obvious that the sanctions policy is working. That means that a political solution to the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is possible.
What signs do you see that sanctions are effective?
The depreciation of Iran’s currency and the drastic reduction in oil exports as the main source of revenue show that the policy of isolating Iran internationally is hurting the country and putting pressure on its leadership.
Turning to European policy, you have always shown yourself to be understanding towards Greece. Now the Finance Minister has ruled out the possibility of a sovereign default. Is it the German Government’s new approach to keep Greece in the euro area at all cost?
It is well-known that the German Government wants to prevent the eurozone from fraying at the edges. Now we have to wait for the Troika’s report to make a well-informed and responsible decision. I also want to recognize the efforts that Greece has made. Unfortunately, we take scant notice of good news in the crisis – that unit labour costs have gone down, for example. The reforms in Greece, which, unfortunately, are often painful for ordinary citizens, are worthy of recognition and respect.
Following Romania and Bulgaria, Croatia will join the EU next summer, another country that just last week was said not to be ready yet. Doesn’t that provide some support for Norbert Lammert’s call for a stop to expansion?
The agreements between the EU and Croatia will remain in place. That is the position of the German Government. There will be no rebates, but neither will there be additional obstacles. The current European Commission report on Croatia lists only 10 points of criticism, in comparison to the 49 that were listed in last spring’s report. That shows that Croatia still has to overcome certain deficits, but also that it is making good progress.
Questions: Miguel Sanches and Winfried Dolderer. Reproduced by kind permission of the WAZ Media Group.