Transatlantic Free Trade Area talks (interview)

27.10.2012 - Interview

Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s interview for the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung of 27 October 2012 on transatlantic relations, the situation in Mali and the elections in Ukraine is reproduced here with the kind permission of the newspaper.The questions were put by Fabian Löhe.


Question: Mr Westerwelle, elections will be held in the USA in a little more than a week. Many Americans lament that their country is divided.Mitt Romney or Barack Obama – what are the consequences for Germany?

Foreign Minister Westerwelle: I am not going to comment on the United States’ domestic political debates. We will work well with whomever that great democracy elects as its president.

Then it does not matter to Germany who wins.

Of course Barack Obama is likely to pursue a different foreign policy agenda than Mitt Romney. The differences were clear in the televised debate between them on that topic. One thing that both candidates emphasized was that Europe is and will remain the USA’s most important ally. That is very important for us in Germany because we value the transatlantic partnership so highly.

The United States’ debt burden plays a large role in the campaign.What does the next president have to do?

In Europe we now recognize that you cannot fight debt by taking on new debt. We do more than show solidarity; we also call for structural reforms to increase competitiveness. Consolidation will take place in the United States, too. Both candidates agree on this, by the way. The American people will now decide on how that will take place.

What can Washington learn from Berlin?

Many Americans have been observing the German success story over the past three years and respect what we have done. We have demonstrated that budgetary discipline is not to be confused with heavy-handed austerity. Growth comes from increased competitiveness.

Your American counterpart Hillary Clinton once said that the United States cannot solve all the world’s problems, but that the world’s problems could not be solved without the United States.Wouldn’t that be truer of India and China?

Globalization will increase in speed and become more important. New centres of power are emerging. Our foreign policy is to maintain old friendships and establish new strategic partnerships with the emerging global players. Just as the United States is focusing on Asia in its foreign policy, Germany is also setting new priorities and our policies are geared more towards the new centres of power in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

What can the United States and the European Union do to hold their own against these new centres of power?

Trade and investment is not a zero-sum game. Germany is showing others how expanding economic relations can be advantageous for both sides, for example with China. And we can do more in these terms in a transatlantic context. I urge Europe and North America to start talks on a Transatlantic Free Trade Area as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the crisis has strengthened protectionist tendencies all over the world. That costs us all growth. And it is the wrong response to globalization. Free trade is a tried and true engine for growth.

Can it help overcome the debt crisis in Europe?

A Transatlantic Free Trade Area is one of the right responses, both in Europe and in the United States. We should work more closely with the United States not only on foreign and security policy, but also economically.

The Americans sometimes claim that Europe does not speak with one voice.You hear people say “what is Europe’s telephone number”?In Europe’s debt crisis, Germany has now taken on a leading role.Does Europe’s telephone number start with 0049?

No. In Europe we need to cooperate on leadership. We do not need any one country to dominate or dictate rules to the others. As the strongest economy in the EU, Germany carries great political weight, but also great responsibility. People expect the strongest country in Europe to use its strength with tact.

Let me change the topic. You have said that the crisis in Mali also affects Europe.How?

Our security is above all what I am thinking of. In the north of Mali, there is only one national border to cross before you are at the Mediterranean. We cannot allow that area to become a safe haven for international terrorism, crime or drug trafficking. The north of Mali cannot be allowed to disintegrate into an area with no state control or rule of law.

What are your political goals for Mali?

The majority Tuareg population in the north of the country has felt discriminated against for some time. Socially that is a highly explosive situation. A power vacuum following a military coup in Bamako has given armed Islamists the opportunity to take control in the north of Mali. There are many refugees. Now, the transitional government in Bamako and their neighbours in Africa must find a political solution with the moderate forces. We support that as best we can, above all politically and with humanitarian aid.

The Bundeswehr is worried that they may be drawn into a war in Mali as they were in Afghanistan.What do you think has been learned from Afghanistan?

The lesson we have learned from many regions of the world is that if you wait too long to curb the danger of terrorism, it will cost you down the line. And we have also learned that it is important for a regional mission to lead the way in Mali. The Africans must bear the responsibility themselves. Europe can only give them support.

People are discussing whether Germany should send instructors.Would they be armed for their own protection?

It is far too early to speculate on such issues. In Europe we are now looking at whether and how we can support our African partners. The discussions are just getting started. But it is clear that Germany is not headed for a military mission. Any speculation in connection with the north of Mali is completely baseless.

In Ukraine, the party of Viktor Yanukovych will probably win the parliamentary elections this weekend. The opposition is complaining about dirty tricks.How democratic are the elections?

We have made clear that we expect Ukraine to have free and fair elections. With election observers in the country, we will be monitoring the election very closely. Kyiv knows that we are not satisfied with the rule-of-law situation in Ukraine. This is especially true for the treatment of members of the opposition. Still, Europe’s response cannot be to disengage. Our response must be more engagement. As European neighbours we have a strategic interest in seeing Ukraine turn towards the West.

What’s on thecards for Yulia Tymoshenko after the elections?

We will see. I have made our expectations very clear. Mrs Tymoshenko and the other members of the opposition must be treated fairly under the rule of law. Even if the spotlight of public attention is turned off.

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