Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle was interviewed on 28 October 2012 by the B.Z. am Sonntag about the euro debt crisis, sending the Bundeswehr to Mali, the US elections and Germany’s relations with China and Russia. This interview is published with the kind permission of Axel Springer AG. Questions posed by Ulrike Ruppel.
Question: Mr Westerwelle, how many days and nights have you been on the road this year?
Foreign Minister Westerwelle: I don’t know. I would probably be surprised myself if I added them all up. In these unsettled times, it’s sometimes more than is good for me.
Any tips on countering jet lag?
I’ve got several. One day I’ll write a book on the subject! My three favourite tips are changing your watch to your destination time as soon as you get on the plane, drinking lots of water and not much alcohol, and, most effective of all, going for a run when you arrive.
Is that possible everywhere you go?
If it’s too hot, or the air pollution is too bad, I go to the hotel gym and run on the treadmill. But on a sunny autumn day in New York I do like to jog around Central Park for an hour, if my schedule permits.
In Europe Ms Merkel and Mr Schäuble have a higher profile.
When finance policy is concerned, or meetings of heads of state and government, that’s only natural. But the role of European foreign ministers is gaining in significance: we have to work on the political union of Europe, away from debt ceilings and technical financial negotiations.
Is it right to give the Greeks another two years?
As Foreign Minister, I attach great importance to treating all European countries fairly and with respect. This is particularly true for Greece, which has been hard hit and its psyche deeply dented, and which now faces long and difficult reforms. I am therefore against judging in haste. I was taught that one should only judge when one knows the facts. For that reason we should await the troika’s report before taking any decisions. Speculation doesn’t help anyone.
Relations between Paris and Berlin have been worsening ever since the Socialists took over the reins of government in France.
We have our differences of opinion, but they are political in nature, not national. Eurobonds are advocated not only by the French Government, but also by the German opposition. However, in my opinion it is clear that joint and several sovereign liability must never be accepted in Europe. It would overstretch Germany and weaken the whole of Europe.
What’s your take on the crisis in Spain? Not as a politician, but as a frequent visitor to Mallorca.
When I see so many young people looking desperately for work, my heart goes out to them, and I’m frustrated by the failures of the past. But there is no alternative to the reforms. The cuts adopted by the Spanish Government are much deeper than those contained in Agenda 2010, our German reform package of a few years ago. The Rajoy Government deserves respect for sticking to its chosen course in spite of the protests.
New subject – Mali. Why should the Bundeswehr go there?
Armed Islamists have taken control of parts of northern Mali. That’s destabilizing the country and the entire Sahel region. Many people have fled their homes and need aid. The closer terrorism and instability get to Europe, the greater the threat to us in Europe.
Mr Niebel, your fellow FDP politician, is already talking of a second Afghanistan.
A combat role for the Bundeswehr is not on the table. The UN Security Council has called on Mali and its neighbours to seek a political solution. That is now happening and has our full support. In parallel, plans for an African intervention are being drawn up. We are considering how Europe could contribute to a solution – politically, but also through training, and technical and humanitarian assistance. Germany could participate in that. But it is too soon to say how exactly.
Do we want to make up in Mali for what we didn’t do in Libya?
I have repeatedly provided sufficient reasons for the German decision not to send its soldiers into the war in Libya. The situation in Mali is totally different. However, one of the problems confronting us now is the numbers of militants and weapons that have entered Mali from Libya in the course of the war.
Let’s take a look across the Atlantic. What do you hope of the future President?
I think any American President will consider cooperation with Europe a priority. The US knows that no other partnership is as close as the transatlantic partnership. Major tasks await around the world, above all in the Middle East. We must do everything we can to ensure that the conflict in Syria does not spread across the entire region.
Will you miss Hillary Clinton?
My working relationship with Hillary Clinton was close and based on mutual trust from the very start. She is an outstanding politician and a warm-hearted person.
What do you hope the Chinese political handover will bring?
I’m hoping for continuity. Our relations with China have improved nicely over the last two or three years. At the same time I hope that a few corrections will be made in China’s foreign policy, for example with respect to Syria.
What’s your response to the rising number of human rights violations in Russia?
I have not shied away from criticizing the treatment meted out to the opposition and the conviction of the Pussy Riot musicians, both publicly and in my talks with Moscow. But we must keep the dialogue between Germany and Russia alive. Precisely when there are differences of opinion, it is important to keep talking. Anything else would deprive us of any chance of exerting influence.
What do you want for yourself after the autumn of 2013?
First of all, I would like Germany not to be in a state of constant electioneering in the coming twelve months. It’s enough if we start next summer. Until then, there’s still a lot of work to do. We can’t afford to be in a state of paralysis. I would therefore like to urge everybody to stop this premature campaigning and get back to work.
What will become of you?
I will stand for re-election to the German Bundestag. The rest will be decided by the voters next autumn.