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“Europe is more than a currency”

31.10.2012 - Interview

An interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the Future of Europe Group and on the rule of law dialogue with Russia.This interview was published in the Badisches Tagblatt on 31 October 2012.

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Mr Westerwelle, with other EU foreign ministers you have founded the Future of Europe Group to reflect on the future of the European Union.You have reached the conclusion that more Europe is needed.Why?

We Europeans form a community of shared culture, bound together by a common destiny. If we want to preserve the prosperity and freedom we enjoy in a world with new centres of power in Asia, Latin America and Africa, we would do well to work together more closely. When I say we need more Europe, I of course also mean a better Europe. More Europe does not entail Brussels assuming new responsibilities that are better fulfilled elsewhere.

What does a better Europe consist of in your opinion?

The debt crisis has shown us that sometimes the decision-making process is too slow. Europe’s structures are not yet sufficiently transparent and efficient. We need to work on that in the European institutions. It is just like in real life: you can and must learn from a crisis.

Can Europe move forward, even if its members are going at different speeds?

We already have a Europe of different speeds. The Schengen area has complete freedom of mobility, but not all European Union countries are part of it. The single currency is in use in 17 of the 27 EU member states. We will also have to take the next step towards integration in the Common Security and Defence Policy, because security of one country in Europe is closely linked to that of all others. If we move forward together in that field, there might be savings for tax payers. Everyone is invited to move together towards European integration. Nobody has been excluded or shut out. But those who do not want to move forward or are not ready yet cannot hold back the others. When I speak of globalization continuing to speed up, I do not mean over 50 years, but rather over a decade.

Everyone is invited, even the British.They like to say that Europe is a common market, nothing more.

Europe is more than a currency and more than a common market. Europe is a political union that wants to assert itself in the world with its own values. We Europeans must demonstrate our desire to assert ourselves by sticking together and further developing our Union. That is the only way that we can win back the world’s trust. It is not the first time that Britain is reluctant when it comes to Europe. I still remember Margaret Thatcher very well.

She famously asked for money to be returned to Britain.

Yes. But of course Britain belongs to Europe. Its place in the house of Europe is well-established.

Are appearances deceiving, or have you changed during your third year in office. You have discovered Europe as a topic.

Over a year ago at our party’s national conference in Frankfurt, I gave a very clearly pro Europe speech. You have now noticed the work of our Future of Europe Group, but my commitment to Europe is not something new.

But you put more emphasis on this work now.

The soil in which these ideas are being sown has become more fertile because more and more people see that it is not enough to simply administer a crisis and provide crisis management. We have to give Europe a new political perspective now. It was also necessary to intervene in some of the debates going on inside Germany. There were some unfortunate comments, such as those of a minister of one of the Länder wanting to make an example of Greece. It is not only what you say, but how you say it, especially when talking about European policy. It seems to me, though, that more and more committed Europeans are finding their voices again.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung recently wrote about an “Axis of Mistrust” between Germany and France, between Merkel and Hollande.

That is not correct.

How?

Commentators always have to exaggerate, because they think that makes the issues clearer. That is not appropriate when dealing with Europe. The situation is complex and we can only do it justice if we take a nuanced approach. The call for Europe’s debt to be mutualized is not only being heard from some of Europe’s governments, but also from the opposition in Germany. So it is more of a debate on policy issues than an argument between, say, Berlin and Paris. It is not right to exaggerate this domestically. Of course there are preliminary negotiations with differing positions in the run up to EU summits. But the important thing is not that everyone enters into negotiations with identical positions but that a good compromise can be achieved in the end. We think that you cannot overcome a debt crisis by making it easier to take on more debt.

Is seeing too much from the German perspective one of the biggest problems?

We Germans are strong at the moment. But we must use our strength with tact. The impression people in Europe and the rest of the world are getting of Germany now will last for many years. I think we need to proceed carefully using our best judgment and a light touch. Our Teutonic tendency to overestimate ourselves can quickly come back to haunt us. No other country in Europe is yoked to Europe as tightly as Germany owing to its export economy with millions of jobs. We export more to Belgium than to Brazil.

On another topic: the Federal Government’s Commissioner for Russia, Andreas Schockenhoff, has often criticized Russia’s Government strongly. Now he is no longer recognized by the Russian Government as a partner in talks.Is he overdoing it or are the Russians?

We have a modernization partnership with Russia. That covers not only trading interests and supplying energy, but also a rule of law dialogue. It is well known that we do not agree with some decisions made by Russia’s politicians. I am thinking here of the Syria issue in the Security Council. I suggest, though, that we strengthen communication channels instead of cutting them off or reducing them when there are differences of opinion with Russia.

Who are you addressing this appeal to?

To all parties.

What do you think of the Petersburg dialogue?

The Petersburg dialogue is an important German-Russian platform. Our civil-society contacts are very important. Especially because we are critical of some developments in Russia, we should not lose our ability to influence Russia by cutting off avenues of communication.

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Questions: Dieter Link.Reproduced with the kind permission of the Badisches Tagblatt.

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