Interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on the final report of the German-Italian Commission of Historians, on the Italian government's reform efforts and on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU. In addition, the interview focused on the conflict in the Middle East and on developments in Syria and Egypt.Published on 19 December 2012
Foreign Minister, what are the most important findings contained in the Commission of Historians' report?
In Italy, crimes were committed from 1943 to 1945 for which Germany is responsible. Uncovering the full truth of what happened in no way diminishes these crimes. The Federal Government most deeply regrets the injustices that the Italian military internees suffered. We want what happened to them to be duly remembered.
What is the political and diplomatic purpose of these efforts?
It is about coming to grips with these terrible events of the war. But it is also about creating and maintaining a culture of remembrance. I could well imagine our two countries, Italy and Germany, deciding to create and design a place of remembrance for the Italian military internees. It is also about continuing to promote historical research in both countries. We want to support projects of the victim communities and associations in Italy, and help them establish contacts with Germany. From our perspective in 2012, we can only look back with deep gratitude on the friendly ties we have been able to build over the past decades.
This year, the Stuttgart public prosecutor’s office has stayed proceedings on the Sant´Anna di Stazzema massacre. While the court decisions must be respected, what can the German government do to live up to the expectations of the families of the Italian victims?
I understand there is disappointment, but I am also certain Italians understand that we must respect the independence of the judiciary. That said, we have an obligation to pay active tribute to the memory of the crimes that were committed in Sant´Anna, Marzabotto and other places.
The German government has praised the reform efforts launched by the Monti government and hopes the country will not stray from this good path. I would like to ask if you believe there is hope that Mr Monti will lead the next government, following the upcoming elections?
Germany and the Federal Government are not involved in the Italian electoral campaign. But we strongly urge that the initiated reforms be further pursued. Anyone wanting to lower unemployment, and youth unemployment in particular, must champion reforms and greater competitiveness. Today, socially responsible policy is reform policy that creates opportunities for everyone, especially young people. New debt and greater insecurity do not create jobs.
A large majority of the Italian political community appreciated your recent response to the anti-German slogans of Berlusconi.But in Italy, it was pointed out that warnings of this sort may be counterproductive in that they could become a propaganda weapon in the hands of Berlusconi.What is your view?
I know Italy very well. Already as a student, I travelled and camped throughout Italy, from the north to the southernmost tip. I am very certain the great majority of Italians knows that Germany is not responsible for Italy’s problems or large sovereign debt. We Germans refuse to be the scapegoat for the failings of previous leaders in Italy. We also don’t want Europe to become the lightning rod for a populist election campaign.
Do the populist slogans heard in Italy present a danger?
I have full confidence in Italy and the Italian people. Many Italians also know that only a few years ago Germany was considered the “sick man of Europe”. We went down the tough and difficult path of reform. We invested in education, science and research, we increased our competitiveness, and we reduced our sovereign debt; today, our country is in the best shape it's been in since German unification. We have the lowest level of youth unemployment in all of Europe. That is what I want my Italian friends to have. I truly love Italy. I want Italy to have a good future.
On Wednesday, EU Finance Ministers agreed to bring European banks under a single supervisor, and they approved the release of further billions of euro in aid to Greece.Yet this EU summit meeting merely delayed a discussion on the future of Europe.In your view, what is the European Union still lacking?
We still have not put the eurozone crisis behind us, although since this autumn there has for the first time been some light at the end of the tunnel. We must further improve our competitiveness, also by realigning European Member States’ budgets to create more growth, according to the motto "not more spending, but better spending". Our policy for fixing the sovereign debt crisis consists not merely of spending cuts, but has three supporting pillars: budgetary discipline, that is, lowering the debt; solidarity, for Europeans are linked by a common destiny; and growth. For us, one thing is clear: growth will not be achieved through new debt, but by increasing competitiveness.
What went through your mind when you first heard the European Union had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize?
The news reached me in northern China, during a public event. There was no more fitting place, because Europe is not only the peaceful answer to centuries of war, Europe is also our life insurance in the age of globalization. We will only be able to maintain our European way of life in the face of new global powerhouses like China if we form a close union. In Europe, there is much talk of different mentalities, of the differences between East and West, North and South. Only when you are far away from Europe – in China, India, Africa, or Latin America – do you realize how much we are a community of shared culture. There is a European “way of life”. In Europe, it is not only the community, but also the individual, that counts. Human dignity is right at the heart of European policy.
Do you think that European countries, especially Germany and Italy, made a mistake with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by casting different votes on the Palestinian motion at the United Nations?
Even though there was no unified European vote, we do have a common position: we favour a two-state solution and call for a return to direct negotiations. While we Europeans have criticized Israel’s settlement policy, we Europeans have also jointly and speaking with one voice clearly and unmistakeably condemned Hamas’ tirades calling for the destruction of Israel.
Do you believe a collapse of the Assad regime is imminent?Now that the Syrian rebels have been recognized as the “sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people”, will there be direct arms shipments to the forces fighting the regime?
It is a good thing that the National Coalition has established itself as an alternative to the Assad regime by devoting itself to democracy and ethnic and religious pluralism. This will help bring about a speedier end to the Assad regime. We are seeing more and more signs of its erosion. However, the first priority must now be humanitarian aid and political support.
Do you think the current deterioration of the situation in Egypt may steal the limelight from those who stand for what we call the Arab Spring?Is there the danger of a new dictatorship?
I no longer speak of an Arab Spring, but rather of an Arab season. Developments in the Arab countries are diverging in a similar way to how developments in Eastern and Southeastern European countries diverged following the fall of the Iron Curtain. Egypt is currently in a precarious situation. We must not be indifferent to this, for Egypt is a European neighbour and occupies a key position throughout the Arab world. That is why we are calling upon President Morsi to remain committed to democracy, to the rule of law, and, above all, to the separation of powers. We appeal to all sides to reach out to one another and resolve political issues through dialogue. The constitutional process is meant to unify, not tear apart, the people.
What do you want for yourself after the autumn of 2013?
You are referring to the elections in Germany. The election is still a long way off. Here, a famous sentence applies that some claim was spoken by Prime Minister Wilson, and others attribute to Secretary of State Kissinger: “One week in politics is a long time”. The destinies and careers of us politicians are not important. What really matters is that we sail the European ship safely through the great storm. I believe, and it is my hope for next autumn, that by then we will for the most part have overcome the difficulties and crises that we face in Europe. It is also my hope that all peoples of Europe will encounter one another with respect, not with prejudices or clichés.
Questions: Paolo Lepri