On the second anniversary of the Jasmine Revolution, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke with the Tunisian daily Achourouk about German Tunisian relations, the situation in Syria and developments in the Middle East.Published on 14 January 2013
Today Tunisia is celebrating the second anniversary of the revolution of 14 January 2011. What’s your assessment of the political transition process in Tunisia today and what prospects do you see for it?
Two years ago the world was captivated by images of the events unfolding in Tunisia. In Germany we watched with bated breath, rooting for the people who were fighting for dignity, freedom and human rights. Two years later I still have great respect for this example of bravery and civil courage. It’s my impression that although major challenges remain, Tunisia is on the right path. I say this in the context of Germany’s own experience of reunification. The weighty legacy of decades of autocratic rule cannot be resolved overnight. Overcoming it is a difficult process that takes years. But it’s the right way forward.
How have relations between Tunisia and Germany developed since the revolution?
The Jasmine Revolution opened a new chapter in relations between our two countries. Friendship between people has existed for decades, but since the revolution we’ve also been able to significantly expand our relations with a democratically elected Tunisian government. There are only a few other countries in the world with which we cooperate in so many different ways. Through the transformation partnership alone, we’ve set up more than 100 projects with a total volume of over 41 million euros, ranging from better vocational training for young Tunisians to more students exchanges to training for young journalists. This is an extraordinary level of commitment that shows what importance we attach to relations with your country.
Two years after the revolution, the mood in Tunisia is anything but good.Can you understand people’s frustrations?
Of course I can understand their desire for tangible reforms and broad ranging democratic change. We shouldn’t lose track of the most vital thing, which is that ten or twenty years from now, when people look back on this era, they will judge it by two questions. Does Tunisia have a good constitution that unites the people? And was the parliament elected freely and fairly on the basis of this constitution? That’s why it’s so important now for all the parties in Tunisia to focus on these two goals and to approach each other in a spirit of national unity. In this decisive phase in the country’s history, the traditional Tunisian values of dialogue and balance are especially needed.
We’d also like to know how you see the current and future situation for economic cooperation between Germany and Tunisia?
I’m proud that all of the nearly 300 German companies present in Tunisia stayed after the revolution. And they’ve done so under working conditions that haven’t always been easy. Now it has to be our shared goal to make Tunisia an attractive location for more German companies. I know from my conversations with businesses that they’re well aware of Tunisia’s advantages as a location, but are watching very closely to see how democracy develops there. That’s another reason it’s important now to focus on the constitution and the preparations for the elections.
Illegal immigration is an issue in relations between Europe and Tunisia. In your view, what means and methods could effectively address this problem?
This is a tough problem with no simple answers. Every loss of life along the often perilous route from North Africa to Europe is tragic. In my opinion the best solution is to offer people a better future in their home country so that they don’t feel compelled in the first place to undertake such a dangerous journey into the unknown. We’ve developed a whole range of initiatives together with Tunisia: we’ve invested ten million euros in working to improve vocational training in Tunisia so that young graduates have better job opportunities. At the same time, we’re also supporting paths of legal migration: we’re offering 120 young Tunisian engineers the chance to spend a year pursuing vocational further training in Germany, and 150 young Tunisians are receiving nursing training there.
Are there special funding programmes for Tunisians to continue their studies in Germany?
Even without grant money, studying in Germany can be a very attractive option. The fact that more than 1,500 Tunisians are already studying in Germany shows this. And the importance we attach to this field is reflected in the recent opening of a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) office in Tunis, which everyone is welcome to contact. The DAAD has just added more scholarship offerings and has for the first time awarded 70 scholarships for summer courses at German universities.
On the subject of foreign policy: a human tragedy has been playing out for months in Syria.In his most recent speech, however, President Assad sounded very confident.How do you see the situation?
President Assad’s speech is nothing but a huge disappointment. He wants to impress the world with martial posturing, yet he’s in complete denial about the realities on the ground. Nonetheless, the process of erosion wearing down the Assad regime is accelerating. This encourages us and above all people on the ground to hope the Assad era will soon be over and the way clear for a fresh start led by the National Coalition. That said, it must be a fresh start predicated on democracy and pluralism, and it must ensure that all religions have a place in the new Syria.
Regarding the Palestine problem and the right of the Palestinian people to free themselves from Israeli occupation and build up their own independent state: what concrete reasons are there not to give the Palestinians the same support that other people in the region receive, especially given that this occupation is the worst form of oppression and tyranny?
Germany has good and close relations to both the Palestinian Government and Israel. We consistently pursue the goal of a two state solution. Israel must be able to live in security, within secure borders. And the Palestinians have a right to their own state, as the two state solution envisages. That has our support. The crucial thing now is to refrain from doing anything that could make the resumption of direct talks between the parties more difficult. That’s why we’re critical of Israel’s settlement policy. And above all we condemn in the strongest possible terms Hamas’s hate speech, which recently called into question yet again Israel’s right to exist. Nothing good for the Palestinian people can arise out of hate.