Interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, published in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on 23 February 2013. Topics include European integration, parliamentary elections in Italy, the Federal Chancellor’s trip to Turkey, German involvement in Mali, civil war in Syria, the Arab Spring and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Berlin.
The Federal President laments widespread impatience, exhaustion and frustration in light of the current state of Europe. Joachim Gauck calls for reforms and a forceful new European push forward. Where do you think action must be taken?
The Federal President made a clear commitment to our pursuit of further European integration. That is a signal to the people of our country and the other countries of Europe: Germany stands by Europe and wants to continue construction on the house of Europe, because we see Europe as the response not only to the horrors of the past, but above all to challenges of the future. I also welcome the Federal President’s clear message to our European partners that for Germany partnership within Europe always means a partnership of respect among equals.
Gauck wishes there were a European public sphere and calls on us to learn languages. How can the Europe people experience become more tightly integrated?
European patriotism is not just the word of the day, it is the order of the day. I believe it would be useful for the European political groups to put forward joint top candidates in time for the next elections to the European parliament. These candidates would have to campaign for their platform in all of Europe. In the middle and long term, I wish for a European president, elected in direct, Europe-wide elections.
Europe is heading towards an uncertain future. In his Berlin speech, Federal President Joachim Gauck described his vision for Europe’s future path. Was that an important impetus?
Making Europe the focus of his key speech this year was a felicitous decision. Europe is more than the response to the darkest chapter in German history. We must reestablish Europe. It forms a community of shared culture, bound together by a common destiny, which must assert its own values in the globalized world. We Europeans are children of the enlightenment, with our ideas of human dignity, democracy, social market economy and the rule of law.
Will there be a United States of Europe someday?
Europe is not just the internal market and the common currency. We should develop it into a true political union, but we should also remain a Europe made up of our separate home countries. We can only hold our own in the world of the 21st century if we work together. Germany is large by European standards, but relatively small on a global scale. Germany’s economy will not remain strong and well in the long term if Europe fares poorly.
Have we put the worst of the euro crisis behind us?
I hope that we have already been through the darkest hour of the crisis, but we are not out of the woods yet. We can see light ahead, but also many dark clouds. That is why politically we must not call into question the joint goals we have set ourselves. Reform must continue in the member states. The gratifying changes in Portugal and Ireland show that the structural reforms have a positive effect. The deficit targets that we have agreed on must not be called into question.
Can Cyprus, which is seen to be a paradise for illicit funds, reasonably hope for financial aid from Europe?
Cyprus has a right to our solidarity, but it must also do something in return. The new government in Cyprus must take action and finally implement the reforms. Above all, it is time for more transparency in the banking sector.
What about the important elections in Italy? Would Europe suffer if the government of Mario Monti were to lose power and Silvio Berlusconi were to be successful?
We are convinced that the pro-European course and reform programme in Italy must be continued. That is what any new government will be judged by.
Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel is travelling to Ankara and visiting the German troops on Turkey’s border with Syria. Should Turkey become a full member of the European Union or would that stretch the Union too far?
The Federal Chancellor’s trip comes at the right time and sends an important signal. Visiting our troops on Turkey’s border with Syria is also an important show of solidarity.
And what about Turkey’s EU membership?
Whether Turkey will one day become a member of the European Union is not a question we are taking up today. It is a question to be taken up after our negotiations are finished. It is important to me that we treat Turkey with fairness and respect. The negotiation process needs new impetus. It has been much too long since a chapter in the accession process has been opened. Together with other foreign ministers, I am working to see currently blocked chapters opened before the middle of the year. Since the beginning of the year there has also been some movement in the negotiations. If we do not watch out, the time will come when Europe will be more interested in Turkey than Turkey in Europe.
What about Mali? Germany’s armed forces only made a few aircraft available at first, now more than 300 German soldiers will be sent. Is Germany becoming involved in a risky military mission?
No. We are providing training for the Africans so that they can do their part to stabilize Mali. The EU has prepared this training mission carefully. It is important that in addition to military stabilization, the political process is credibly implemented and Mali returns to democratic rule through elections.
Are Germany’s freedom and security really being defended in Timbuktu?
Wherever terrorism takes root, we must be on our guard. Northern Mali must not be allowed to become a safe haven for international terrorists. That would be a threat to our security in Europe. Germany must be a vigilant democracy both at home and abroad.
Is not Mali at risk of gradually becoming a second Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan there is a military mission with several thousand German soldiers. That is a far cry from our contribution in Africa now. In Mali, we are putting the political process at the centre of our efforts from the beginning.
Some say that you are too reserved with regard to using military means, too much dove and too little hawk. What do you say to that?
I do what I think is necessary. The culture of military restraint is not only part of the best tradition of liberals’ foreign policy, it is also part of the preamble of our Basic Law. Germany takes on much responsibility internationally. Around 6000 German soldiers are currently deployed all over the world. Military missions can only ever be the last resort. I always put stock in political solutions and diplomatic efforts first.
Does not the case of Syria and the civil war there demonstrate the failure of diplomacy?
The situation in Syria is shocking. We have criticized the position of Russia and China in the UN Security Council. We have to help the people in Syria. At the same time, we must prevent a conflagration in the region. There is a great danger that this wildfire might spread from Syria to its neighbours – to Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey.
What do you think of calls to aid the rebels by providing arms?
The European Union has just extended the weapons embargo. That is the right thing to do. Lifting it would only lead to an arms race and even more violence. The situation would escalate further. We should, however, try to help the opposition protect themselves better and to advance the reconstruction process.
Two years after the start of the Arab Spring, there is the threat of continuing chaos and instability, not only in Egypt and Libya, but also in Tunisia. Is the revolution going to devour its offspring?
Early on, I warned against unreasonable expectations. We need patience in the Arab world. The situations vary enormously: Morocco and Jordan are making progress. I hope that Tunisia takes advantage of the opportunities it has and continues on its path towards parliamentary democracy undeterred. It would be a mistake to write Egypt off. We should support the country as best we can. I am sure it has a tough road ahead. Egypt remains the key country in the Arab world.
The new United States Secretary of State, John Kerry, is visiting Berlin next week. What new initiatives do you hope to see?
That US Secretary of State John Kerry is travelling to Europe so soon after taking office is an important transatlantic signal. We look forward to his visit. It proves all those wrong who thought that Europe was no longer important to the United States.
How quickly could a breakthrough on the planned transatlantic free-trade agreement be achieved?
We have finally reached the point where US President Barack Obama, his Vice President and the Secretary of State have energetically put the plans for a free-trade zone with Europe on the political agenda. I anticipate that negotiations between Europe and the United States can begin by summer. I think it is realistic to expect a successful conclusion to the negotiations during Barack Obama’s presidency. Of course, there are some difficult issues – from agriculture to technical standards.
Questions: Andreas Herholz and Rasmus Buchsteiner. Reprint with the kind permission of the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.