In an interview with the Rheinische Post Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle discusses the first meeting of the German‑Turkish Strategic Dialogue on 12 May and the situation in Syria. Interview as published in the online edition of 11 May 2013
Question: On Sunday you’ll be launching something quite new – the German‑Turkish Strategic Dialogue. So what’s Germany’s strategy for Turkey?
Foreign Minister Westerwelle: The past 15 years have been an impressive success story for Turkey. Thousands of German companies do business in Turkey. For millions of Germans it’s a great place for a holiday. And millions of people here with Turkish roots have helped make our country the success it is. We feel these people‑to‑people ties could yield still greater benefits – also in political and strategic terms.
There are millions of Turks already in the European Union. When will the rest follow?
If you have a German passport, you’re an EU citizen, no matter whether you hail from Istanbul or Bonn. In the negotiations with Turkey on EU accession fairness, respect and consistency are of the essence. No one can say at this stage whether and when Turkey will be ready to join the EU, whether and when the EU will be ready to take in new members.
Eight negotiating chapters are on hold, in many EU countries considerable hurdles are in place – even referenda in some cases – which will be hard to overcome. So is EU membership for Turkey now in any way a realistic prospect?
At this stage it’s pointless to speculate about what the outcome of the negotiations will be. Nor does anyone in Turkey expect this. The crucial thing is that we honour our agreements, that must be very clear. Only one chapter has been concluded to date, everything else is still fluid.
This fluid state seems to be holding things up.
We’ve had an overly long stalemate due to entrenched positions on both sides. For that both the EU and Turkey are responsible. The way things are going, however, I think we’ll soon be opening new chapters. As I see it, regional policy would be an excellent one to start with. On competition, too, I hope we’ll now see some headway. After two and a half years without any noticeable progress, this could give the negotiations a much‑needed boost.
Be that as it may, what the Chancellor wants is not full membership but a “privileged partnership” – is that, too, part of the strategy for Turkey?
In the coalition agreement we agreed to negotiate with Turkey fairly, consistently and above all with no predetermined outcome. That’s our common position.
What would a privileged partnership bring Turkey in the way of advantages?
I don’t want to see our important relationship with Turkey become an issue in the election campaign. Turkey has been making great and breathtaking strides – which opens up tremendous opportunities also for German business. Despite justified criticism, Turkey’s reform agenda has made significant progress – and this applies to the field of home affairs, too. Turkey is an important bridge to the Islamic world. As a NATO member it assumes responsibility for the alliance’s common security. So we have a partnership of equals with Turkey. If we’re not careful, the time will come when Europe will be more interested in Turkey than Turkey in Europe.
What will this strategic dialogue with Turkey look like?
The idea is to have a broad‑based dialogue. We want to discuss not only bilateral issues, not only our political, societal and cultural relations. We also want to synchronize our positions in the international arena. For example, we’re both members of the Group of Friends of the Syrian People. As such, we’re consulting closely on how to facilitate a fresh, democratic start in Syria and prevent a conflagration that would engulf the whole region.
Washington and Moscow are now organizing a conference on Syria to end the civil war there. What will this require as a first step?
The key thing is to convince both sides of the advantages of a political solution. Here the US‑Russian agreement sends a strong message.
Does that mean the idea of supplying the insurgents with weapons has now been shelved?
I understand the motives of those who’ve been considering such a step. But I remain unconvinced as long as two questions are left unanswered. Will bringing in more weapons mean that fewer people die? And how can weapons be prevented from falling into the wrong hands, into the hands of extremists, terrorists and jihadis, for whom Damascus is just a staging post on the way to Jerusalem.
Does Iran’s call to fight Israel also in Syria confirm you in your scepticism?
From many countries in the region young people are being drawn to Syria to fight on various sides for all kinds of goals. That’s something I’m extremely concerned about. On this point let me be very clear: an Islamist terrorist doesn’t become our partner just because he’s fighting against Assad.
The questions were put by Gregor Mayntz. Reproduced by kind permission of the Rheinische Post.