“Data protection needs to be a human right”

31.07.2013 - Interview

Interview with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the turbulent events in the Arab world, the National Security Agency spying scandal, Pope Francis and the European debt crisis. Published in the Rheinische Post newspaper on 31 July 2013.


What do you feel has had the greatest impact on your work as Foreign Minister to date?

On the foreign policy side Europe and the revolutions in the Arab world – above all that historic moment on Tahrir Square in Cairo. The yearning for freedom, the hope, the can‑do spirit of the young people there are something I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget, by the way, their enthusiastic cheers for Germany that day.


What about the bloody conflicts under way in Syria or Egypt? Should Germany simply keep out of it when people elsewhere come to blows?

To take that view would be short‑sighted and dangerous. Given our lack of raw materials and strong exports sector, no country is more dependent on the wider world than Germany. What makes us prosperous is not anything in the ground we stand on but the grey matter inside our heads. That alone has enabled us to develop fantastic products which we want to sell to the rest of the world. If instability or even war engulfs whole regions, our own national interests will be adversely affected as well.


How tough should we get with the Americans about the NSA’s spying activities?

We’re pressing for the full facts to be made known and we expect the Americans in Germany to respect German laws. We don’t regard the explanations the United States has provided to date as good enough.


What lessons should we learn from this affair?

That data protection needs to be a human right. Current protection of privacy rules as laid down by international treaty date back to the mid‑1960s. With a number of my European counterparts I’m planning an international initiative here to convene a special Conference of the Parties. The aim would be to ensure that, in an era of new technologies that were sheer unimaginable in the mid‑1960s, data protection is recognized as a human right also in international law.

What do you think of Pope Francis?

His pontificate has only just begun. The sympathy and concern he shows for countries facing tremendous societal challenges is something I find very wise and impressive. His recent statements on homosexuality have struck a chord. This might help start a debate on the subject. The role of women in the Roman Catholic church is another thing where I hope we’ll see new thinking.

Do you agree with the view that “if the euro fails, Europe fails”?

If we lose our common currency, Europe will be on a slippery slope. If that happens, the centrifugal forces we see in Europe – right now stronger than ever – will carry the day. What Europe’s going through now is its severest test yet.

Many people here are worried it’s always Germany that has to foot the bill.

If Europe and its common currency were to fail, it’s us who would suffer most. It wouldn’t be long before we again had five to six million people out of work. A huge proportion of our exports go to the EU. Work on getting Europe’s finances back into shape has only just begun. [...]

Is there a point where you’d say: Up to here but not an inch further?

The German Government has successfully resisted the idea of joint and several liability for Europe’s debts. What’s important now all over Europe is to resurrect the subsidiarity principle. Europe should regulate only the things it needs to regulate. It shouldn’t interfere in things that can be managed far better at national level. It’s certainly not up to Brussels to tell a medium‑sized company in Westphalia how many women they must have in the boardroom.

The questions were put by D. Hübel and R. Michels. Reproduced by kind permission of the Rheinische Post.


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