Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave the following interview to the Spanish daily El País on the occasion of his trip to Madrid from 23 to 24 February. The article appeared on 24 February 2014.
The threat of civil war shook Ukraine this week. Are we going to see a solution soon?
Ukraine is part of Europe. We in Europe are not unaffected by what has been happening in Kyiv. The many people who have been killed or injured in these outbreaks of violence in Kyiv represent a tragedy for Ukraine. Developments have been moving at breath-taking speed in recent days. In a dramatic situation, Radek Sikorski, Laurent Fabius and I decided with Lady Ashton’s agreement to go to Kyiv and try to prevent the worst. We wanted, as we still do, to do everything in our power to stop things descending into anarchy and civil war and to safeguard the country’s national unity.
What expectations do you have of the opposition?
It is good that Yulia Tymoshenko is at liberty after years of imprisonment and ill health. She and other opposition leaders now bear great responsibility for Ukraine’s future and its national unity, as the situation in Ukraine remains critical. We need a functioning transitional Government in place as soon as possible. The plans of the future political leadership in Kyiv must not fall under the influence of those who are out for revenge. On the contrary, political escalation needs to cease and give way to a search for dialogue and reconciliation regardless of political camp or regional difference. This emphatically includes making political overtures in an easterly direction. The agreement mediated by Germany, France and Poland provides a sensible road map for that, which has the support of both sides.
You have proposed that Germany should take a more active role in solving global crises. Is that a break with your predecessor’s policy? What steps should we expect to see taken?
Germany mustn’t just comment on international politics from the sidelines. We need to assume responsibility for what happens around us. This is definitely not to advocate militarisation. The policy of military restraint remains right, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for a philosophy that says we keep ourselves to ourselves out of laziness or lack of courage. We are seeing the crises of the world moving closer to Europe’s borders. The United States is being more reserved when it comes to looking out for Europe’s security. In that situation, we Germans and Europeans need to bring the whole set of diplomatic tools to bear. The proof of the pudding will be in what we actually do day to day.
So what are we actually doing?
Germany is increasing its commitments in Mali by sending parts of the Franco-German Brigade to the European Union Training Mission there, which Spain is also taking part in. We are going to destroy and dispose of materials resulting from the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons in Germany. We are doing all we can for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine.
The European project is not as well respected as it was. Many people in Europe see the EU as a problem. What is Germany going to do to change that?
Many people in Europe look back on the past few years of crisis and feel disillusioned; some also raise accusations against Germany. In some countries, the upheaval has led to an unsettling rise in support for Euro-sceptics. Particularly in view of the European elections, the proponents of the European idea need to stand firm and make their voices heard. Advancing European integration sensibly is essential if we are to leave the crisis behind us, above all the crisis in the economic and monetary union. We have to drum up support for this with sound arguments and enthusiasm. Spain is a key partner in this endeavour. Despite the crisis, the Spanish people have proven to be admirably immune to anti-European populists.
Only a few months ago, you were leader of the Opposition in the German Bundestag, and you criticised Merkel’s Europe policy. You said it had “failed”. What has changed in Europe now that the SPD is part of the German Government?
We need to pursue a reform policy in Europe that strengthens social cohesion. That is why one of the new Government’s first actions has been to take steps to introduce a statutory minimum wage across Germany. We also need to look at taxing the financial markets. At the European level, we strongly advocate introducing a financial transaction tax. After a great deal of joint effort, Europe has now reached a point where we can start to see the clouds lifting. Spain has left the recession behind and exited the ESM programme. That is a great success. That said, in coming to Madrid I’m aware of the considerable sacrifices many Spanish people have been forced to make. It is important to ensure that the economic crisis does not give rise to a political crisis in the European Union. Germany takes its responsibilities very seriously in that regard. And I’m not just talking about our responsibility to support reform processes in our capacity as an anchor of European stability but also about the need to secure the consent of Europe’s citizens with respect to European integration.
Is Germany going to be open to agreement on creating a banking union?
It goes without saying that we will need tangible successes if we are to rally support for the European cause. A good solution to the banking union issue is therefore crucial. Germany is completely behind the project. The negotiations in Brussels are moving forwards, and I see willingness there to seek consensus.
This interview was conducted by Juan Gómez.