Ahead of his visit to Brazil, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave an interview to the newspaper “Folha de São Paulo” (12 February 2015).
Foreign Minister, what is the concrete aim of your visit to Brazil?
As the largest country in South America, Brazil has a lot of say – and not only in the region. It is the only country in Latin America with which the German Government maintains a strategic partnership. We are not only united by cultural similarities – we also share a value system. Many Germans experienced Brazilians as outstanding hosts during the fantastic FIFA World Cup last year. All of this forms a good basis for my visit. I am looking forward to comprehensive talks with my new Brazilian counterpart, Mauro Vieira. Both of our countries want to shape globalisation in a responsible way. From Ukraine to Nigeria, we are currently experiencing how violence and numerous conflicts are unsettling the world. Creating a new order and peace in this alarming situation is a global undertaking. This is why I want to align our view of the international crises with that of our Brazilian partners. How can we exert influence on Russia effectively? How can we support our partner countries in Africa against the terrorists from Boko Haram? These are examples of concrete questions. However, I am also very interested in hearing my Brazilian interlocutors’ views on the difficult situation in Venezuela and on the historic developments in US‑Cuban relations.
A large delegation of CEOs of German companies is accompanying you on your visit to Brazil. Does this mean your trip is not just about politics?
That’s right. German firms were very keen to join me on my visit to Brazil. Senior representatives of well‑known German companies will meet Brazilian business people and economic policymakers. We are visiting Brazil at a time when declining prices and demand for raw materials are redefining policymakers’ options. Our aim is to show clearly that Germany and the German economy remain reliable partners in difficult times, too – partners who are willing to continue working together to build bridges across the Atlantic through greater cooperation, particularly in the fields of science, research and innovation.
Environmental activists in Brazil and Germany have been critical of the discussion to renew the bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement between Germany and Brazil that has been in force since 1975. Is Germany interested in extending this agreement for more than five years? Does the German Government have strategic reasons for not ending this special partnership?
Germany and Brazil have been working very closely together on all aspects of energy for many years. We are currently focusing on promoting renewable energies and energy conservation. Germany supports Brazil in these areas by providing guidance on technical and financial issues. At the same time, it is my understanding that neither side sees a reason to end the cooperation on issues concerning the peaceful use of nuclear power, which includes important questions such as improving nuclear power plant safety, non‑proliferation, nuclear waste disposal and radiation protection.
Is Germany trying to take on a more key role on the international stage, although surveys show that Germans don’t want their country to be more active internationally?
We are conducting a broad debate in Germany on our country’s role in the world. This is not a theoretical discussion. On the contrary, the world around us seems out of joint, and we are looking for a new global order. We are experiencing this every day from eastern Ukraine to Syria and from Iraq to West Africa. As a politically stable country with a strong economy, Germany cannot – and must not – merely comment on events from the sidelines. At the same time, however, we need to ask ourselves honestly what we can do and where our limits lie. Many Germans have very high expectations in this regard. They want Germany to exercise restraint as regards military measures, but to be highly involved in diplomatic and humanitarian initiatives.
Could this involvement be extended to include the deployment of German troops in a conflict zone if other western partners also sent troops, for example in order to defeat ISIS?
I do not envisage German troops taking part in a combat mission in the Middle East. And I also do not see that any other country would be prepared to send its soldiers on a mission whose parameters are unclear and where one can’t tell who is friend and who is foe among the hundreds of militant groups. Military missions must fundamentally be very well thought out. As regards defeating ISIS, it is crucial that we also find a way to reach a political settlement that places the coexistence between the various population groups in the region on a new footing. This also involves removing Islamist extremism’s ideological basis.
Along with the attacks in Paris, the growth of the anti‑Islamic Pegida movement in Germany has sparked a debate on Islamophobia in Europe. What do you see as the best strategy for dealing with this problem and for ensuring that anti‑Islamic demonstrations do not lead to a violent reaction by Islamist extremists?
The majority of the population in Germany regards the protests against Islam and refugees with grave concern. Pegida and its offshoots do not stand for our country. Germany is, and remains, open to the world. Many people do voluntary work in their towns, and do not look away when millions of people are forced to flee. The German Government is participating in the fight against Islamist terrorism with great resolve. Just recently we agreed to tighten our criminal law. But at the same time, we invite the many peaceful and well‑integrated Muslims in our country, who are just as shocked about the atrocities, to engage in dialogue.
Syriza’s election victory in Greece has changed how Greece regards the Stability and Growth Pact with the European Union. Can Germany consider accepting Greece’s suggestion to renegotiate its debts? Is there a real danger that Athens will leave the eurozone?
Greece is firmly anchored at the heart of the European Union. Our hope is that it will remain there in the future. There is no doubt that our aim is to strengthen the eurozone and to keep all its members on board. Germany is aware of its shared responsibility for making European integration a success. As democrats, we naturally respect the new majority in the Greek parliament. We do not only support sustainable budgets, but also growth, investments and innovative strength. If our Greek partners make a realistic suggestion that respects the existing obligations and at the same time shows ways of undertaking the necessary reforms in a more social‑minded and just way, then obviously we will examine this suggestion seriously.
Is the dialogue for peace between Ukraine and Russia brokered in Minsk by France and Germany the last chance to resolve the conflict in Ukraine peacefully? Is the German Government considering sending arms to Kyiv if the initiative fails?
Our aim is to find a peaceful solution to the Ukraine crisis. People are dying almost every day, and peace and security all over Europe are at stake. These are crucial days. Germany and France are working hard with the support of all EU partners to launch a political process so that the Minsk Protocol is implemented after all. To this end, the parties to the conflict held talks at the highest level in Minsk with France and Germany, and European heads of state and government are discussing further action in Brussels today. Europe’s strength lies in the fact that we stand together, a stance we must maintain. It is clear to everyone that if the current endeavours are not successful, the conflict will escalate to a new level. There cannot and must not be a military solution. This is why we are sceptical about sending arms.
Interview conducted by Juliano Machado. Reproduced by kind permission of “Folha de São Paulo”.