During his visit to Colombia, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier speaks to the daily newspaper El Tiempo. Published on 15 February 2015.
What’s your assessment of the outcome of the negotiations in Minsk?
It was a very long night in Minsk; the negotiations were extremely difficult. Everyone knew what was at stake. Everyone was aware of the consequences had we left without reaching an agreement. In the end, it was the shared conviction that this must not happen that kept us negotiating and working hard through the night. I am pleased that it was possible to agree on a joint declaration. I say that without any excitement and certainly without euphoria, for it did not come easily.
Nevertheless, we have achieved something. The most important thing is that Moscow and Kyiv have agreed on a ceasefire. We reaffirmed the September Minsk agreements. For the first time, we have set out a clear timetable for the implementation of provisions of the Minsk agreements – on elections, border control and prisoner exchanges, to name but a few.
To some that will not be enough. We had also hoped for more. But that is what the Presidents of Ukraine and Russia were able to agree on during the negotiations.
We hope that both sides have negotiated sincerely and with good intentions here in Minsk. Moreover, we expect them to refrain from anything which could undermine the agreements reached in the particularly delicate phase before the ceasefire enters into force. Eruptions of violence could still undo all of our efforts.
The agreement is not a comprehensive settlement and certainly no breakthrough. However, after weeks of violence, Minsk II could mark a step away from this spiral of military escalation and could lead to political impetus. If there is a chance of this happening then our efforts were worth it.
What is the motivation behind this trip? To what end and with what messages and projects have you come to Colombia?
It’s very important to me to ensure that, despite the serious crisis in Ukraine, we don’t neglect our important relations with Latin America. As an important, up‑and‑coming country, Colombia plays a very important role in this. The country is going through a decisive phase of its history and I hope that 2015 brings peace for the people of Colombia. There have never been such high hopes of ending the conflict which has lasted for over 50 years.
Germany has supported the peace process for many years and will continue to offer its support in the post-conflict phase. In doing so we’re offering to share our own experience of coming to grips with the past. In my talks in Bogotá I want to make concrete proposals on how we could do this.
My visit will also focus on strengthening trade and economic integration as well as intensifying our cooperation in academia and research. Many high‑ranking representatives of German companies and scientists are accompanying me for this reason.
German foreign policy is currently enjoying a great deal of influence in the world. The search for allies and strengthening of alliances is part of this. Against this backdrop, what does Germany expect of Colombia in terms of strategic cooperation with the EU?
I see Colombia and Germany on the path to a close, trusting and increasingly important partnership in tackling global challenges. Colombia is prepared and in a position to play an active and positive role when it comes to international security, the fight against drugs and terrorism or environmental and climate protection. We’re pleased about President Santos’s announcement that, in the medium term, Colombia wants to take on more foreign policy responsibility on the international stage – particularly within the framework of the United Nations – and indeed just as pleased that the country is willing to cooperate more closely with the EU in this field. We support Colombia’s journey towards OECD membership and have made good progress in fully implementing the free-trade agreement with the EU. These are achievable steps.
How do you view the state of Germany’s relations with Colombia’s neighbours, such as Venezuela and Ecuador?
I’m greatly concerned by the situation in Venezuela. The very difficult economic situation demands rapid and courageous action on the part of the Government. Without far‑reaching reforms, the country won’t overcome the current crisis. We hope that the Government will indeed endeavour to avoid escalating the political situation. I’m naturally very interested to hear the assessments of my Colombian interlocutors on the situation in the region and neighbouring countries.
Our relations with Ecuador have traditionally been amicable, for many years we have pursued the same goals, for example on environmental and climate protection, as we have with Colombia.
Along with the rest of the international community Colombia is shocked and concerned by the staggering rise of citizens’ support for the Pegida movement in Dresden. Similar movements have arisen in other cities. How do you see the manifestation of this new trend of xenophobia and racism, and the support it enjoys amongst German citizens?
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. We will not let ourselves be divided, by neither Islamophobes nor terrorists. The majority of the population in Germany want our country to be tolerant and open to the world. Overall, many more people in Germany attend the numerous counter‑demonstrations which advocate peaceful coexistence. And I’m grateful to the many people in my country who help refugees on a voluntary basis. They don’t turn a blind eye when millions of people in Europe’s neighbourhood need help. Germany is taking in more refugees than nearly any other country in Europe.
On 7 January the terrorist attacks in Paris shocked the world. Security experts believe that Germany could also be a target for Islamist attacks and that these could be carried out by German citizens who have been recruited by Islamist extremists. What is the German Government’s plan of action to prevent and stop German citizens from being recruited into the ranks of extremists?
Work on prevention and raising awareness is becoming ever more important. Above all young people who are still forming their views must be protected from becoming radicalised. That is a very broad task and is one for all of society to take on. Our communities, schools and associations must fight for people vulnerable to the influence of extremists. Such integration work is arduous, but there are no easy answers here. Of course, in order to ensure our citizens’ safety we need effective security services which cooperate on an international level. We are currently toughening up our criminal law in line with United Nations provisions in order to counter the phenomenon of foreign fighters.
Interview conducted by Patricia Salazar Figueroa.