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"Europe has gained a breathing space, nothing more" (interview)

23.02.2015 - Interview

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with the Bild newspaper (23 February 2015) on the negotiations with Greece regarding an extension of the rescue package and on the conflict in Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with the Bild newspaper (23 February 2015) on the negotiations with Greece regarding an extension of the rescue package and on the conflict in Ukraine.

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Let’s start with Greece – has Athens averted the country’s exit from the eurozone (Grexit) by agreeing to the austerity and reform package?

Europe has gained a breathing space, nothing more. We certainly haven’t resolved the situation yet. Now it’s up to the Athens Government to make the next move. Which is to say that Alexis Tsipras has to explain to the EU how Greece wants to meet the legitimate expectations of those who provided the funds. The talks on this are underway. We should follow them without any malice or arrogance.

If Athens asserts itself against the EU – what incentive will there still be for other southern European countries to carry out reforms?

That’s why I say that the implicit basis of the dealings between Greece and the EU – assistance in exchange for reforms – must be maintained. It’s perfectly acceptable if Athens wants to change individual points. However, if changes lead to additional spending, then cuts have to be made in other areas or more revenue has to be generated.

Moving on to the Ukraine conflict, you’re meeting the Russian Foreign Minister again tomorrow. Why don’t you finally tell the Russians: this far and no further ...?

We want to meet in Paris on Tuesday to do whatever we can to ensure that the Minsk Protocol is implemented. We’re seeing the first signs that it could be possible to defuse the situation at least to a certain extent. Both sides have finally exchanged prisoners and are clearly ready to start withdrawing heavy weapons, not yet everywhere but at key points on the front – all of that is part of the Minsk Protocol. It’s vital now that the separatists halt their military activities. It’s up to Moscow to continue exerting pressure on them. I’ve told my Russian counterpart that in the many telephone conversations we’ve had during the last few days.

And?

Despite all the difficulties, the Minsk Protocol could make a difference as long as the parties to the conflict don’t write it off.

Why not buttress the precarious ceasefire by sending an international peace mission?

There’s no reason not to. However, a UN mission would face major obstacles: experience shows that it takes several months before UN peacekeeping troops are ready for deployment. Before that, a UN mandate is required. Whether that can be obtained with the support of Russia and China is uncertain, to say the least. At any rate, whether with or without a UN mandate, we’ve got no time to lose and have to be on the ground much more quickly in order to monitor compliance with the ceasefire. That’s why we’re pinning our hopes on what we already have, namely the OSCE observer mission which we have to expand and make more effective.

Interview conducted by Rolf Kleine. Reproduced with the kind permission of Bild.

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