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“Close coordination with Poland and our other eastern European partners is very important to me”

27.04.2015 - Interview

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave an interview to the Polish daily newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” to coincide with today’s German‑Polish intergovernmental consultations (27 April 2015).

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave an interview to the Polish daily newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” to coincide with today’s German‑Polish intergovernmental consultations (27 April 2015).

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Statement by Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the death of Władysław Bartoszewski

The news of Władysław Bartoszewski’s death filled me with great sadness.

His long, eventful and full life reflects all the horrors of the 20th century as much as it does the joy of the regained freedom and self‑determination of his beloved home country, Poland.

Władysław Bartoszewski experienced incredible suffering, from the horror of Auschwitz to the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the yoke of communism in Poland.

This never led him to doubt, let alone reduced him to despair. Instead, it strengthened his belief in the idea of a free and democratic Poland at the heart of Europe.

With Władysław Bartoszewski’s death, we have lost both a great European and a great freedom fighter.

We are grateful to Władysław Bartoszewski for his outstanding and unwavering commitment to reconciliation between Germany and Poland. It is also thanks to this commitment that we now enjoy German‑Polish relations that Władysław Bartoszewski himself described as “better than at any other time in history”.

We will not forget this. And we are grateful that we can build Germany and Poland’s shared future on this foundation.

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Refugees have been dying in the Mediterranean for years while attempting to reach the coast of Europe. Only now, after last week’s disaster, is the EU actively trying to do something about this. It even convened a crisis meeting of the European Council. What do you think Europe can do to prevent such tragedies and to solve the problem of mass illegal immigration?

It is a terrible tragedy. It shakes the way we as Europeans perceive ourselves that so many people are dying in the Mediterranean. This is why we urgently need to join forces in Europe to start resolving the refugee problem in the Mediterranean.

On the one hand, this involves sea search and rescue. Last week’s European Council meeting agreed on concrete ways to enhance sea rescue. We now need to put these means into practice without delay.

We also need to tackle the root cause of the problem – the crises in the local countries, such as Libya, the country of transit for many of the refugees, where we will continue to work towards a political agreement. If an agreement is reached, we will do our utmost to help implement it and to stabilise the country.

And finally, we need to put a stop to traffickers and smugglers, who deliberately put people’s lives at risk in their ruthless greed for profit. To achieve this, we need cooperation from the countries that tolerate trafficking centres or serve as departure points for the boats. This will require a concerted international alliance.

At the same time, there are no easy answers, as such solutions do not do justice to the challenges of effective sea search and rescue, the complex situation in the countries of origin and transit, and the problem of criminal smugglers.

Do you share the view that the burden of taking in refugees should be shared between all EU members? This would mean that not only Italy, but also countries such as Poland, would have to look after a quota of refugees. How can other countries be persuaded to do this?

The number of people fleeing from civil war, suffering and poverty is higher today than at any other time since the Second World War. We need ways to allocate refugees fairly. Six of the 28 EU member states, including Germany, are currently taking in 80 per cent of the refugees from the Mediterranean. Germany took in the highest number last year – just over 200,000 people. It is important that we reach agreement on the shared responsibility of all EU member states for the refugees.

The situation remains tense in eastern Ukraine, and the Minsk Agreement has not yet been fully implemented. There are more and more reports about new supplies of weapons and new recruits from Russia. How do you see the risk that the ceasefire will be broken by the separatists – that is, by Russia? How will the EU respond to that?

The Minsk Agreements allowed us to prevent the conflict in eastern Ukraine from spiralling out of control. We now have a ceasefire that is largely holding, and heavy weapons have been pulled back from the buffer zone. What now needs to happen is movement towards a political process, as laid down in the package of measures agreed in Minsk on 12 February, which basically outlines a road map for de‑escalating the Ukraine crisis.

But the truth is also that the risk of the conflict escalating once again in eastern Ukraine has not yet been averted. It is all the more important that we stay on the ball as regards implementation of the Minsk Agreements. One thing is certain at any rate: a new escalation resulting from a large‑scale offensive by the separatists in Mariupol or somewhere else in eastern Ukraine would not go unanswered by the EU.

Why did the Poles not take part in the Normandy format talks?

As the name suggests, the Normandy format came into being on the margins of the ceremonies to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings in Normandy. It is currently the only format in which Moscow and Kyiv are prepared to negotiate with each other. This is why I do not see any other practicable alternative at the moment. However, our focus is on our common European goal – namely to de‑escalate the conflict in eastern Ukraine – rather than on the format itself.

I am in constant contact with my Polish counterpart Grzegorz Schetyna as regards current developments in Ukraine – and that is also the case when Normandy consultations are scheduled. Close coordination with Poland and our other eastern European partners is very important to me. I made this clear during my last visit to Warsaw in February and at the Visegrad Group meeting last month. Incidentally, Grzegorz Schetyna was last in Berlin at the beginning of March, and we are meeting again today in Warsaw for the German‑Polish intergovernmental consultations. The high number of bilateral visits and meetings alone shows how close German‑Polish relations are.

How do the Germans see the Ukrainian Government’s willingness to undertake reforms and the reforms that Kyiv has already adopted?

Ukraine is facing an arduous, and doubtlessly also a painful and long reform path. The Ukrainian Government is facing up to this difficult task and has set itself ambitious reform targets. This deserves our respect.

It is good that the reform tasks are now being undertaken step by step via the necessary legislation, for example in the energy sector and the fight against corruption. We believe it is important that the new legal regulations are put into practice consistently and applied properly. At any rate, Germany stands ready to support Ukraine actively in its endeavours to undertake reform. We are also doing this tomorrow in cooperation with the international community at the International Support for Ukraine Conference in Kyiv.

Europe has another problem – with Greece. Do you think there could be a “grexit”?

My aim, the aim of the German Government and the aim of all European partners is for Greece to remain a member of the eurozone. Greece can count on our continued solidarity. This is why we stand by our pledges of assistance on the basis of the agreements made.

Of course, this also means that Greece itself must uphold its undertakings and obligations on fiscal consolidation and reforms. There is not an unlimited amount of time to do so. I trust that our Greek partners are aware of how serious the situation is.

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