During his visit to Ljubljana, Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke to the Slovenian newspaper Delo (30 April 2015).
Germany and Slovenia are concerned about the problems in the eurozone – particularly about Greece; both of our countries are liable for money we have lent to Greece. Germany insists that all eurozone countries ensure that they run a sustainable budget and improve their competitiveness. What is your advice for those countries who complain that not all members of the eurozone can export as successfully as Germany does?
What we certainly shouldn’t do is impose a single economic model on all of Europe or all of the eurozone. Quite the contrary, Europe is diverse. Our continent offers many ways for a state and an economy to be successful. Nevertheless, two elements always seem to be important for an economy to thrive and for people to be confident: a stable public budget and competitive businesses. This is something we’re working towards together, so that we Europeans can stand our ground in the globalised world of the 21st century, so that our children are given the same chances that we had.
However it’s also true that the reforms in the EU member states can sometimes be very painful for individual citizens. The longer the reforms were overdue, the harder the reform process is. Thus we must ensure that the reforms are implemented in a socially just manner and that it is not just the weakest members of society who bear the brunt. It is for them, too, that we must ensure that Europe makes a swift return to the path of sustainable growth; in most member states the signs of that happening don’t look at all bad.
Some German economists are advising that Greece leave the euro because the country could develop better with a new currency (such as the drachma). After everything that has happened in recent months can you still rule out that option?
All Europeans are working tirelessly to keep Greece in the euro. Unfortunately since February 2015 we’ve lost a great deal of time, but in recent days it looks like the negotiations with our partners in Athens are gaining momentum again. It would be good if this is maintained so that we can reach an agreement with a positive conclusion of the programme by May or June. That doesn’t give us a lot of time but it’s enough. I trust that our Greek partners are aware of how serious the situation is.
The crisis in Ukraine is still far from a comprehensive solution, the EU and NATO’s relations with Russia are still very strained. We’re witnessing continuing military threats, for instance in the Baltic Region, and the EU has just criticised Gazprom’s pricing policy. How do you view the situation?
The Minsk agreements, which essentially sketch out a road map to de-escalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine, enabled us to stop the conflict from spiralling out of control. We have taken some important first steps in implementing the agreements – with the withdrawal of heavy weaponry and the ceasefire which is mostly holding. This is good but far from sufficient. What is most important now is to move forward with the launch of a political process; on that front we need to keep on trying.
For the danger that the conflict in eastern Ukraine poses to Europe has not yet passed. It’s important that we in the European Union pull in the same direction and jointly continue our dual approach – sending clear messages to Russia, where necessary with sanctions, too, whilst at the same time demonstrating a willingness to engage in dialogue. Germany is coordinating particularly closely with its eastern European partners in this matter. For us it’s clear that Europe is strong when it speaks with one voice.
The refugee catastrophe in the Mediterranean is serious. What has to happen to avoid more victims?
We Europeans cannot be left cold by the fact that so many people are dying in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe. That is why we urgently need to devote our full efforts to resolving the refugee problem in the Mediterranean.
On the one hand, this involves sea search and rescue. Last week, the European Council shone a spotlight on saving people’s lives. The funding for the relevant Frontex mission will be tripled in order to bolster the assistance measures. The German Government has offered to make two Federal Armed Forces ships available.
On the other hand, we also want to put a stop to traffickers and smugglers who deliberately put people’s lives at risk in their ruthless greed for profit. To this end, the heads of state and government adopted a raft of measures last week; the High Representative is currently drafting proposals for their implementation.
We must however also tackle the root cause of the problem – the crises in the relevant countries, such as Libya, the country of transit for many of the refugees. Therefore the EU will propose to the African Union and the countries affected that we hold a summit on these issues.
Finally we need a fairer distribution of refugees in Europe. 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. We’re hoping to see a willingness to come to a new understanding in the spirit of pan-European responsibility.
Foreign Minister, Germany and Slovenia are partners in the EU and the eurozone as well as allies in NATO. What message are you bringing with you to Ljubljana and what topics will you be addressing?
Germany and Slovenia enjoy excellent bilateral relations. That helps us to jointly advance important topics within the European Union. For instance we’re going to talk about further developing the European Neighbourhood Policy, something which Germany and Slovenia have a particular interest in doing.
We will also discuss European migration policy in the Mediterranean and our approach to dealing with the refugee crisis in view of the dramatic situation there. Furthermore, Slovenia is a role model and bridge to help the countries of the Western Balkans align more closely with the EU and NATO – that will also be on the agenda during my visit.