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"Our aim is still to return to being the G8"

05.06.2015 - Interview

Interview given by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the run up to the G7 Summit. Published in newspaper Münchner Merkur (5 June 2015).

Interview given by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the run up to the G7 Summit. Published in newspaper Münchner Merkur (5 June 2015).

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The world is looking at Elmau. What topics are you expecting to address at the G7 Summit?

There is no shortage of pressing topics. Societies are sinking into brutal conflicts, young people are becoming radicalised and entire countries are on the brink of collapse, be it in Ukraine, Syria, Libya or Ebola-struck West Africa. In April I invited my G7 counterparts to Lübeck where, in a spirit of great trust, we discussed what we can do together to bring more peace and security to a world in flux. In Elmau the Heads of State and Government of the large, economically-powerful nations will address questions decisive to our future, too.

Beyond the present?

We’re not only thinking about what is happening now. Dealing with climate change or combating poverty and disease require stamina and forward-looking strategies.

Do you think it will be possible to restore the format of the G8 – what does Russia need to do?

Our aim is still to return to being the G8. We urgently need Russia to help resolve the many conflicts in our neighbourhood, such as those plaguing Syria, Iraq, Libya, as well as Iran’s nuclear programme. However, naturally we have to respond to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea as we do to the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. I am hoping that our combination of exerting political and economic pressure while at the same time maintaining communication channels with Russia open will get us out of a situation in Ukraine which is dangerous for Europe.

The topic of asylum is not directly on the agenda this weekend, yet it is a concern for many people. What are the next steps?

The state of crisis has become the norm in many regions of the world. The unprecedented waves of refugees are a consequence of this. Ever more people are leaving their homes to escape persecution and suffering. They are putting their lives at risk and in their desperation fall into the hands of criminal gangs of people smugglers.

What is to be done?

In Europe we have responded and hugely increased sea rescue operations. Our values dictate that we don’t leave people to die. But beyond this, a broad-based refugee policy is taking shape. EU action in the Mediterranean will aim to destroy the inhumane business model of the smugglers. Yet it’s vital to adopt a broader approach in addressing the causes of the migratory pressure. In other words: without the pacification of terrible conflicts such as those in Syria, the Horn of Africa or Nigeria, without stability in the areas where chaos reigns, such as in Libya, all we can do is treat the symptoms.

In an interview you once said that the world had come loose from its moorings. Which conflict currently causes you the most concern?

In contrast to other times, at the moment it is the concurrence of numerous extremely serious conflicts which makes the situation so volatile. My trips in the past week alone make that clear: I was in Ukraine, where even four months after the Minsk agreements, the situation remains unstable. During a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories it was impossible not to sense the importance of finally relaunching the peace process if we are to avoid the outbreak of another war. And finally in Paris, a meeting of the anti‑ISIS coalition addressed the question of which strategy to pursue in countering Islamist terrorism. Furthermore, the conflict which we’re currently dealing with 24/7 is the crisis in Ukraine, for it is practically taking place on Europe’s front door. Here, from the outset, France and Germany assumed particular responsibility.

For months now you’ve been dashing from crisis to crisis, jetting from summit to summit. Do you have a moment to catch your breath?

I won’t deny that the last few months have been intense, but I’m not complaining. Ultimately, no one forced me into my post. Quite the contrary, I am glad to be Foreign Minister. Other than that, whenever possible I try to make time for friends and family, as I managed to do recently when I went to my home town for a weekend. I catch my breath in these moments with my family, I make it to the theatre or go hiking in the Dolomites.

Interview conducted by Christian Deutschländer. Reproduced by kind permission of the Münchner Merkur

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