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"We need considerable national and European endeavours to remove the causes of flight"

24.12.2015 - Interview

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung (24 December 2015).

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an interview with the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung (24 December 2015).

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On 5 January you will be turning 60. Is that a watershed for you?

Well, it’s certainly different. I’ll just have to get used to it, I suppose.

Physically as well? After all, with all the flights and time differences, your life is a physically demanding one.

That doesn’t really bother me. I have no problem with jet lag. I often use the time on the plane for a bit of a nap.

How much rest do you need?

Five or six hours. I get my sleep in segments, in the car, for example, or on the plane, as I said.

Five years ago, you donated one of your kidneys to your wife. How are you both doing now?

Remarkably well. We recently celebrated our fifth birthday. Even five years on, I can say that it was a good decision.

Staying with your family for a moment: your daughter is now grown-up, and has spent a year in Palestine. Is she more critical of Israel than the German Foreign Minister?

We are both agreed that the two-state solution is the only way to help overcome the problems in the Middle East.

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For a long time you and the SPD wanted to find a diplomatic solution to the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, and not to take any military action at all. What has happened for us suddenly to be in a war in Syria after all?

That is not the true story. I never said we should do nothing in military terms; on the contrary, a year-and-a-half ago I said we would have no credibility if we did not participate militarily. Back then, on a visit to northern Iraq, I saw the fleeing women and children whose husbands had been beheaded and whose daughters had been sold as prostitutes to the IS terrorists at the front. It is obvious that it is not enough just to give these people a sack of rice and a few warm blankets. The fact that IS last year lost a quarter of the territory it had conquered is due to the air attacks and the courageous fighting of the Peshmerga, whom we are providing with training and equipment.

The war in Syria is continuing. Where is it all going to lead?

The Security Council resolution adopted in New York with a view to conducting UN-led negotiations on a ceasefire is a small glimmer of hope that there might at last be an end to the daily tally of death. Of course there is no guarantee of success. Setbacks are always possible, but the very fact that we have managed to keep all the parties at the table so far is in itself worth a great deal.

The flows of refugees have helped a shift to the right in Europe, most recently in France, and in Germany too with the AfD. Is Europe collapsing?

The refugee flows are the biggest stress test the European Union has ever had to face. The refugee problem is not a German problem, but a European one. In the long term it is not good for Europe if only four or five states feel they bear any responsibility. We must arrive at a fairer distribution of the burden. All states must shoulder responsibility.

What cut-off point do you see for refugees in Germany?

We will not be able to integrate a million refugees into Germany every year. The number has to be cut. But there is no one simple solution as to how to do this. We need considerable national and European endeavours to remove the causes of flight. These include agreements with other states on the return of refugees and protection for the EU’s external borders. In this regard the Commission has made good suggestions which we strongly support. The agreements with Turkey, too, are important elements in managing the refugee flows.

Can Schengen and freedom of movement within Europe still be saved?

We can only make internal borders meaningless if we effectively strengthen the external ones. Our problem is that we removed all the controls at the internal borders without stepping up controls at the external borders. We have to do that now, in cooperation with the country that is key for migration, namely Turkey.

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Reproduced by kind permission of the Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung.

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