“We are in a triple crisis in Europe”

18.04.2016 - Interview

Interview with Frank-Walter Steinmeier published on www.jetzt.de on 16 April 2016.

Interview with Frank-Walter Steinmeier published on www.jetzt.de on 16 April 2016.


Today’s event was devoted to cultural relations and education policy, and “crisis prevention” was a major buzzword. But how much does that help the people in Idomeni on the border with FYR Macedonia?

I don’t think that question is justified. Investment in cultural relations and education policy cannot prevent every misfortune and cannot produce peace overnight.

Quite the opposite: foreign policy is often all about getting away from short-sighted activism and working towards long-term solutions and structures. And cultural relations and education policy plays an important role in that.

In what way?

First of all, we have to be aware that there is no one single truth, but varying perceptions of one and the same reality. In talking about these, we have to make sure that these differences do not turn into misunderstandings, misunderstandings into conflicts and conflicts into wars. I am quite modest on this: there is no guarantee and no direct causal link between investment in culture and education and peace. But I do believe we can at least make it easier to attain peace if we bring people together and get people from civil society talking to each other.

In foreign policy there’s a lot of talk about dialogue. But recently many young people have been getting the feeling that the dialogue has got bogged down. That things which ought to be firm certainties, like the EU for instance, are suddenly crumbling. What do you think?

I think people like me, who are a bit older, feel that even more. Because I grew up in an age when barriers were removed in Europe, when a single currency was introduced, and when borders ceased to be something you noticed. Over four or five decades we experienced that Europe as a process of increasing integration, in which the things that divided us became less and less important, and we appreciated the differences in each other.

And the situation’s different now?

Now we are in a triple crisis in Europe: an economic and financial crisis, which we’ve heard about often enough under the buzzword “Greece” and which hasn’t yet been resolved; the Brexit discussion; and a debate on refugees which is really putting this Europe under stress. It is not yet clear whether we will master these challenges. All I can say is this: we must do everything we can to ensure that Europe does not fail. That is our responsibility to the people, and particularly to young people.

German culture has been talked about a lot abroad recently - but because of Jan Böhmermann’s satirical poem. What do you say to the Federal Government’s decision, announced today, to allow Jan Böhmermann to face prosecution in Germany?

There is nothing more to say about this than what I said in my statement a few minutes ago: the members of the Government had various views on this. I was one of those who thought the matter should not be handed over. Others had reasons for taking the opposite decision. In the end the majority decided, and the CDU members of the Government were in the majority.

Interview conducted by Charlotte Haunhorst.

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