An interview with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the Westdeutsche Allgemeine (28 June 2016) on the situation following the British EU referendum
You invited the foreign ministers of the EU founding members to a Brexit conference - and were criticised for it. Are you engaging in a separate foreign policy, Mr Steinmeier?
We need to do everything now to keep our Europe together and to prevent damage to the Europe that we built up so successfully in the more than 60 years since the war. And we must not allow ourselves to become hysterical or paralysed by shock. Moaning and groaning won’t help either. What we need now are talks where we listen to each other and discussions on ideas and proposals on the way forward for Europe. That is what I am doing and I’m doing it with 100% commitment.
Is your group of interlocutors not too small for that?
On Friday, we met with all the member states in the Council in Luxembourg, on Saturday with the foreign ministers of the founding members and the Baltic states, on Monday with the Eastern European Visegrad states in Prague.
I talked countless times at bilateral level, first and foremost with my Polish and Slovak colleagues. At the end of the week, Slovakia will assume the Council Presidency and is thus a particularly important contact. If a foreign minister isn’t meant to do that, then you don’t need one in Germany.
Many Brits seem to regret their vote to leave the EU. Is the Brexit reversible?
Foreign policy isn’t a jukebox where you can choose the song which best expresses just how you are feeling. We worked hard to promote the Remain campaign but the British people have made their decision. That is the fact of the matter and we need to deal with it. The next logical and political step has to be for the political leaders in Britain to implement the decision their people have made by launching withdrawal negotiations and, what is more, as quickly as possible without catapulting us into deadlock and a long period of uncertainty.
But it looks like that deadlock is exactly what we are going to get.
There is no denying that the British people are divided and that British politics has to deal with serious discord in the aftermath of the referendum. Nevertheless, we need to be particularly careful that the Europe of 27 is not damaged further. That is why I presented a food-for-thought paper at the weekend together with my French colleague Jean-Marc Ayrault outlining our concrete proposals on how we envisage the next steps. We are now talking about that and about the ideas others have.
Is a two-speed Europe the answer now?
Europe’s crisis did not start with Britain’s exit nor will that be end of it. Economic and financial crisis, youth unemployment, growth, refugee flows, internal and external security: the list of important European topics is long. Also on this side of the Channel, also incidentally here in Germany, there are differing ideas on how to proceed with the European unification project.
I am convinced that our shared future is best secured in a united Europe. We have to keep Europe together. To do so, Europe needs to develop further and show it is able to act. Only if we show what Europe brings – particularly where people have the most problems – only then will we win back trust in our shared European project.
And that means?
That can mean that some states such as Germany and France and other like-minded nations want to step up cooperation and others are initially more hesitant. We need to deal more honestly with this asymmetry. In other words, not all countries have to join in all steps for further integration.
But of course we do not want to fall short of what has already been achieved. For that reason, we can imagine a European Union in the future which allows for greater differentiation. What is important is that the door must remain wide open to partners who do not want or do not yet want further integration steps.
This interview was conducted by Jochen Gaugele. Reproduced by kind permission of the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung