Interview given by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the “Bild am Sonntag” newspaper, published on 17 July 2016
Minister, what does the attempted coup mean for our relations with our NATO partner Turkey and the Turks living in Germany?
Like many Germans, including those of Turkish origin, I followed the attempted coup in Turkey very tensely and with deep concern. The main priority at the moment is to avoid further bloodshed and ensure that the country can calm down again while upholding democracy and the rule of law. 200,000 tourists from Germany are currently in Turkey. There are few other countries with which we enjoy such trust and have such close personal ties. We therefore hope all the more that the time of military coups in Turkey is finally over and people can decide freely and democratically on the future of their country.
Is democracy in Turkey in jeopardy?
I am impressed by the united response of the parties represented in the Turkish Parliament, which on Friday evening immediately expressed their allegiance to democratic principles. This was also the message sent by the spontaneous gatherings of many Turks, who went out and defied the tanks.
What needs to be done now?
Now it’s important for order and stability to return to the country – for stability in the region is inconceivable without an internally stable, democratic Turkey. I presume that the individuals behind the attempted coup will face legal consequences. We have always stressed that we attach considerable importance to compliance with the rule of law in Turkey. That is still the case.
At the time of the attacks in Paris in November, you were sitting next to President Hollande in the stadium. Can you empathise with the pain he feels in the face of the latest attacks?
We share the pain of our friends in France. Following the attack, I immediately phoned my French friend and colleague Jean‑Marc Ayrault and assured him that we were grieving with them and that we stood by them. In moments like these Europe and its people move even closer together.
Can you understand the people who are now saying, “The state isn’t in a position to protect us”?
The sad fact is that there is no absolute guarantee of security. Germany’s security authorities do good work, but in the past we have no doubt also been fortunate. That said, we have an obligation to minimise the risks. Close cooperation between the police and security services in Europe will be crucial in this context.
How should Europe respond to this escalation of violence targeting the civilian population?
We must not allow the terrorists to drive us into a corner and contaminate our hearts with their violence and fear. I am encouraged to see people going onto the streets in the wake of these horrific acts of terror and stating loud and clear: you can’t rob us of our freedom!
What measures now need to be taken in Germany?
We have to keep calm. We must take a decisive stand against hate‑mongering, false accusations and marginalisation as well as continuing our efforts in the fight against terrorism, as we are doing through our engagement in Syria and Iraq.
Your new opposite number Boris Johnson compared the EU to Hitler and accused Germany of destroying Greece. How infuriating do you find Brexit‑Boris?
The appointment of Boris Johnson is in every respect a clear signal from Prime Minister May that she accepts the result of the referendum and intends to implement Brexit. To this end she is making a pioneer of the Brexit movement shoulder responsibility as a minister. Now we can expect Theresa May to put an end to the insecurity in Europe as soon as possible by submitting the formal application for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
What do you expect from Johnson?
Boris Johnson is a cunning party politician who knows how to use the Eurosceptic mood for his own ends. But now totally different political tasks are called for. Now he needs to show foreign policy responsibility beyond the issue of Brexit.
What do you mean by that?
The United Kingdom remains an important partner with whom we will still have to cooperate closely in future within the UN, the G7 and NATO as well as in Vienna and Geneva in the talks to resolve the civil war in Syria. It is down to the new British Government to prepare the ground to ensure that the United Kingdom and Europe can work to find joint solutions to such conflicts despite Brexit.
Is the EU threatened by further exits?
I haven’t heard of a single one of the 27 Member States that wants to follow the British example. So I don’t see any domino effect. On the contrary: the most recent surveys on Europe since the Brexit shock actually reveal an upturn in popular support for the European Union.
What is the right line to take towards Russia’s President Putin – sabre‑rattling or giving in?
The point at issue is not who is louder in rattling their sabres or who ultimately gives in. I believe we have reached a crucial point in our relations with Russia: we have to succeed in preventing a new arms race and consequently a new Cold War. Both sides have a responsibility to ensure that responses and counter‑responses do not turn into a chain reaction. Otherwise we will easily be drawn into a spiral of escalation which we will eventually no longer be able to control.
The EU has extended the sanctions against Russia until the end of January. Russia is still not allowed to return to the G8. How long is this frosty climate going to last?
Whether we like it or not, Russia and the West are obliged to cooperate for historical, geographical and political reasons. It is not in our interests to extend the sanctions against Russia indefinitely. Rather, our goal is for the conflict in Ukraine to finally be resolved. To this end, together with France, we are engaged in in‑depth talks with Moscow and Kyiv. If significant progress is made in this context, in my view there is no reason why we should not gradually eliminate the sanctions and put that point on the agenda for the next EU summit.
You are travelling to the United States next week. At the same time, Donald Trump intends to have himself nominated as the presidential candidate at the Republican National Convention. How dangerous would a President Trump be for the world?
In my opinion Mr Trump has made no reliable statements regarding America’s foreign policy. We have the much‑cited declaration that he intends to make America strong again. What that actually means remains unclear and above all does not equate with the statement that he intends to reduce America’s engagement abroad. Certainly, retreating from the world would neither make America strong nor the world more secure.
You know Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton personally from her time as Secretary of State. Would she make a good President?
Hillary Clinton is not only an experienced diplomat, but has also gained great recognition in the United States in other policy areas – for example through her initiatives in social and healthcare policy. Hillary Clinton also knows Europe well. I think she has all the qualities America needs in the current situation.
Interview: Roman Eichinger and Burkhard Uhlenbroich.