Foreign Minister Frank‑Walter Steinmeier in an interview with the Rheinische Post newspaper on the situation in Turkey following the attempted coup, the threat posed by terrorism and Europe’s refugee policy. Published on 2 August 2016.
Turkey has called on the EU to implement the easing of visa requirements by October otherwise the refugee agreement can be written off. Will the EU allow itself to be blackmailed?
That’s absurd! The fact is that conditions need to be fulfilled for visa requirements to be eased, and all sides know what they are. Turkey has committed itself to undertake the necessary steps to meet these conditions. However, at the moment this is not the case and Turkey still has work to do. The European Commission will examine very carefully whether and when Turkey fulfils the requirements. One thing is clear: it is in both the EU’s and Turkey’s interests to find a common solution on this. Hurling ultimatums and threats at one another isn’t going to achieve anything.
Does the EU need a plan B in case the agreement with Turkey breaks down?
I won’t speculate on potential plan B scenarios. We should stick to what has been agreed. Specifically, that means that the EU makes funds available for the accommodation and schooling of refugees in Turkey, and Ankara takes care of these people in the country. Let me add that Turkey has taken in an extremely large number of refugees within a short space of time. The Turkish people deserve our respect for this mammoth effort. That tends to be forgotten in the debate here.
Reports are coming in of new refugee flows on the Greek islands. Would Greece be in a position to absorb the influx if Turkey unilaterally revokes the agreement?
The number of arrivals on the Greek islands has not changed, it remains low. No upward trend can be discerned.
Following the attempted coup in Turkey, journalists are being arrested and academics prevented from leaving the country. The Turkish President is considering the reintroduction of capital punishment and is shaking up the military. Shouldn’t the EU be putting accession negotiations with a country like this on hold?
Cutting off ties is the worst thing you can do in politics. Our message to Turkey is clear. Where there are differences of opinion, we state them in no uncertain terms. That includes saying that the introduction of the death penalty would result in suspension of the accession negotiations. That would be incompatible with European values.
Is the Gülen movement behind the coup?
The Turkish Government is within its rights to respond politically and legally to the attempted coup. That night, Turkey was on the brink of the abyss, and I am glad that its fall could be prevented. However, some of the responses go far beyond any reasonable level. It is simply not acceptable when tens of thousands of civil servants, teachers and judges are dismissed, when thousands of schools and educational institutes are closed, and when dozens of journalists are arrested, without any direct discernible link to the coup. The Turkish Government has repeatedly stated publicly that it believes the Gülen movement to be behind the attempted coup. We expect the Turkish authorities to determine individual responsibility in accordance with rule of law procedures.
German citizens are anxiously following the terrorist attacks and individual rampages as well as an increase in crimes such as burglaries. How should policymakers respond to this?
Firstly, with the clear message that we will never resign ourselves to terrorism – in Germany or anywhere else. People rightly expect us to provide clarity on how threats and risks can be reduced, including by intensifying the work of the police and security authorities and closer cross‑border cooperation. Yet it is also clear that we have to take a decisive stand against hate‑mongering and false accusations and take clear and determined action to implement sensible improvement proposals. Above all, we need to tackle radicalisation at the roots. It is both a task of the Islamic countries to do their part in drying up support for terrorism and the responsibility of us all to put an end to violence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria. That is why we are engaged in the fight against terrorism, for example in Iraq, where Germany is playing a leading international role in providing humanitarian assistance and stabilising the regions liberated from IS. And we are working actively to at least curb the escalation of the civil war in Syria, which is now in its sixth year, and to keep the path to achieving a political solution open.
Do we need a new legal framework for the deployment of the Bundeswehr at home?
That is a very contrived debate: the police in Munich and in Cologne last weekend did outstanding work. The police are trained to deal with situations like that and have the necessary experience. I wonder what would have been better in Munich or Cologne with Bundeswehr units trained for quite different challenges? Under the Basic Law, the deployment of the Bundeswehr within Germany is restricted to inter‑agency assistance and major disasters. There are good reasons for this and we don’t need to change anything.
Interview conducted by Michael Bröcker.