Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe at the Federal Foreign Office, in an interview with the Huffington Post (3 February 2017) on the inauguration of the new US Administration
Minister of State, what was your first thought when you heard Trump had won the election?
I really hadn’t expected him to win. I had been in Chicago and Minneapolis just a few days before the election. I didn’t meet anyone there who thought it possible that he would win. Not even any Republicans. I came back to Germany with this firm conviction.
What do you think the impact of the election will be now?
This election will have just as massive an impact on our politics as Brexit. Now we know that a new era is beginning for Europe.
How do you assess the first few days of the Trump Administration?
People were kidding themselves thinking that Trump would be completely different as President than he was in the election campaign. We need to expect that Trump will now rapidly implement the promises he made on the campaign trail. Many of his decisions are pretty strong stuff. Dealing with them will be a challenge.
With some 1.2 billion euros, Germany is the second‑largest donor of humanitarian assistance. This is however only a fraction of what the United States is contributing worldwide. If Trump makes cuts here, are we Europeans prepared to pay more?
Trump’s political style is causing outrage in Germany and around the world. With you too?
Tweeting something new every day against Trump’s policies doesn’t achieve much. It’s easy to say how awful it all is. In Europe we need to pull ourselves together finally, to stand together and confidently present our ideas to the United States.
What do you expect from the Chancellor when she goes to Washington?
It is good that she has found clear words and made plain that transatlantic relations are based on shared values – and not on power. It is important that Europe speaks with one voice. We only have the necessary clout when all EU heads of state and government and the EU institutions send the same message to Washington.
And what is the message?
That we in Europe will not let ourselves be divided by his “deals” politics. It would be awful if we failed to find a common language. If we failed to develop a common strategy. It would be fatal if everyone tried to strike their own special deal with Trump.
How is that going to work if we have Marine Le Pen, an anti‑European, potentially about to assume power in France?
It is remarkable that nationalists and populists are so taken by supposedly “strong men”. Incidentally, I’m not just thinking of France here but of all of Europe, just take the AfD with us. The reverence shown to Trump, Putin and others is quite something. But I am confident that the majority of the French will vote for someone who knows how valuable solidarity and cohesion on our continent are for all of us.
How do you manage such optimism given the current global situation?
Times have been harder in this world. Despite the many crises, we have a strong foundation of peace, freedom, democracy and the rule of law in the EU. In Germany, things are looking better than they have for a long time.
We are not on the brink of World War One. Nor are we in the throes of the darkest Middle Ages. And Europe remains a strong force. That gives us courage. Furthermore, I am not just a politician. I walk through the forest with my dog of a Sunday and spend time with my family.
Some people thought you were going to be made Foreign Minister. Are you disappointed?
I am very pleased with this decision. With Sigmar Gabriel, we have a politician as Foreign Minister who has a strong European and international profile.
How will you get on with the new Foreign Minister?
Gabriel is a different character to Steinmeier. I know him well and know what makes him tick. We’ve been getting on well for ages.
You were just as surprised as the rest of us when it was announced that Schulz would run for Federal Chancellor. You tweeted: “Just got out of the plane and everything is different”. Do you often feel you have landed in another world?
Sometimes I do. I started at the Federal Foreign Office at a time of new crises and growing complexity. From the very outset it was quite a challenge and all at high speed. We are living at a time we will remember in twenty or thirty years. The growing fear of globalisation, increasing nationalism and populism, Brexit, Trump’s election victory, the situation in Syria, global migration, unpredictable elections in Europe: we are in a permanent state of emergency.
How do you deal with the permanent shocks?
Firstly, trust in God. Secondly, a good night’s sleep.
Nothing unsettles you?
Of course it does! For example when I saw the miserable conditions in a refugee camp on one of my trips through Europe. I was aghast when people told me this was one of the better refugee camps. These are the moments where everything takes on a darker hue and they very much leave their mark.
Interview conducted by Jürgen Klöckner.