“No barriers along the Rhine and the Oder again”

03.06.2023 - Interview

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in an interview with the Funke media group

Question: Will the EU manage to find an asylum policy compromise that noticeably relieves the pressure on Germany?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: It is an open wound in Europe that for years we have not had a functioning common asylum policy in the EU. People are dying in the Mediterranean. Families who have fled from the Taliban are waiting in unstable camps. Europe is leaving itself open to blackmail by countries such as Turkey. At the same time, municipalities in Germany have reached their limits as a result of Russia’s war of aggression and the many people who have fled from Ukraine. Now, for the first time since 2015, the EU Commission has proposed a compromise that has a real chance of bringing together the very different concerns in the EU: those of the Mediterranean countries, where most refugees arrive, those of countries like Germany, which already take in many people, and those of the countries we are calling upon to show more solidarity. There are three elements involved: all refugees are registered at the border. All EU states commit themselves to a binding solidarity mechanism. And only those refugees are distributed who have a prospect of remaining in Europe.

Question: How should the refugees in Europe be distributed? Are you in favour of binding refugee quotas?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: The important thing is that we distribute refugees in accordance with the principle of solidarity. In the past few years we have seen how countless attempts to achieve this have failed. The new proposal from the EU Commission is complicated, but it has brought many to the table who until now had refused to negotiate. Under this proposal, the Commission stipulates annually how many people need to be redistributed, and all member states make a firm commitment with regard to how many they are prepared to take in. Countries that take in fewer refugees have to share the responsibility in other ways, such as through compensation payments to the states with a particularly heavy burden.

Question: What do you think of the idea of asylum procedures at Europe’s external borders?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: Simultaneously both a curse and an opportunity. Border procedures are highly problematic, because they infringe on civil liberties. But the Commission proposal is the only realistic chance of establishing an orderly and humane distribution procedure in the foreseeable future in an EU made up of 27 very different member states. That means that in the majority of cases, we will not abandon people who have fled to escape war and torture on the external border for years, but will offer them prospects. We are therefore negotiating hard in Brussels to ensure that no one remains trapped in the border procedures for more than a few weeks, that families with children do not go through the border procedures, and that the right to asylum in its essence is not eroded.

Question: Do the Greens go along with that?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: That depends on whether our European human rights standards are respected. It’s a fine line to draw. That’s why critical questions from the parties, non-governmental organisations and churches are important. But doing nothing would also have bitter consequences. I am always guided by this: am I, through my actions, helping to improve people’s situation, even if only by a millimetre? In practice and not just on paper. Because we already have nice regulations in theory, but unfortunately no one complies with them. Without a common European response, the trend everywhere is already towards more isolation, more pushbacks, more fences. And without order on the external borders it is only a matter of time before one EU country after another starts to talk about internal border controls again. As a passionate European, I don’t want borders to be put up along the Rhine and the Oder again.

Question: Is Germany consistent enough in deporting rejected asylum seekers?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: First, to be clear: every person has the right to apply for asylum. States are obliged to examine these applications carefully. And at the same time: whoever, after exhausting all legal options, then does not receive a residence permit and where there are no obstacles in the way of deportation cannot remain. Quick, orderly and humane procedures are important in these cases. For months of delay in processing applications place an excessive burden on municipalities, and at the same time having to live for months or years in a state of uncertainty puts great pressure on the individuals concerned.

Question: Are deportations to Afghanistan and Syria still out of the question?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: With the Taliban’s reign of terror, Afghanistan has gone back to the Stone Age. Women are shut in at home, torture and persecution are the order of the day. We therefore do not deport people to Afghanistan for good reason. In Syria, the brutal dictator Assad is still in power.

Question: What is your position with regard to calls from your party to expand the grounds for asylum Foreign Minister Baerbock: We are already working to support climate refugees all over the world. For more people are fleeing from storms, drought and desertification than from war and conflict, particularly within their homeland or to a neighbouring country. Through our climate diplomacy we can provide financial support also and particularly in situations like this. That helps more than opening up the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which at a time when we are seeing a massive political shift to the right would be its death blow. Those are precisely the issues we are discussing within my party.

Question: The Greens have plummeted in the opinion polls. Why is that?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: Support for the coalition as a whole has been up and down in opinion polls in recent months. When people get the impression that the Government is primarily concerned with itself, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Where we provide common responses to the massive crises of our times, such as resolving the gas crisis or supporting Ukraine, we build trust. And that is what politics is all about.

Question: Can you understand the anger of many people in response to Robert Habeck’s heating law?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: I realise – and Robert Habeck is even more aware – of how many questions and doubts there are with regard to the heating law, because people in Germany have very different living and therefore also heating arrangements. However, what I don’t understand at all is the fact that the very people who until recently couldn’t get enough Russian gas and had slept through the energy transition now consider themselves the greatest heating experts. Particularly since some of our neighbours have shown us that attaining the goal of the law – namely climate-neutral heating – is eminently feasible. In Austria and France it is already law, and in Sweden and Denmark it has been a reality for many years.

Question: The senior Green politician Winfried Kretschmann has warned that in politics you can’t achieve things simply by doggedly imposing them. “Using bans in the context of a complex issue such as the heating problem is like riding the razor’s edge.” Do you agree?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: Absolutely. That is why Robert Habeck and Klara Geywitz made clear from the start that such a complex project – like the Renewable Energy Sources Act in its day – has to be continually adjusted.

Question: You have experience with difficult political situations. What advice do you have for Habeck?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: Robert doesn’t need my advice, and there’s certainly no reason why he should be running around in sackcloth and ashes. When Putin turned off our gas, Robert, in his role as Deputy Chancellor and Economic Affairs Minister, brought us through an extremely difficult winter in very trying circumstances. But I’m more than certain that when we are facing into the wind, especially when it is a biting one, it is important to stand together. And that’s what Robert and I are doing.

Question: Do you feel that Chancellor Scholz gives you enough support in the area of climate protection?

Foreign Minister Baerbock: As Greens we will always be somewhat more impatient in the area of climate protection than our coalition partners. That is okay. What is most important is that everyone keeps their word.


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