“This is not about more of the same – it’s about a different Europe”

27.12.2017 - Interview

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on the current challenges in global politics, and on Europe’s position in the world. Published in the BILD newspaper.

You have been Foreign Minister for nearly one year. What effect has this had on you? Has it changed your view of the world?
Economic ministers travel the globe in search of economic opportunities for their country. Foreign ministers do that, too. At the same time, though, they’re confronted with many unpleasant things in the world. Suffering, war and hunger. That’s also humbling. Of course, even in our country, not everything that glitters is gold. Here, we also have poverty and injustice. But, compared to the rest of the world, we do live in an incredibly secure environment.
What poses the greatest threat to our way of life?
The most dangerous thing would be to believe that it will always be smooth sailing for us. Anyone who feels overly secure is overlooking the great challenges. The greatest danger we face is that the number of global political players who take a rules-based approach is steadily decreasing. Of all countries, the one that helped establish these rules – the United States – is feeling less and less responsible for them. If this continues, the law of the strong will supplant the strength of the law. This, in turn, could cause our world order to crumble.
Is that why we need a United States of Europe?
Europe must learn to be a major player in the world. In the past, we’ve left this role to others – to France, the United Kingdom and the US. But that’s simply no longer possible. At least not if the US becomes an unreliable partner, and if new powers like China arrive on the world stage. They’re using a different playbook. They’re in a completely different league. And unlike us, they also have a global strategy.
A unified Europe may be important – but it’s not really a burning issue for people on the street.
If by “United States of Europe” you mean the Europe we know today, then you may be right. But this is not about more of the same – it’s about a different Europe. “A Europe that protects”, as France’s President Macron says.
I don’t think it’s that hard at all convincing people about this new European idea. The way to explain it is like this: China is growing, India is growing and Africa is growing. If your children want to continue to be heard, then it must be with a European voice. Otherwise, our children will not have a voice in the world! There are no other options.
You’re calling for greater responsibility for Europe. Why, then, have you expressed such strong reservations about NATO’s goal to have Allies spend two percent of their GDP on defence?
Because it’s completely unrealistic. Germany would need to double its defence budget. What’s more, it’s entirely unnecessary. By cooperating on defence at EU level, we can save money and at that same time assume more tasks. Lastly, it would be a disaster if Germany desired to lead Europe not only economically and politically, but also militarily.
The next German Government should not bind itself to achieving this target. We need greater cooperation and efficiency.
In Europe today, we throw lots of money out the window simply because everyone does the same things and no one coordinates with the others. That must change. Also, creating a larger military does not automatically create more security.
If, for example, you want to stop displacement and forced migration, then you must invest in Africa with a view to improving education, the economy and general living conditions.
Will you be a member of the next German Government? Or was your visit to Afghanistan just before Christmas your last trip as Foreign Minister?
I don’t know. But one thing’s for sure: Just because Germany is taking a long time to form a new government, the world hasn’t stopped turning. That’s why, at the Federal Foreign Office, we are of course continuing to plan for next year. But it is a strange situation nevertheless. It may sound a bit old-fashioned, but it’s also important to simply perform the duties of your office, regardless of what lies ahead. That’s what we were elected to do. To put it in a light-hearted way, it’s helpful to have a Prussian attitude.
Is the drawn-out process of forming a new government hurting our country?
Not domestically. Our institutions are much too strong for that. But we must work to prevent damage to our country’s image abroad. For this, we will soon need a more clearly defined policy on Europe. And to get that, we need a stable government.

Interview: Hanno Kautz


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