“We must not be naive”
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in an interview with WELT
Question: Minister, don’t you like flowers? Or why do you always let it be known on international visits that you don’t want to be presented with a bouquet of flowers on your arrival?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I love receiving flowers, especially on my birthday. However, large bouquets are quite simply impractical when I’m at an airport and have just disembarked from a government aircraft or I’m at a copper mine. And casual observers would perhaps not reckon with the lady with the flowers being the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany. After all, men are rarely given a bouquet on disembarking from a government aircraft or at a copper mine.
Question: One criticism directed against the implementation of the feminist foreign policy relates to your stance on Iran. The supporters of the women’s rights movement are demanding that the Revolutionary Guards be placed on the EU’s terror list. Your ministry argues that for this to happen there would have to at least be an investigation within the EU into the Revolutionary Guards. But such an investigation is being carried out at present in North Rhine-Westphalia. Are you putting forward legal arguments because you don’t want the Revolutionary Guards to be placed on the list? For instance, are you concerned about Germany’s good contacts with Iran?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: No. If someone terrorises their own people, and especially women, in the way that the Iranian regime and the Revolutionary Guards are doing, then a listing is patently morally right. However, feminist foreign policy doesn’t mean bending the law to suit your own ends. That’s why I asked the Legal Service of the Council of the EU for an opinion on whether a listing of the Revolutionary Guards is possible at present under the EU’s counter-terrorism sanctions regime. The answer was no. That’s why we chose another mechanism with the same effect, namely human rights sanctions against responsible commanders of the Revolutionary Guards. It wouldn’t help women in Iran if a listing were to be immediately stopped by the Court of Justice of the European Union. That would be grist to the mill of those who are terrorising their own population.
Question: There’s a danger that the nuclear agreement with Iran will break down once and for all. The country will soon be capable of building nuclear weapons. Does Israel have the right to protect itself militarily if it feels threatened by Iran’s nuclear programme?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Under the UN Charter, every country in the world has the right to defend itself. We’re also emphasising this tenet with regard to Ukraine. And Israel’s security is part of Germany’s national ethos. Unfortunately, the Iranian regime’s stance throughout last year made a mockery of the talks on the nuclear agreement. At the same time, the right of self-defence has narrow limits, especially when it comes to preventative measures. A military escalation in the Middle East is a nightmare scenario for people there and we have to use all diplomatic means available to us to prevent it. Together with our international partners, we’re making it clear to Iran that it must not attempt to enrich uranium to a higher level.
Question: Ukraine is demanding that accession talks with the EU start before the end of this year. And it’s also demanding formal security guarantees from NATO. Do you believe either is possible?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I take my hat off to Ukraine and the way it has launched reforms in the midst of war to facilitate quick accession to the EU. However, as much as Ukraine belongs in the European Union, there can be no concessions when it comes to the rule of law, freedom of opinion or shared European values. Accession therefore depends on the reform process. As we know, NATO for its part is pursuing an open door policy because sovereign states can decide for themselves to which alliance they want to belong. In Ukraine’s case, this question won’t be addressed at the present time. First of all, this terrible war must end. Therefore, we won’t cease to support Ukraine’s self-defence and its right to exist.
Question: There’s great concern that the former Soviet republics Georgia and Moldova could drift towards Moscow. Even though the Georgian Government has withdrawn its controversial law on placing constraints on civil society organisations. You’re travelling to Georgia soon. Do you share these fears?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: It’s part of Russia’s strategy to destabilise societies which are moving closer to Europe. Particularly now, when Putin has not had the military success in Ukraine he expected, it’s no coincidence that Russian attempts to exert influence in Moldova and Georgia are being stepped up. What’s more, governments combatting nepotism and corruption in order to rid themselves of their dependency on Russia are being torpedoed. That’s the reason I’m travelling to Georgia now. And that’s the reason why I initiated the Moldova Support Platform last spring. We share European values with the peoples of Georgia and Moldova. We’re supporting their desire to lead self-determined lives in peace and freedom through the EU accession perspective.
Question: Your ministry is drafting a new Federal Government China strategy in collaboration with other departments. When could the strategy be presented and which main points can you already name?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: I’ve always said that the National Security Strategy comes first and then the China strategy. So you won’t have to wait too much longer.
Question: It has been claimed that there have been disagreements between you and Chancellor Scholz while preparing a new China strategy. In a draft drawn up by your ministry, there is said to be a passage about lesser dependence on China as well as possible EU import stops for Chinese products when supply chains free of human rights violations cannot otherwise be guaranteed. Aren’t conflicts with the Federal Chancellery and the business community almost inevitable?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: We’re drafting the China strategy in close coordination with all ministries as well as with the Chancellery. And we’re exchanging views with very many German companies, major companies as well as small and medium-sized enterprises. We agree that in a globalised world we cannot cut our ties with China. However, we must not be naive. For our open society is both what makes us strong and what makes us vulnerable. The experiences of many small and medium-sized companies have shown that we need guarantees for fair competition, protection to ensure that the know-how of our companies in China isn’t tapped into and then used against us on our own markets. China is a competitor, partner as well as a systemic rival. Major listed companies may be primarily focusing on short-term profit on the Chinese market. But we as the German Government have an obligation to protect the long-term economic and security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany. In concrete terms, that means, for example, not incorporating products that can be used to spy on our citizens into our critical infrastructure.
Question: Can the guidelines on exporting arms be eased for joint European projects?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Because we believed that our children, just like us, would always live in peace, politicians and society in general didn’t spend enough time in the past examining what defensive capabilities actually mean. Even though we in NATO and also in the EU have long since been working closely together on security and defence issues. However, the Russian war of aggression has shown that ammunition and equipment from different European countries are not automatically compatible with each other. That’s why we’re now drawing up a strategy with our partners on closer industrial policy cooperation with regard to the arms sector. That also means that we need a shared policy on exports. Until now, despite an EU Common Position there have been very different national standpoints on this. That poses challenges, especially in relation to joint projects. I’ve therefore had intensive discussions in my own party, arguing that when it comes to joint European projects it cannot be that a country can first sign contracts, on whose binding nature partners rely, and then tell us afterwards that it has thought of something else. However, we mustn’t allow what we’ve achieved in the foreign policy sphere to be undermined by arms exports. If we condemn the bombing of civilians in the strongest possible terms we can’t at the same time export the ammunition to the countries responsible. That’s why we need joint European rules on which countries we can export arms to. And also rules on what happens if very serious human rights violations are committed – whether we can withdraw export licences under these circumstances.
Interview: Pierre Avril, Daniel-Dylan Böhmer, Tonia Mastrobuoni, Elena Sevillano González and Jennifer Wilton