In his resignation letter, German national team member Mesut Özil complained about racism. Is he right?
Irrespective of Mesut Özil’s case, there should be no doubt whatsoever that we must stand up very resolutely to any form of racism and xenophobia. Unfortunately, we still have a lot to do in this regard. The number of xenophobic crimes and anti-Semitic attacks remains shamefully high. And regrettably, a very large number of people in Germany are still threatened by racism in their daily lives. That does not only affect Mesut Özil.
But nevertheless, was he right to raise the issue?
Mesut Özil expressed his views and made his decision accordingly. This decision must be respected. We should not forget that he played a role in the success of German football for a great many years. It is important to me to say, and not only with regard to the debate on Özil, that it is still up to all of us to stand up for the values that define our country, namely tolerance, diversity and freedom. Diversity does not pose a threat and nor is it something we should fear. When people are subjected to racist threats or anti-Semitic abuse in daily life, we are all called upon to take action.
Foreign Minister, is US President Donald Trump a foe of Germany and the EU?
Regardless of whom President Trump describes as a foe, I do not see the US as an opponent, but rather as our most important partner and ally outside the EU. The US is bigger than the White House. Trump can tweet all he wants, but he won’t be able to change that.
But in trade policy, the signs have been pointing to escalation for a long time now. Trump has described the EU as a “foe”. Can a trade war still be averted?
The question is in what way a trade war can be averted. We should not allow Trump to threaten us. Instead, we need to keep the EU together and to defend ourselves assertively as a bloc against tariffs. We need to set a boundary as regards Trump’s methods. He has to see that he will not succeed in dividing Europe. Trump needs to understand that the US only stands to lose, too, if we hit each other with tariffs.
If Trump imposes tariffs on European car imports, won’t the EU be forced to respond with tariffs on imports of Boeing aircraft or Apple iPhones?
There is no doubt that the EU would be forced to take countermeasures in this case. That’s not something I could have imagined a couple of months ago. But matters will not improve if Brussels caves in and lets whoever shouts the loudest get their way. The EU must defend itself. It cannot allow itself to be blackmailed.
You are travelling to Japan and South Korea. Is this partly an attempt to find new networks and partners in view of the huge trade policy shake-up in the US?
Absolutely. Japan, a champion of free world trade, is one example. Germany and Japan also share democratic values and convictions. We are seeking a close partnership with South Korea and Canada, too. One of German foreign policy’s most important tasks in the future will be to form an alliance to preserve the multilateral world order. We will not replace the US, but we can try to bridge the biggest gaps.
The Brexit negotiations are bogged down. On what point do you think the British should definitely budge?
The UK Government will have to budge on some issues so that the exit from the EU can be as orderly as possible. One issue is the border between Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland. Another is the undivided single market. The UK can’t simply cherry-pick here. We want the public and companies to be able to plan. Time is really running out now. But we will not allow ourselves to be put under pressure and nor will we make any deals that are detrimental to Europe.
Eastern Europe is refusing to take in refugees. In the meantime, Austria and Italy are also pursuing an isolationist course. Will Europe end up shifting to the right on the question of migrants?
The eastern European countries, which achieved their freedom not all that long ago, seem to be more reticent about people from other cultural backgrounds coming to their countries. In some places, unfortunately, right-wing populist groups are able to drum up support by campaigning vehemently against Europe. However, not a single international issue will be resolved by a country going it alone. But it’s also clear that you can’t force anyone to sign an agreement on the fair distribution of refugees. Nevertheless, we will continue working on sharing responsibility.
How do you want to share responsibility?
Those who oppose a quota could play their part in other ways, such as by providing funding or tackling the root causes of migration. We cannot allow new nationalists to use migration issues as campaign fodder. And migration cannot be allowed to divide the EU.
Do you sympathise with Italy, which does not want to take in any more refugees rescued by the official EU mission Sophia?
We have left the Italians to cope for far too long on their own with the refugee situation. And the rules on sea rescues were originally designed for a few emergencies.
The European Commission wants to redefine the Sophia mission. What needs to change?
We need to ascertain whether we need more ships and personnel in the Mediterranean. We must also agree on how much we can do on land in North Africa. The Libyan coastguard needs more support.
Would Germany be willing to voluntarily take in more refugees in order to ease the burden on the Government in Rome?
We have already done a great deal. It is important that we now agree in Europe on how to deal with landing refugees. That could mean quotas, but also sharing responsibilities.
At the EU summit in late June, it was agreed that holding centres would be set up for migrants in the EU and Africa. So far, no one has lifted a finger. Where are these centres supposed to be set up?
North Africa’s governments currently oppose the idea. I share the scepticism about how such centres in North Africa can work. I see a very practical problem with these central reception centres in Africa. And it is not realistic to think that the very people who know their chances of being allowed into the EU legally are practically zero will wait in these centres. They would look for new ways to enter Europe illegally.
So the idea of holding centres in Africa makes no sense?
At any rate, we should not expect too much of these concepts. Why should people go to these centres when they are extremely likely to be rejected?