Minister Maas, you will be in Marzabotto later today to remember the massacre carried out by the National Socialists. How concerned are you about the “inexorable rise” of the nationalist and populist right in Europe and about episodes like Chemnitz, where the AfD, a party with seats in the Bundestag, demonstrated alongside Pegida and right-wing extremists?
I was shocked by what happened in Chemnitz. Many of my colleagues in Europe have raised the issue with me, and I can well understand their concern. We are suddenly seeing Nazi salutes again; this is a national disgrace. We have to oppose it unequivocally, with all the legal and judicial tools at our disposal. That’s what has been happening. But let me make one thing very clear: the vast majority of Germans are just as shocked by Chemnitz as I am. I am glad that there has also been a strong public backlash in support of democracy, openness and tolerance.
Chemnitz and the case of Hans-Georg Maaßen have brought the grand coalition government to the brink of collapse for the second time in a few months. How long can Angela Merkel’s government hold on? And isn’t this German crisis dangerous in view of what are likely to be the most important European elections ever?
A government ought to be judged by whether it can change people’s lives for the better. In our first few months, we have set a lot of things rolling and have been working on such important issues as pensions, rent, childcare and labour law. Unfortunately, the public dispute has created a rather different impression. We want to get back to those issues now. We have a lot planned between now and 2021. At the European elections, we intend to show that we can win votes with a pro-European agenda.
You have said that our response to “America first” should be “Europe United”. In the face of the tough slogans coming from Trump and the far right in Europe, isn’t that a bit vague? Don’t the traditional parties need stronger ideas and projects for Europe ?
“Europe United” means that we Europeans can only succeed in this international environment by working together, as we simply cannot shape world politics on our own. Behind the slogan “Europe United”, there are very concrete proposals for how we can strengthen the cohesion of the EU. In European foreign and security policy, for example – an area where Federica Mogherini, incidentally, has just demonstrated very well in New York how the EU stands up for its own policy on Iran. We should reach more decisions in that area by qualified majority rather than solely by unanimity. We will not let up in our fight for a genuine common European asylum system. But “Europe United” for me also means social cohesion in Europe, for instance in the fight against youth unemployment.
There can never be enough ideas and projects for Europe. They may come from the traditional parties, but they can also come from citizens’ initiatives or social movements. One way or another, the voters definitely have a real decision to make at the European elections next year. It is important that they exercise their right to do so.
In Italy, Lega and the Five Star Movement are in power and pursuing aggressive anti refugee policies and anti European sloganeering. How concerned are you about that, and don’t you think that the dissent of such a large country might cripple the European integration process once and for all?
The Italian Government has clearly affirmed its commitment to Europe, the European treaties and the euro. My many conversations with my opposite number, Enzo Moavero Milanesi, have assured me that Italy wishes to play an active role in the European integration process. I would certainly not deny that we are going through stormy times in Europe and that many questions are being asked. But in all this debate, not one person has been able to explain to me satisfactorily how one country is supposed to tackle migration, climate change and the spread of digital technology or issues relating to economic and monetary union by itself. The EU needs to be in a position to provide the people of Europe with actual solutions. And, as founding states, Italy and Germany have special responsibility. Isolationism and xenophobia, on the other hand, have no place in the EU. The barbaric and iniquitous massacre of Marzabotto in 1944 demonstrates the extremes to which nationalism can lead.