Vladimir Putin is stepping up repressive measures. In recent months, he has threatened Ukraine with war, nearly poisoned Alexei Navalny to death and is holding him captive in very difficult conditions. He has also supported the restoration of calm in Belarus and increased cyber attacks on Western targets. And yet Federal Chancellor Merkel rewards the Kremlin by building Nord Stream 2 and wants to convene an EU-Russia summit. What else does Moscow have to do for Germany to change its policy on Russia and forgo the financial Benefits?
Without any doubt, Russia’s relationship with the EU is currently noticeably strained, and we’re unanimous among EU member states in this analysis. The question is what conclusion we draw from this. Our goal is to build a pragmatic relationship with Russia wherever this is possible, and to listen and articulate our own interests in the dialogue with Russia. At the same time, however, we will continue to adopt a clear stance on violations of the law and provocations and respond to them in a united and appropriate manner. We have demonstrated this, for example, in the Navalny case as well as with regard to the Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian-Russian border. And, as the EU, we have introduced tough sanctions against Belarus, despite demonstrative solidarity with Moscow. These recent examples show that we carry more weight when we act together as the EU.
In a prominent interview for “Rzeczpospolita” on 11 June, Foreign Minister Rau said the following: “In the matter of Nord Stream 2, Germany has sacrificed its values and security interests of the free world for cooperation with Russia, which is pursuing an aggressive policy.” Why, 30 years after the signing of the German-Polish Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness, has such a lack of understanding between Warsaw and Berlin emerged?
We’re on the same side as the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and also with the US when it comes to our energy security in Europe. That’s precisely why we have endeavoured from the outset to reach a viable compromise solution that also takes account of the legitimate interests of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe – especially Ukraine. This is precisely what the 2019 gas directive seeks to achieve. Germany has worked to ensure that the gas transit through Ukraine remains in place and will continue to do so in the future. We’re holding talks on this with Poland, and also with the US and Ukraine, of course.
But it wouldn’t do justice at all to the very close bilateral relationship between Germany and Poland to reduce our cooperation in the EU and NATO to Nord Stream 2 alone. Anyone who does so ignores how close and diverse the relations between our countries actually are – on a wide variety of issues and at different levels, relations that have been built up over many years. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier travelled to Warsaw in June to, together with President Duda, celebrate the 30th anniversary of the German-Polish Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness, which you mentioned. And I’ve visited Poland four times during my term in office. This is my fifth visit.
Poland is Germany’s third most important trading partner, surpassing even France and Italy. The whole of Central Europe is more important for the German economy than its partner across the Rhine. And yet all important projects in the EU are tackled jointly by Germany and France. Why?
Germany and Poland are very closely interlinked not only economically, but also culturally and politically – not least together with France in the Weimar Triangle, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. We want to breathe greater life into this format again at all levels. There are also differences of opinion, of course, but when Paris, Berlin and Warsaw talk to each other and see eye to eye, that’s good for Europe. As large member states, we bear a special responsibility for the European project.
Is democracy in Poland under threat? Can you imagine an EU without Poland?
Democracy and the rule of law are absolutely essential to the functioning of the EU as a community of states. Because we have such close economic and political ties, we must be able to rely on each other to ensure that these core values are abided by across the board. This doesn’t mean that we always have to agree. But everyone must respect this basic consensus.
We believe that Poland is at the heart of Europe – not only geographically, but also, for example, in terms of its people, culture and society. I cannot nor do I want to contemplate an EU without Poland. However, the discussion about this also seems to me to be very hypothetical because, after all, a clear majority of Poles have come out time and again in favour of EU membership in opinion polls, and Poland itself also benefits greatly from it. The EU’s eastern enlargement is a major success story as well as a further milestone on the path to completing the European peace project.
Joe Biden not only considers Germany to be the most important country in Europe, but he even equates it with the Union. He has made this point on a number of occasions. Is Germany ready to assume full responsibility for the EU?
No individual member state can or wants to do that – certainly not Germany. Paul-Henri Spaak, one of the founding fathers of the EU, once said the following: “There are two categories of states in Europe: the small ones, and those which have not yet understood that they are small.” Seen from Washington or Beijing, Germany is also a small state. That’s why we know that we’re stronger as part of the EU.
But the EU must not stand still while things change around us. Global geostrategic weights are shifting rapidly – away from Europe. If we want to hold our own in this environment, we need a strong EU that is capable of taking action. That’s why I hope that the Conference on the Future of Europe will give a boost to our joint external action – by using majority voting, as has long been the case in other areas.
In three months’ time, Federal Chancellor Merkel will end her career. What can change in Germany’s foreign policy after she leaves office?
Germany’s foreign policy has always been characterised by continuity. There will doubtlessly be new priorities. And not only the Germans, but also the Poles will have to get used to a new face on the evening news when one of the many international summits is reported on. But because there is fundamental agreement across party lines in Germany on many foreign policy issues, I don’t expect to see any major shifts.