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The voters always have the last word

06.11.2020 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in an interview with the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe

It looks as if Joe Biden will win a majority of the Electoral College. How relieved are you, Mr Maas?

This election was incredibly polarising. And that’s been reflected in the election result so far. Many observers predicted that the outcome would be close and that it could even involve litigation. So, although the current situation may be nerve-wracking, it shows what ultimately defines democracy: the voters always have the last word. If the final result – which we don’t have yet – is to be accepted, it’s essential that everyone exercises restraint for the time being.

Donald Trump has turned to the courts in an attempt to avert a transfer of power. What’s your view on this?

Democracy is based on trust in fair and free elections. Democrats must never undermine this trust. The important thing now is that everyone keeps calm until we have an independently verified result. We have faith in America’s rule of law. Don’t forget: 20 years ago, the outcome of the election was decided by 537 votes in Florida. This time around, too, the result is on a knife edge in many places. “Victory or stop the election” definitely runs contrary to what many people regard as a fair election.

How stable are democracy and the rule of law in America?

We shouldn’t forget that the polarisation in the US political system is nothing new, although it has certainly taken on a new quality during the last few years. The institutions of the country have demonstrated on many occasions that they can deal with this. There’s one thing which we Germans have learned from the United States during the last few decades: democracy needs rules which are accepted by all its representatives. People in both our countries share a belief in democracy, in the freedom and dignity of every individual, and thus also in their right to vote. The state serves the people – not the other way round.

Do you share the fear that violence could break out in the streets in the United States?

Honourable losers are more important for the functioning of a democracy than triumphant winners. It’s easy to find yourself on the losing side when majorities are so slim. That shows how important it is to work towards overcoming political divides. This election has highlighted the fact that the country is politically diverse and multifaceted. The less willing or able the future president is to tone down the rhetoric, the more the United States will remain turned in on itself. The United States is more than a one-man show. Anyone who adds fuel to the fire in such a situation is acting irresponsibly.

Will transatlantic relations automatically improve with Biden?

Regardless of the outcome of the election, things will not go back to the way they were. The next President will take into account the close election result – or at least he should. That also means that the United States will initially not be returning full steam ahead to the international stage. We certainly need to quickly ensure that the West again plays as a team. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of a wait-and-see approach when it comes to many international crises. First and foremost, we need two things for this: coordination and reliability. The Atlantic Ocean will neither become narrower or wider as a result of the election. However, we have to mend the bridges we have so that they remain strong enough to withstand the common challenges we face. We will approach the new administration with proposals as quickly as possible.

There has been an ongoing dispute with Trump about defence spending. Can Germany now take more time to increase its expenditure on defence – or even reduce its investment in its defence capabilities once more?

We’ve used the last few years to carry on building a strong and sovereign Europe. Germany has increased its defence expenditure by around a half since the NATO summit in Wales six years ago. It already has the third largest budget of all NATO partners. However, in order to ensure that we all stand together as equal partners, we know that there are still areas where we Europeans have a way to go. We therefore stand by the decisions made because they are in our own interest.

Which of Trump’s decisions concerning global politics should Biden correct?

The world needs the United States as a global force for order and not as a source of chaos. Irrespective of the election outcome, how the COVID-19 pandemic is dealt with is most certainly the litmus test of our future relations. We need the United States in the World Health Organization to make the latter effective. Together, we could ensure that a vaccine is made available throughout the world. And, of course, we have also noted with great interest Joe Biden’s announcement that if he wins the election, then the United States will immediately rejoin the Paris Agreement. Having the country with the world’s second highest emissions on board would be enormously important.

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