Interview with Heiko Maas, German Foreign Minister
Körber-Stiftung: Foreign Minister, why do you think that “Europe United” is the answer to “America First”?
Maas: “Europe United” is, to my mind, our best response to a dramatically changing strategic and geopolitical environment. The global order is faltering and old and new powers like China and Russia are challenging the foundations of the global and regional security architecture. Moreover, the US Government under President Trump is developing an approach that combines withdrawal from international agreements with a policy of maximum pressure vis-à-vis friends and foes alike. In this new strategic context, “Europe United” is and remains the overarching aim of our foreign policy. We want to build a strong, sovereign Europe based on the rule of law and respect for the weak, and in the firm belief that international cooperation is not a zero-sum game. Our influence on global issues like climate change, free and fair trade, migration, crisis management and the social impact of globalisation will increase significantly if we act with the combined forces of 500 million Europeans.
Körber-Stiftung: What are the main reasons behind the recent drop in approval ratings for the EU in many member states?
Maas: Since 2008, the EU has been more or less in constant crisis mode, beginning with the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers 10 years ago, which led to a deep economic and financial crisis in Europe and beyond. The terrorist attacks that hit many European societies as well as the migration crisis in 2015 / 16 also gave rise to a general feeling of insecurity. This accumulation of crises together with the repercussions of globalisation and the rapid spread of digital technology resulted in an eroding of trust in political and economic elites within our societies. This happened at both the national and the EU level. I think that the EU and its member states should take these grievances very seriously. The recent decisions in Brussels regarding internal and external security issues, economic and financial governance, and migration and border protection illustrate that we are on the right track.
Körber-Stiftung: Certain governments in Europe no longer seem to share or even disregard fundamental EU values. Are sanctions a useful option in these cases? How could these partners be persuaded to return to European values?
Maas: In the EU, some national governments have different interpretations of European norms and values due to their specific history and experiences. We have to manage these differences, but at the same time, we have to protect and preserve the core of our common values and convictions. I believe that our values are indeed an essential part of the European identity. But this is not an issue between Germany and the countries concerned. It is a European issue that is currently being discussed in a constructive manner – in the European Parliament as well as in the Commission and the Council. It is within these institutions that we should try to find European answers. We must not forget that the European idea was always the antithesis to totalitarian ideas. The European Communities helped to resurrect Europe after the Second World War, and the EU was a crucial factor behind reuniting the continent after 1990. The EU is attractive because it is not just an economic project. It is, first and foremost, about democracy, the rule of law and freedom.
Körber-Stiftung: The German-Polish Barometer found that 39 % of Poles – the largest group of respondents – considered Germany to be too dominant and not demonstrating enough willingness to compromise at the EU level. What is your response to this perception?
Maas: I take it seriously. Germany would be well advised to take a close look at such criticism. Fortunately, the German-Polish Barometer also revealed that 64 % of Poles consider relations with Germany to be good or very good, and 74 % would favour even closer cooperation with Germany. Our aim is to strengthen cohesion within the Union. We are constantly seeking to consult and reach out to all our partners, such as with France and Poland bilaterally and in the Weimar Triangle. Furthermore, we consider our special dialogue formats with the Baltic and Nordic countries to be particularly valuable. My experience is that these exchanges help a great deal to prepare the ground for political compromises at the European level.
Körber-Stiftung: Within the EU, different ideas exist about how far and how swiftly European integration should progress.
Maas: Competing concepts have existed from the outset of the European integration project. We are all European countries with our own idiosyncrasies and our own unique histories. At the same time, we have a common destiny, and it is our common responsibility to shape this future in the best possible way. This will not work with purely national positions or bureaucratic orthodoxy. We need to adopt a positive stance on Europe and we need courage and creativity. We are moving forward in many fields and have reached a consensus that internal and external security are areas in which the EU could deliver much more. In this regard, 25 countries have recently agreed on Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which is an important step forward. The financial and social union should also be a priority. European citizens need to feel that the EU has a positive impacton their daily lives. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for all policy fields. In order to achieve and preserve unity, we have to find the right mix of inclusiveness and flexibility. Not all countries are part of the Eurozone or Schengen area. We also have to discuss the extent to which majority voting in some aspects of foreign and security policy will improve our capacity to act.
Körber-Stiftung: How can the necessary level of European unity be achieved so that Europe can help shape the changing international order? Which political projects are paramount and what role does Germany play in this process?
Maas: Multilateralism is part of the EU’s DNA. Therefore, we have a very strong interest in a rules-based international order. Europe has to be a strong pillar within the international system, not only to defend its interests, but also to stabilise this system. In this context, we will seize the opportunity of our membership of the UN Security Council in 2019 / 20 to strengthen Europe’s voice and its capacity to act within the UN. We will support the UN Secretary-General’s efforts to implement his ambitious reforms. Together with our European partners, we will work to put the security implications of climate change onto the Security Council agenda. Moreover, we will seek to strengthen the UN’s capacities in the field of crisis prevention. Beyond the EU and the UN, we have to do more to support and enhance the global multilateral order. We are therefore striving for a multilateral alliance, a network of partners who, like us, are committed to international cooperation and the rule of law. It is not enough just to complain. We have to defend and fight for multilateralism.