Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in an interview with the dpa
The issues discussed included relations with Russia, Ukraine, China, Germany’s G7 Presidency, climate policy and arms exports.
Question: Incidents arise time and again which place further strain on the tense relations between Germany and Russia, such as the recent developments in connection with the murder in Berlin’s Tiergarten. Do you see that as a reason to travel to Russia as soon as possible rather than limiting contact to telephone calls? Or rather the opposite?
Foreign Minister Baerbock: Especially in the current very tense situation, I believe it’s important to cultivate close contacts. That’s why I spoke on the phone to my Russian counterpart early on. I’m sure there will be an opportunity to meet in person soon
Question: Your Green Co‑Chair Robert Habeck didn’t rule out supplying arms for self-defence to Ukraine during a visit to that country. Do you also feel that arms supplies of this kind would be possible?
Baerbock: Both the G7 states and the European Union have made it very clear that further military escalation at the Ukrainian border and, above all, a breach of international law and the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty would have massive political and economic consequences for Russia. If we set out all our options for action, then we have a long list. However, our priority now is to prevent further escalation. That can only be achieved through diplomacy in the Normandy format as well as through the NATO-Russia Council and within the framework of the OSCE.
Question: So you reject the idea of arms supplies of any kind to Ukraine?
Baerbock: Further military escalation wouldn’t bring Ukraine greater security.
Question: Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said that the controversial German-Russian gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 is a private-sector project and that the decision on putting it into operation is not a political one. Do you share that view?
Baerbock: The Bundesnetzagentur is currently carrying out a legal review. Olaf Scholz and I have described this state of affairs in different ways. However, the last German Government – together with the US Administration – made it clear that energy should not be used as a weapon and that doing so would have serious consequences. And that still holds true today.
Question: Former Chancellor Merkel also used to regard the project as a private-sector project but later said that Nord Stream 2 had a geopolitical aspect. Scholz hasn’t said that.
Baerbock: The last few years have shown the geostrategic role of Nord Stream 2, also in light of the different perceptions in Europe. The last German Government therefore conceded that this pipeline also raises security issues.
Question: This issue shows that there can be frictions between the Federal Chancellery and the Federal Foreign Office. How do you intend to prevent the question of who’s the chef and who’s the waiter arising, as it did in relation to SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the first Green Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer?
Baerbock: The defining feature of foreign policy is cultivating an ongoing dialogue. That’s true both internally and externally. That can perhaps be an advantage in diplomacy, especially when it comes to issues which people perhaps view from different angles.
Question: So this is a game with different roles?
Baerbock: If there weren’t different roles in the Government then we wouldn’t need different ministers: one person could do it all. Naturally, however, strong German foreign policy means speaking with one voice. It means reaching an agreed line on key issues. And we do that regularly, not only between the Chancellery and the Federal Foreign Office but, for example, also with the Economics, Interior or other ministries.
Question: You paid your first official visits to some countries before the Chancellor. Did you agree on that beforehand?
Baerbock: Of course, we coordinate key issues within this Government.
Question: With regard to the policy on China, you set out your position before taking up office, stating that human rights had to play a bigger role. Do you stand by that now that you are the Foreign Minister? Doubts have been raised as to whether you and Olaf Scholz really will speak with one voice on this.
Baerbock: Having a clear stand doesn’t mean that you have to speak out louder every day or that things have to be repeated for the twentieth time. Otherwise, people will eventually stop listening. What matters is that we agree on one joint line. This line, including our policy on China, is in the coalition agreement: the triad of partners, competitors and systemic rivals. It’s important that this joint European line has now also been clearly spelled out by the largest member state because that will ensure that Europe’s voice is heard in the world.
Question: You’ve proposed an EU import ban for products from Xinjiang. The US House of Representatives adopted such a motion a few days ago. Are you calling on the European Union to follow suit and make a similar decision?
Baerbock: The European market is one of the largest single markets in the world. Especially with regard to our companies, having a level playing field means that rules and standards which apply to European companies and in the European single market must apply to all companies. If core standards which ban forced labour rightly apply to European companies, then they also have to apply to non-European companies which want to sell products on the European market. However, that can only be applied in a single European market if the European Union takes joint action to enforce it. I therefore fully back the European Parliament’s proposal that the import of goods produced using forced labour be banned.
Question: You’ve stated that you would like to see a boycott of the Winter Olympics in China next February discussed at EU level. Regardless of this, have you already decided whether you will travel to the Games? After all, you’re a keen athlete yourself.
Baerbock: As has been said many times, we’re currently seeking to establish a joint line with our EU partners. As you’re asking me personally: yes, I’m a big sports fan but I definitely won’t be travelling to the Winter Olympics – after all, it’s never been common practice for the German Foreign Minister to do that.
Question: Do you think the G7 will ever become the G8 again with Russia at the table? And how would you expand the Format?
Baerbock: It will be important for the forthcoming German G7 Presidency to invite countries to the meetings which not only want to invest in the future but want to see economic development while upholding shared values such as freedom and the rule of law. As we will be organising two G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meetings, we’re considering, for example, inviting African countries to one meeting and focusing on the Pacific region at the other. Of course, it’s very painful that Russia has excluded itself from this group by annexing Crimea. It was right to make it clear following Russia’s aggressive actions in 2014 that we can’t simply carry on with economic policy as normal on this basis. It’s not clear at present when Russia can return to the group – the current escalation certainly isn’t making the situation any easier.
Question: What role will climate policy play during Germany’s G7 Presidency?
Baerbock: We’ve seen terrible suffering inflicted on people in many different parts of the world as a result of the escalation of the climate crisis. In Germany, for example, we had the catastrophic floods this year. What’s more, the climate crisis has aggravated conflicts in many parts of the world. Every tenth of a degree less in terms of global warming will contribute to international security. Climate policy will therefore be a key part of German foreign policy in future and thus a central issue during our G7 Presidency.
Question: Apart from climate change mitigation, what are the two most important issues of Germany’s G7 Presidency?
Baerbock: Act before it’s too late is the main message we want to discuss among the Foreign Ministers, with a focus on forward-looking multilateralism and the resilience of democracies. The pandemic has highlighted how important it is that we enable international organisations to act with foresight.
Question: A few days ago there were reports that the last Government had authorised arms exports to Egypt just before leaving office – even relatively big projects: three frigates and several air defence systems. As you’re also a member of the Federal Security Council: would you agree to arms exports of this nature if they were on the Agenda?
Baerbock: We as a coalition have made clear that we intend to review the arms export policy of the past years. For this reason, we’re working on a law on arms export control designed to clarify which criteria apply for the licensing of arms exports. Furthermore, the entire system should as far as possible be embedded in a European context. The second part will be difficult.
Question: Are arms exports in good hands in the Economics Ministry headed by the Green politician Robert Habeck? Or would it be better to regard this as a foreign-policy matter and transfer it to the Federal Foreign Office?
Baerbock: That’s not a new debate. No new decision on this was included in the coalition agreement. But, of course, the issue of arms exports cannot be regarded from a purely economic point of view, but is also about foreign policy, human rights, international Relations.
Question: How would you sum up 2021 for you personally? You started out as a candidate for the chancellorship, then allegations emerged during the election campaign that parts of your book were plagiarised – and now you’re Foreign Minister. How was the year for you?
Baerbock: Not only politically, but also for our society it was, I believe, a turbulent year for everyone – also for me in my capacity as co-leader of the Green Party and now Foreign Minister.