Westerwelle: Reforms are bearing fruit

The recent decision by the group developing Azerbaijan’s vast gas reserves to choose the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) via Greece is “very good news for the country’s economic prospects,” Guido Westerwelle says, adding that the project could strengthen ties with Turkey and other countries in the region.

In an interview with Kathimerini, Westerwelle hailed the government’s reform efforts, adding that the debt haircut issue is not related to Germany’s upcoming federal elections.

He also referred to the issue of German war reparations. “We need to distinguish the historical and moral responsibility from legal obligations,” he said, adding that these have been fully abided by on Germany’s part.

There is a lot of expectation here in Greece that perhaps after the German elections, there will be some sort of debt reduction that will decrease the pressure on Greece. Is that expectation reasonable?

The question of debt reduction is not related in any way to the elections in Germany. I believe that it is not productive to speculate on such measures. In my view, it is a matter of principle that there is an agreed program that needs to be implemented. That is the best way to create the positive psychological momentum necessary for an economic recovery.

K There is instability across Southern Europe – Portugal has its own problems, Italy also. Do you think that the structural changes Germany is insisting on are leading to political instability, undermining democracy and strengthening political extremists?

W I will not join the doomsayers. I think we should learn to open our eyes and ears for good news. That is the main message I wish to convey during my stay in Greece. I would like to express our respect, solidarity and encouragement – respect for what the people in Greece are going through, solidarity, as the people of Greece should know that they can rely on German friendship, and encouragement because we can see that reforms are beginning to bear fruit. As a matter of fact, we are beginning to see a silver lining.

K There has been a lot of anti-German feeling both here and in the other countries of the south. Does that concern you?

W Obviously I am not happy about some reports. However, to have the full picture, I should add that that I also read the exact opposite in other reports. Many people in Europe know that a decade ago, Germany also had to implement tough structural reforms. We cannot and we do not expect more from other nations than what we did in our own country.

Structural reforms are the only way to create lasting and sustainable growth. Prosperity and growth cannot be bought with debts. Growth is achieved through competitiveness, and competitiveness is the result of structural reforms. Admittedly, this is not always an easy path, but it is the only one to offer prosperity and opportunities for everyone, including people with no privileges, and especially the young generation.

K There has been quite a bit of tension between Germany and Turkey. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said that Turkey does not belong to the EU. How do you view this issue and the recent instability in Turkey?

W We are in the midst of a long and thorough negotiation process on accession to the European Union with Turkey. No one can forecast the result of these talks. But what we all agree on is conducting fair and respectful negotiations between partners.

K An important issue for Greece is security, and that was one of the main reasons Greece wanted to become a member of the EU 30 years ago. If tensions were to arise with Turkey over the Aegean or gas exploration, would Europe be able to guarantee its security?

W We jointly belong to NATO and we cooperate in various international fora and organizations. I think there is no need to debate issues based on pure speculation.

Coming back to Greece for a moment, I think we should focus on factual developments. The recent decision in favor of the TAP pipeline through Greece is very good news for the country’s economic prospects. The project has the potential to reduce energy prices in Greece and to increase opportunities for small and medium-sized companies, the backbone of any healthy economy. It offers the opportunity to make stronger connections with countries in the region, such as Turkey. There is no doubt that Turkey’s economic development has been a remarkable success story in the last 10 years. It is necessary to connect Europe with the new hubs of dynamic growth in our neighborhood and the world.

K Are you concerned about what is happening in Egypt and this black hole of instability that has been created in the Middle East?

W I prefer not to use the term “Arab Spring” anymore. I prefer to speak of “Arab seasons,” because we simply cannot qualify political developments across the region in the sense of “one size fits all.” In reality, the situation varies strongly from country to country. We see good progress in Tunisia, where the spark of the revolution was lit.

Recent developments in Egypt are, in my view, a serious setback. We urge all parties in Egypt to return quickly and peacefully to the constitutional order. It is necessary that opposing political groups find a way back to constructive dialogue and compromise. Politically motivated arrests and selective justice would be very harmful.

K Finally, will this issue with the US surveillance of European targets have a serious and lasting impact on EU-US relations?

W If these reports turned out to be true, it would cast a dark shadow on transatlantic relations that a close partner had been spying on us Europeans. We need to investigate thoroughly, with full collaboration from our American partners. Clearly, we all agree that intelligence activities are necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. However, gathering intelligence about friends cannot by any means be justified on the grounds of security threats. Chancellor Angela Merkel talked to President Barack Obama about our grave concerns and so did I with Secretary of State John Kerry. We agreed that we will further intensify our dialogue on that matter. We will also step up our coordination with European partners that share our questions and concerns.

K On the war reparations claims by Greece, is this an issue that should be discussed on the government level or is it a legal one?

W We need to distinguish the historical and moral responsibility from legal obligations. These have been fully abided by on Germany’s part. Yet let me assure you that Germans are very aware of the terrible crimes that were committed on behalf of Nazi Germany during the Second World War in Greece and [how] the Greek people [suffered]. Germany assumed its responsibility for these deeds after the war. An active policy of reconciliation and European integration is an important lesson we draw from this darkest chapter of German and European history.

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