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On May 22nd, the Henry Jackson Society warmly welcomed the former German Vice-Chancellor and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for a fascinating discussion on various topics relating to the EU, Brexit and more. As one of the most popular politicians of the Schroder era, and as an able and experienced politician, his insight into Brexit, the future negotiations and the future of the EU was highly thought-provoking.
The former minister was quite blunt as he began speaking, saying “I regret the decision of the referendum”. Mr Fischer was quite openly opposed to the UK’s decision to leave the EU, as a strong believer in the European project. It seemed, however, that more than simply regretting the referendum result, Mr Fischer was quite pessimistic in regards to international politics and the Western’s world’s populist turn in 2016. The ex-vice Chancellor believed we lived in a dramatically changing era, one in which everything was not going as positively as one would have hoped for. “It all started with Brexit, then there was Trump in the United States”, he said. He then unfolded his nightmare scenario, which was not only Brexit and the Trump victory, but that the populist surge would culminate in the election of Marine Le Pen in the French elections. Fischer believed that this would have destroyed the entire Franco-German friendship, and more importantly, the last 60 years of peace, economic prosperity and political cooperation in Europe.
“It is a divorce, a complicated divorce of politics”.
In regards to the Brexit negotiations, the former minister urged restraint from both sides stating that it would be wise to avoid a so called “poisonous divorce” between the UK and the continent. In regards to the overall geopolitical situation, however, Mr Fischer assured the audience that he did not believe it was going to change in spite of Brexit. “Britain will remain what it has always been, UK interests will remain the same, and Britain will be affected by the EU whether they like it or not”. In regards to this point, he made an interesting observation, which was that “in” or “out” do not matter – the matter of fact is “there”(in regards to the actual geographical positioning of the UK in regards to the continent).
After these introductory thoughts, Mr Fischer went on to present his thought on various issues.
Firstly, in regards to his personal feelings on Brexit, the Mr Fischer was deeply affected. He believed it “sad” to see the continuation of European project without the UK. From a German point of view, he believed that the future challenge would now be to stabilize the Eurozone. The other challenge regarded creating a new agreement between the new French President Macron and Germany that both parties would be content with.
Secondly, Mr Fischer believed that Germany had pushed the “Migrant problem” onto southern Europe, especially Greece and Italy. Otherwise he believed migration, especially from Africa, would continue. But this would be a positive thing for Europe. In regards to the Middle East, however, Mr Fischer did not exactly have any positive prospects. He believed the Kurdish question was developing into a dangerous situation. He said the same of Turkey and Erdogan, who he jokingly referred to as a new Ottoman Sultan. The rise of authoritarianism in Turkey, however, is partly Europe’s fault. When they opted for EU membership in 2007, the EU slammed the door in Ankara’s face, so it was a badly handled situation which led to the country turning inward/eastward.
Thirdly, in regards to security, Russia and NATO, Mr Fischer was quite gloomy. Trump calling NATO obsolete was a huge blow to NATO, and a huge boost for Russia. The entire transatlantic alliance and common security cannot be put in jeopardy. He believed that NATO is an extremely important security guarantor, and insisted the West must continue to believe in the security guarantee – article 5 – or it would never work at deterring Russia. So, when the leader of the free world managed to openly neglect NATO, it came as a shock to Europe. Russia, he believed, was a threat and a challenge to European security. Mr Fischer based this on the fact that, although economically and technologically backward, Russia wants to become the leader in Eastern Europe, like in the good old days, something that will eventually lead to conflict with the West.
Fourthly, in regards to terrorism, Mr Fischer was honest, and said that it would continue to be a problem for Europe, and the only way to combat it was to band together, the EU and the UK alike.
Lastly, on the German elections in September, he believed that Merkel would win a landslide once more, because the Social democrats are being discredited all over Germany. The only question that remains is what coalition Ms Merkel will build after the elections. He concluded his talk by saying that, after the German elections, (and the positive results of the French elections) there would be a return to the old Europe, from the time before the UK joined the European Union.