Joschka Fischer: The View from The Continent

TIME: 13:30 – 14:30, 22nd May 2017

VENUE: The Henry Jackson Society, 26th Floor Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

SPEAKER: Joschka Fischer

EVENT CHAIRS: Gisela Stuart and Alan Mendoza

Joschka Fischer: Thank you very much it’s a great pleasure to be here. Unfortunately I am too late, it’s damn traffic, and always thought it was only Berlin which is a construction site called the city. But, actually it seemed to be the same here in London. Now it’s a great pleasure to be here, unfortunately the situation is not as good as I hoped. Allow me to go directly into the centre of the storm. I personally equally regretted the decision in the referendum but we have to live with it, with the consequences. I think it is a big mistake, but more in the perspective of the historics. We are all living in a dramatic changing world. Britain started with voting yes for the Brexit, and America followed through with electing Donald Trump. Now, my nightmare scenario was that, Germany would have a saying, “all good things are three” and this means all sort of bad things, and this scenario goes Brexit, Trump and Le Pen. Le Pen would have had the most dramatic impact because this would have destroyed the European Union, 60 years of European integration, 60 years of close relationships between France and Germany would have been destroyed with traumatic economic and financial consequences, I think the majority, at least in Germany, never thought about that, what the impact, the outfall of the election of Le Pen would have been. So, this is avoided and Europe in the perspective of the Brexit means for someone who is married five times and has had four divorces, and when I am talking about divorce I know what I am talking about. So, the process of divorce is a complicated one. Not only between a couple but also in politics. And I think it would be wise to avoid uncertain or poison, or to reuse or diminish the poison in the process of divorce, of course there will be poison and it will be complicated, but overall there is a life after divorce, and especially between nations the geopolitical situation won’t change. Britain will be where it is, whether it is a member or not, and the same with Europe, and even more precise if you are looking to the core interests beyond the membership. Security, migration, stability of Europe, even the well-being of the euro. I think the interests of the UK will not dramatically change. If there in an instable Europe, if the Eurozone will fall apart, if the Europeans will not solve the refugee crisis in a certain way or at least try to contain it and manage it in a better way Britain will be affected, whether they are a member of the EU or not. This makes not a real difference. Same with our great friend Vladimir Putin. If he is creating havoc in Eastern Europe, it’s not a question of whether you are in or out, from your political point of view you are there. This will continue and I think both sides would be well advised not to forget that. So to find arrangements and to avoid bitterness and poison in the process as far as we can go. I am reading permanently the financial times so in Britain, Brexit seemed to be the biggest continental Europe not (inaudible 6:37). It’s done unfortunately, do not misinterpret my words; this unfortunately, it’s coming from the heart, because a Europe without Britain, it’s hard to imagine. On the other side, Europe, from the perspective of the EU member states, allow me to say from the perspective of Germany, the major challenge is the stabilization of the Eurozone because when we are talking about the future of the EU we are talking about the future of the Eurozone. And there I think the main focus of the efforts in the coming months in France and Germany will be trying to reach a new agreement between France, Germany, north and south not excluding the others, to get a firm ground for the Eurozone because if the Eurozone will fall apart, the price will be extremely high. Secondly, I mentioned the refugees. It’s obvious that the agreement, the so-called Dublin agreement, that refugees were entering the EU, first step they are doing on EU territory this country is responsible for their needs as long as they are not invading Germany from the north sea or the Baltic sea, we are more or less protected, our situation is that we are in the centre of Europe so you cannot breach Germany without putting a foot on another EU territory. In simple words this means to delegate the problem to Italy and Greece. Now it’s obvious that this cannot work, that this is not a long term… I’m not talking about a solution, I’m talking about a management, because the pressure on the shores and on the common borders of Europe, and this means also whether you are in or not on the UK will continue. Africa will double the size of its population in the 21st century. This is not only a threat or something we should be concerned about but the fact that it is also a huge opportunity if it is done well. And secondly, the Middle East will continue to be a mess. I don’t see that there will be in the short term a kind of peace, a kind of solution for the conflicts. Even worse, the whole region is moving into an abyss, and old conflicts are back. The Kurdish question for example is developing in a very dangerous situation. So if you put it all together, the pressure from the southeast, and then Turkey of course, I think one of the biggest foreign policy blunders the EU made was Turkey. We lost Turkey, and not only because (10:30) at a certain point had a dream about becoming a new whatever, Ottoman Sultan, but it was Europe. More or less I remember where it went, around 2007, when the German chancellor Madam Merkel and the French president Nicolas Sarkozy slapped the door into the face of everyone. And with Turkey moving into the direction of destabilization and crisis I think the challenges will be even tougher in the years to come for Europe. So, security means dealing with the refugee crisis, find new answers to that which must be based on solidarity, and I don’t see another way to move forward than to protect our common borders, which is a key question for Europe, and secondly to find also a mechanism of distribution for those who have the legal right to come and to appeal for staying. I think I don’t have to mention the (11:48?). You will immediately understand, this will affect the UK whether you are or are not a member state. What happens on the other side of the channel in this perspective will be extremely important. Secondly, we see the security threats. I never thought, that during my lifespan, an American president would say that NATO is obsolete. Now he says NATO is not obsolete, but what does he really mean? The transatlantic world and the freedom of Western Europe in the Cold War was based on American security guarantee. Oh, allow me also to bring you in. It was based under two founding nations of transatlantic security, first the UK, second America. The transatlantic charter was first signed by Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt on a battleship in the Atlantic next to Newfoundland. This was the beginning of what we called the west, and then in the year of 1917, first our British friends decided to say goodbye, and then the American elected a president whose position is quite clear America First. He is treating his allies in a less favourable way than his friends over there in France. So, the question of the security guarantee is that whether you believe in it or not, because it’s a guarantee, friend and foe must believe in the security guarantee, and if the top man is questioning the credibility or the liability of the security guarantee which is enshrined in article 5 of NATO, this is a dramatic change. We shouldn’t fool ourselves but this means that the Europeans will focus much more, include Germany on security investments, there is no way around it, because on the other side we see Russia, re-emerging Russia, which is in a very strange situation because technologically, economically, Russia is very weak. This is not a good message. On the other side they have the dream of the Russian empire, whatever this might be, they have the dream that Russia is a world power, they are still dreaming about the 70’s, the year of Détente, the year of committed to push that through, to become again the dominant power in eastern Europe. This will lead immediately to confrontation of the interests of Europe and with the basic principles of Europe, we all signed up whether you are in or out, means self-determination of the untouchability of borders, peaceful conflict resolution, these are all the elements, and what we see in Ukraine this was severely violated. Russia is a challenge for the European security challenge, we shouldn’t forget and if you look to the Atlantic, I hear of military experts not only from Germany but also the top brass of the British navy, you hear it in Norway and everywhere, the Atlantic is again in the focus of Russian interests. So, this would mean that security will play an important role in this third element, after the conventional threat with Russia, is terrorism. The bad messages that the Middle East will continue to be the breeding ground for and radical Islam is and they will try to use brute force in our big cities and against our people, so from that point of view we have to collaborate. In Europe, much more than we did it in the past, we have to band together with our partners. I hope this will be an important segment of the future cooperation between the UK and the Europe. But, from the EU perspective I think stabilization of the Eurozone is the key question, and thanks to the wisdom of the electorate in France, we have now a president which thinks in a very different way from the predecessors, and definitely in a very different way from Madam Le Pen. So my assessment is that after the German elections, and if you want to hear my, what I predict about the outcome in the German elections, sorry Hitler, but I think the social democrats cannot pass the Christian democrats. The social democrats cannot pass the Christian democrats under no circumstances. (inaudible 18:19) is going down, murder is going up. The polls, social democrats have lost three, key three, key state elections, most importantly they have lost north (inaudible 18:34), means 60 million people, was a cornerstone of the German social democratic party. They have not reached their goals in the tiny (inaudible 18:50) and have voted out of office also in the very north, in (inaudible 18:57), so from that point of view I think Angela Markel will be elected again. The only open question is which coalition. That is the only open question. For me. So from that point of view, is that we can expect after the German elections, French elections will take place in a few weeks from now and German elections will take place in September, and there is the window of opportunity for a new initiative… Franco-German initiative, so, at the end, Brexit from an EU perspective means we are back to the old days, before you joined.

Gisela Stuart: Thank you very much, can I just assure you that the FT does not speak for the United Kingdom. I think you will find that certainly after the, after this June the 8th.

Joschka Fischer: Maybe it is a mistake that I didn’t order the Daily Mail.

Gisela Stuart: A spread. Alan do you want to say something because we didn’t do proper introductions? Can we just thank the organisers of the event, should I leave this to you as a host?

Alan Mendoza: Well look it’s… thank you for throwing me onto that, but we have to thank, project for democratic union. Lucas, where are you? So Lucas has arranged this of course with (inaudible 20:44). Thank you for your efforts and for jointly doing this. If you’re interested in the project for democratic union the website will reveal more on what that particular project is all about. But I think we should move onto some questions.

Gisela Stuart: Any questions? Do you want to take one at a time or three and pull them together?

Joschka Fischer: Better one at a time. I’m getting old.

Gisela Stuart: I’ll start to my left if I may.

Question 1: My question is that Merkel said when she saw the (inaudible 21:33) on Italian television (inaudible 21:36) and so my question really is about Eurozone governments, and whether, as I suspect project for democratic union, and for (inaudible 21:46), you can jumpstart a European promise to be a democracy (inaudible 21:51), or would you just leave it as is, which seems to be as (inaudible 21:57).

Joschka Fische: No, I think neither, nor. Europe is a jumpstart, in Europe how should that work? Maybe my fantasy is not developed enough and business of usual, kicking the can down the road, is not any longer an option. This will, it’s obvious, if there won’t be a success in years to come, Marie Le Pen or whoever it will be, nationalists will take over, and if the nationalists will take over France or another important country, then the EU will be under serious threat. We know that now, and it is obvious that kicking the can down the road has led to an almost victory of the nationalist (inaudible 22:53). Don’t forget, we cannot say let’s continue, now the worst is over and the EU will continue as it was. That’s not an option, so I think there will be beyond a treaty change. Treaty change I do not see for the time being, and I don’t see a need in the Eurozone. The Eurozone is pretty flexible as it has demonstrated. I think the proposals of Macron, thinking in a direction of finance minister, if you have a finance minister, he has the right to control the budgetary behaviour of the member states then you immediately have to answer the parliamentary control of the finance minister which cannot be done by the European parliament. So therefore it is ideal to form a smaller body of national parliamentarians of the member states of the Eurozone, and European parliamentarians, which are also coming from member states of the Eurozone. I think that might be a good opening to go in the right direction. Because what I don’t see is a mutualisation of debt out of the blue. This must be a process of, allow me to say that in Westminster, of closer union. I know this is a frivolous (inaudible 24:42) in the Eurozone, because if you want to stabilize the Eurozone, sooner or later mutualisation of the debt is unavoidable. The problem is not of matter of fact but how. Timeline and what are how you will manage that and how you can sell it politically. At least in my country this is really a hard sell, but I think we are moving in that direction, and the government understands that, the German government, so from that point of view I think it will be stead forwards, but decisive steps, not only the pragmatism we have seen in the recent years.

Gisela Stuart: Does that answer your question? If saving the Eurozone is the same as where the EU needs to step, I am just asking if that answers the question. Did he give you enough indication of where the euro would be two years’ time?  What will have changed? I still have no sense, if businesses as usual is not the status quo, what will business look like in two years’ time?

Question 2: To some extent, you partly answered my question, and I would like to take you a little further down that road. You said that the Eurozone was the most important part, to secure the future of Europe, and nobody would disagree. It seems to me that Germany is the key to this, and the attitude of the German taxpayer to allowing all their funds to go down to places like Greece and have true fiscal union (inaudible 26:59), fiscal union without monetary union is a non-starter and we are seeing the effects of that. You ever see the German happy, sir, to put all their money down into other parts of Europe which they maybe disagree with?

Joschka Fischer: First of all, I mean allow me to be very frank, the truth is that Germany is not only the biggest contributor, but also by far the biggest winner. You shouldn’t underestimate them. I mean look, I have to defend Greece, because usually if you had a bad loan, you need always two actors. The guy who wanted to have the loan and can’t repay, and the banker who was not acting in a responsible way. And who was the banker? In the first round of the Greek crisis, it was not about Greece. It was about German and French banks. Period. This was the truth. And I am not excluding the different Greek governments about what they did, but it was not only Greece alone. That’s my argument. Secondly, we are not living on an island. Very simple, we are living in the centre of Europe. If Europe would fall apart, what are German’s options? What are the German options? Without a UK, without a US, without France? With who? Moving to the east, Putin. So what, what are the options? I mean everybody who understands a little bit of our national history, will understand that Europe for Germany is at the very top of our national interests, and we are benefitting from the success of Europe. I agree since the financial crisis it’s a tough sell, but I think it is do-able, especially with the conservatives in the government and with Merkel. Therefore, I was very soon publically announcing that I think Merkel should continue beyond 2017, beyond next national elections, because Europe and especially Germany will need her. So from that point of view, well taxpayers are never happy. By definition if you have to pay taxes, how could you be happy? But I think it will be do-able. So I am not pessimistic about that, including (inaudible 30:31).

Gisela Stuart: But can I push you on this, at the moment of the 28 member states, the only ones that (inaudible 30:38) were the Brits and the (inaudible 30:40) and the Brits have said no we are leaving. And then you’ve got the Swedes who are living in sin by slipping on the duty to join but they are a friend. Are you saying that the notion that every new accession member state also become a member of the Eurozone, and therefore the current construction of the Eurozone is one that will be growing rather than diminishing, if sustainable?

Joschka Fischer: (inaudible 31:08) that, but from my point of view, standardization of the Eurozone is the key question. I say that sincere, because from my analysis, even the common market will not survive if the Eurozone will fall apart, and the political consequences would be very unpleasant, not to talk about the financial consequences, because everybody is talking about mutualisation of debt. If the Eurozone would fall apart you would see that mutualisation of debt. It’s not (inaudible 31:54) in that way, but that it’s a reality. It would be extremely complicated to use a diplomatic word. We know how to make an omelette out of eggs, everybody knows. But we don’t know how to make eggs out of an omelette, and therefore we actually will watch very carefully your experiences. Good luck.

Gisela Stuart: Gentleman on the right.

Question 3: (inaudible 32:26-28) and my question is that I visited Macaron’s hometown, Amiens, in France (inaudible 32:26-45)… so they are Amieny by (inaudible 32:46=48) so it is very difficult for them to seek new jobs (inaudible 32:53-33:04)

Joschka Fischer: Well I guess one day we’ll have something which is similar to Eurobonds but the baby will not be named Eurobonds. It’s called sunshine bonds or whatever. But de facto, we are moving in that direction and there is a certain debt guarantee, and as I said before the question is from my point of view not whether this will happen but when and what will be the precise circumstances. I can’t predict that. And, first question, I honestly cannot answer, because I don’t know the facts and that’s a question for the French government and lately for the commission, but I can’t give you an answer to that.

Question 4: (inaudible 34:04) and a member of the House of Lords committee, I wonder if I could take you back to defence and ask you to assume that Angela Merkel is the chancellor, do speculate on what will be the détente of security of protecting the next period of office? With French move towards the Russians, what of Russian conflict? The Baltic States I regard as being our number one priority for defending and the future of sanctions in Russia against the background that they are not going to leave Crimea, so at some point we are going to have to come to terms with that. And what will be the role of Germany because I see it must have a more emergent role as we move forward with Brexit, Trump, etc.

Joschka Fischer: Well, let’s see how the Trump-Russian issue will develop. I don’t know, but there is, based on my own political experience, extreme (inaudible 35:12) and extreme much smoke that you couldn’t expect not to find a fire. And I think this will limit also any kind of (inaudible 35:32) between Russia and D.C.  And then you have security apparatus and the foreign policy security elite is not happy about this development which will play a role into that. But that’s an open question, wait and see. Up to now, Russia is a pain in the neck for the president, as you can see. Whether this will lead to a change of the position NATO, I don’t know. I mean we are in a, we are stuck in a contradiction in our relationship to Russia. On the one hand, we cannot accept what they do if we are going back in Europe to show influences. It would unravel everything, what we have developed, our common values, our understanding about European peace, and therefore this is one element. On the other side, by definition, neighbours are defined by being neighbours. It means when you are here you live there and this will continue for generations. And, therefore we have to find a way to live with the Russians. This means not to give in. This means to find a way to improve the relationship. This will be a, I think a hard challenge, and Britain will be part of it, whether you are a member of the EU or not, you will be part of it. It will be in your national interest. So, I can’t give you an answer in which direction this will develop, and I am not so concerned about the pressure from Washington will move in the direction to give Putin what Putin wants. It’s easy to understand what the Russians want from the Americans, but it’s hard to find what the Americans can get from the Russians. And the great deal maker, the greatest deal maker under heaven, can’t come back home and say “oh my friend Vlad got everything” “and what did you get?” “oohhh…” It’s not so easy, so I am less concerned about that issue. And a last optimist element—up to now, Putin understood that he would be better advised not to touch NATO, meaning the Baltics. It’s a sensitive issue but in the end, I think NATO is preparing for that situation.

Question 5: I have two questions, and I would like to take you back to what you said at the beginning about who owns Brexit, and from a certain point it seems pretty united right now, while Labour is fighting for existence and I was wondering if you could tell us why it is so hard for labour to take a unified stance on Europe or Euroscepticism, and Joschka Fischer, I was wondering if you have any idea of how you expect Brexit negotiations to play out in the next two years. We already see a lot of posturing about bills and dinners, do you think this will end in a happy divorce or a messy divorce?

Joschka Fischer: There is nothing like a happy divorce. There might be less bitter people at the end of the divorce process, than you expect. I think the indiscretion of the talks during the dinner, I never like that. You shouldn’t do that. On the other side, I mean Europe was also treated in a very unpleasant way by the Cameron government. You will remember that what was said about him. So I think that this is not an example we should follow. Well the negotiations, let’s see how this will develop. The British prime minister made quite clear that hard Brexit is an option. Okay what would hard Brexit mean? Trade would go on. The business relations would go on. But the costs of trade and business relations would be higher, would be more complicated, the transaction cost would increase. Companies who have a developed a division of labour, take for example BMW, who has heavily invested in the UK and relied on the division of labour of the value chain will have problems but I think the guys will be clever enough to manage that. I would be more satisfied if there were a soft Brexit. But from the very beginning the softest Brexit was excluded (inaudible 41:57) so let’s see how this will develop. But I think with grown up people on both sides it should be doable. If the crazies or whoever will take over I think politics should have, should watch what’s going on. Not only the negotiators, but I think it is also a question of a greater picture that life continues after divorce. Okay we have to go beyond the divorce. It’s like in the divorce process if you trust only on the lawyers, they might at the end effect the outcome.

Gisela Stuart: Okay we have one more question but I want to go back. As an exceptionally happy divorced woman, as you could say I now get along better with my ex-husband than I did when we were married…

Joschka Fischer: *Laughs* Now I know why you are so in favour of Brexit.

Gisela Stuart: … so obviously it is possible to divorce, my answer to why is so hard to get the labour party to come to terms, because we are not positions, so it is easier for the Parliamentary government to take ownership of being in government. They are instinctively internationalists, therefore there was never this problem of sovereignty. And the third one is that there are some of our people who genuinely represent their ears who voted for Brexit in large numbers. They think that there is an economic price to be paid, and for the labour MPs the difficulty is that their voters have said sovereignty of decision making was worth it, and the politicians have shown themselves to be seriously out of step with their own voters, and that’s a really bad place to be in for the leaders of their party. Let’s talk again after June 8th, it will be a clarifying process. Now my gentleman to the right will give us the very last question.

Question 6: (inaudible 44:12) I am a German who has lived here for 30 years. And my question is when I saw this whole referendum debate in this country, there was no real pressure, no argument that was really persuasive. I mean you had militant leavers, like the lady to your left, and then you had half corked like Cameron, who never really believed in a more than pragmatic relationship with Europe. Isn’t this to say that Europe needs to sell itself better? Yes, they have to improve the European product and idea, but they should also sell themselves. When we had an astronaut in this country, a British astronaut, they were all, you know, hyper about a British astronaut. That he was sent by the European space agency, you know that, nobody mentioned. So none of the things, you know which is geopolitical, integration of Europe, of Eastern Europe paving the way to democracy, was never mentioned here as a positive. We only talk here, if you read the Financial Times, of the bureaucrats of Brussels and the beautiful government here. It is all negative. And if, and that is if, why don’t we sell Europe better, especially in a referendum like that?

Joschka Fischer: It’s not a question of selling. I mean from the very beginning, I experienced for seven years the different EU councils, and positions on the prime ministers, foreign ministers, finance ministers and it was all this, the positive things are from us and the negative things are from Brussels. But this is spilled milk, that’s the past, the decision was made in free and fair referendum, it is now a new fact. And the future means to organize based on common answers and common values, which I think is extremely important. To organize a good relationship, because whatever might happen, the UK is extremely important for Europe, and Europe will be extremely important for the UK, therefore, let’s look forward. I mean yes, I agree, there is a lot to say about the past, but it is over, it is done. We have now to manage the future. This will be complicated enough without creating negative feelings, poison and so on. But my position is that we should try to make the best out of it, based on different interests on both sides of the channel. It makes no sense to go back, it’s not a question of selling Europe, its Europe must function, must be more efficient, and without coming closer together, I don’t see how we can become more efficient. But that’s our old dispute.

Gisela Stuart: But we still have the future, don’t worry. Got people like you and me it will be alright. Thank you so much to the Project for Democratic Union and the Henry Jackson Society and Joschka for coming and talking to us on a hot, sunny London day, and thank you ladies and gentlemen for being with us.


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