After Donald Trump’s election to the post of US President, the scandals that surrounded his first weeks in office and the statements that he made about Europe, the talks about the post-American era in Europe became louder. Still it’s hard to imagine, that especially after the Brexit, a post American era in Europe may result in something else except the German dominance. I was looking for a while whom with an interview on this theme could be done, when learned by chance that the former Ambassador of Germany to Armenia (2009-12) Mr. Hans-Jochen Schmidt has arrived to Yerevan after visiting the Nagorno-Karabakh and observing the constitutional referendum there. Mr. Schmidt has retired from the diplomatic service, and therefore was a perfect interviewee for the topic that interested me.
EU ALWAYS HAD OVERCOMED THE HARDSHIPS
-Mr. Schmidt, it’s a pleasure to see you back in Yerevan and many thanks for your consent to do this interview. May I start it with a question about Mr. Trump? How do you find his statements about Europe?
- If to assess the recent American elections and Mr. Trumps victory from the European point of view, then of course, to some extent it opened the door to unknown. The new American President claims to revise some international orders and relations that were built throughout decades, including the US relationship with Europe. Still I believe that the united and strong European Union is very much in American interest.
I don’t believe that what the President Trump’s chief adviser Steve Bannon had conveyed to German envoy in Washington, regarding the inclination of the current US administration to develop bilateral relations with individual European countries, instead of expanding the relations with EU as union, is something helpful. That bilateral approach can’t be helpful for Europe and for the US relations with Europe.
- You know, I’m very much under impression of a pivotal formulation by Mr. Steinmeier that with election of Trump the world entered into post-American era. He was so prompt and precise with voicing that formula! One may get impression he anticipated it.
- I wouldn’t like to go that much into discourse whether we are entering into a post-American era or not, but what we witness in today world is a more profound and multidimensional process.
After the end of the Cold war and the collapse of Soviet Union there were lot of speculations - for some period even kind of move towards a unipolar world order, where the US was perceived as the only superpower. But along the past 25 years the world evolution didn’t play out that unilineal. There emerged strong economies, and first and foremost China, that sought to establish itself on world stage as a powerhouse and even the rival of the US. Some probes were made even in everyday life, for instance the China issued its own banking cards to separate its system from American MasterCard, Visa Card operations and ultimately secure circulation of Chinese cards beyond China. The same course of advancement on international stage we may see from side of India, other countries, Russia. So the unipolar order of world already was suffering cracks far before Trump entered the White house.
- Very much possible, but when it comes particularly to Europe, many people speculate that after Brexit and Trump’s victory the EU inevitably advances towards the German dominance era. Isn’t it an accurate observation?
A.- One should know, and I’m sure you know, that Brexit wasn’t in Germany’s interest at all. There are issues, especially in economy and trade, where Germany’s approaches are far closer with UK, than with France. So we would have preferred to keep Great Britain inside the EU. Yet now, after Brexit it hugely matters what will be the result of the Netherlands’ Parliamentary election in March and later on the outcome of the Presidential elections in France. These moves are so important because Netherlands and France are among the core countries that founded the European Communities almost 70 years ago and it’s politically important those core countries, including Germany to stay committed to their belief and vision in united Europe.
Looking for a way out of today challenges, as you may know, on March 1 the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker presented the “White book” to European Parliament, opening the debate how to shape the future of Europe and EU after the 2019 Brexit. President Juncker proposed five scenarios - from a Europe interested in a more cohesive and integrational policy-making to a more nationalistic, looser, inter-governmentally run EU - and in between them also the path proposed by German politicians still many years ago - envisaging that Europe should continue to develop according to a conceptual pattern based on selective integration steps - not followed by all EU member states (like the EURO-zone or the Schengen space).
- It’s encouraging that there are number of visions already proposed. However for the moment seemingly much depends on outcome of French Presidential elections with Le Pen’s all threats to lead France out EU, NATO, etc in case of her victory. What’s your assessment - isn’t she exaggerating what she may do?
- I agree that now the so called “Le Pen factor” has turned into source of anxiety and even trouble throughout Europe. It keeps many in wait to see what the outcome at French Presidential elections will be. But even if we take the worst scenario, the win of Madam Le Pen - in which I myself do not believe much - still even if she wins elections, it doesn’t necessary mean that she may realize her visions for leaving the EU, NATO etc. There’s National Assembly in France that will oppose to that kind of moves, and her party is well far from winning majority at National Assembly.
Still it’s true that Le Pen’s phenomena, as well as the Brexit and all those right wing movements questioning the need in strong and united EU show that we are in a live process and the people while benefiting from the fruits of European unity, are displeased with other sides and performance of the union. So we have to rethink and revise certain realities in EU to live up to today challenges. But ultimately, I believe, all these efforts will make the EU only smarter and stronger, as the defeat of every crisis did throughout EU history.
GERMANY STANDS IN CORE OF EUROPEAN STABILITY
- Mr. Schmidt, this year parliamentary elections will be held also in Germany. To my knowledge the right-wing populist threat in your country is PEGIDA, but their greatest achievement may be just entering the Bundestag. Am I right?
- First, there’s need to differentiate between the PEGIDA and the political party associated with this movement, called Alternative for Germany (AFD). Yes, AFD is going to participate in upcoming Parliamentary elections and according to polls it may enter the Bundestag in September with votes close to 10%. Nevertheless, one should not make a bogeyman out of the AFD and fear too much of its entry into Parliament, as eventually they do not present a political threat to Germany’s democracy.
Still as the AFD and its political leadership to an overwhelming extent present a xenophobic, racist, nationalistic alliance of people, and their ideology, propaganda "we" is detrimental to the advancement of Germany’s open society and state interests, and to our reputation abroad, the rise of AFD is a politically worrying development that we have to take seriously.
-Fine, and what about the favorites of the race - Chancellor Merkel and Mr. Schulz. Both are much respectable politicians, so the elections in Germany can’t result in political quacks like in UK or US.
- Yes, in Germany the situation is stable and predictable. The main candidates and the favorites of the elections, you’re right, are Chancellor Merkel and the former President of the European Parliament Mr. Martin Schulz. Both of them are establishment candidates, well-known figures on the European stage, and of course, their dominance in election race extends sensible calm, stability and predictability to Germany and broader EU.
According to polls - nonetheless in recent times so often appeared to be not that accurate - Ms. Merkel and her CDU/CSU coalition have a lead with 33%, yet the SDP under the presidency of Mr. Schulz maintains 31% of voter support. Mr. Schulz is more successful in public speeches and performance, Chancellor Merkel is stronger, more instrumental in smaller circles, she’s really fantastic in finding solutions, forging agreements, etc. But we have almost half a year ahead until the election, so we’ll see how the race plays out and what will be the outcome.
- The steady and predictable political situation in Germany is utmost important to the entire EU stability, especially after all those rocks and shakes around. Given on Germany’s encouraging stability let me move beyond the EU borders and ask how do you see the future of the Eastern Partnership?
- I think Germany itself, many EU countries and the EU in its entirety remain much interested in Eastern Partnership, and look forward to the implementation of the agreements with EaP countries. I’m very pleased that the EU and Armenia concluded their negotiations over the new Partnership Agreement, and hopefully at the next EaP summit in Brussels in November - the latest - the agreement will be signed.
It comes to demonstrate once again that the EaP policy hasn’t been an “anti” Russian project ever. Actually, the Germany while extending its political support in drafting to new EU Neighborhood policy (with EU-partners like Poland and Sweden) never intended or was in favor of creating divide in Europe - with "diametrically" opposed alliance-concepts. This policy of delineating spheres of "privileged" influence, the "revival" of the so-called Brezhnev doctrine should be considered obsolete and Russia should renounce it genuinely. By the way the EU and its member states have been striving to develop EU contractual policy with Russia as well - with the conclusion of the PCA and further proposals like offering Russia the extension of the "four spaces" (movement of people, capital, etc).
- Mr. Schmidt, there’s no need to cite samples how friendly and constructively Europe treats the Russia. For more than two centuries Europe demonstrates strange kindness and tolerance making Russia only more aggressive. Wouldn’t it be preferable if Europe treated Russia as harshly as it deserves?
- You should know that whoever the opponents are, whatever the controversy is, Europe and particularly the EU always tries to find solutions, seeks to engage and not to confront. Despite of all Russian aggressiveness, hybrid war and false propaganda insisting that EU put sanctions on Russia to punish the country, even there the truth is different. We didn’t wish to put sanctions and would be happy to lift them, but the Russia’s unacceptable conduct, its continuous destabilization of Ukraine obliges to keep the sanctions in place.
Russia should revise its conduct and realize that peaceful, developing and democratic neighbors, including Ukraine are as much in Russia’s interest as they are in Europe’s interest. Right this is the reason why Germany so firmly opposed to arming the Ukrainians - we believe that arming any side can’t lead to de-escalation of the situation, but rather will aggravate new confrontation. Yet everyone’s interest in Ukraine should be prevention of hostilities and escalation and not contribution to it.
KARABAKH SHOULD BE OPENED TO THE WORLD
- I don’t believe Russia may change. The false self-estimation and desperate need for respect on international stage were and remain the drivers of Russia’s conduct for 200 years. Russia more successfully and frequently collapses than undergoes to any changes. So it’s more pragmatic to look for Russia’s next collapse, but let me turn to Armenia. Are you here for the first time after leaving the Ambassador’s position?
- Oh, now I’m here for the fifth time, I believe. After leaving my Ambassadorial career I returned to Armenia at least once a year. That’s partly because I’m Member of the Presidium of the Berlin NGO "Armenian German Forum" and also I’m Member of the Advisory Council of the European Friends of Armenia. By the way I’m glad that as far as I’m not on civil service any more I could now travel also to Karabakh.
- Really, Mr. Schmidt? And how did you find the Karabakh?
- Yes, I traveled to Karabakh. I had the privilege to monitor the constitutional referendum in Nagorno Karabakh. I’m pleased that the Artsakh population realized another possibility of participating in a politically important decision making process, and the voting process there proceeded according to internationally recognized vote-principles, in a democratic, transparent way. It’s a politically encouraging sign in a region where mostly autocratic, family dynastied political regimes try to shape the political landscape.
It’s my belief that not only Armenia, the Armenian Diaspora, but also the European countries, EU should more engage in this region. Involvement and cooperation are the best way for opening any country, region or nation to the world. I fail to understand for instance why the Azerbaijani side objected to exploitation of the civil airport in Stepanakert. It could well connect the Karabakh with outer world. Still , if the Karabakh doesn’t open itself to world, then how may Azerbaijan establish ties with it?
It’s equally unhelpful and distractive when Azerbaijan opposes to foreign citizens’, journalists’, politicians’, Parliament members’ visits to Karabakh. If these people left to Karabakh with calls for war, hatred, etc., then the Azerbaijan’s concerns could be understandable, but the foreigners go to Karabakh to see the situation with own eyes, and they all urge the people to move towards the peace. So what’s the sense of opposing to it? Azerbaijan should revise its destructive stance and itself support further opening of Karabakh to the world.
- I think for that first a shift in Azerbaijani leadership should happen. An authority that harshly persecutes and ill-treats its own people hardly will perform a civilized conduct towards the others. Anyway, whatever happens to Azerbaijan, we arrived to the end of my interview and I wish thank you again for the interesting talk. Thank you.