Interview with Gerhard Schroeder

Gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany caused a lot of controversy. How can it affect the energy security of Russia and Europe? Gerhard Schroeder, the former Chancellor of Germany, now Chairman, Nord Stream was in the “Spotlight”.

Al Gurnov: Mr. Schroeder, it has been a year since you are no longer a head of state. So how do you feel, do you miss the big times or was it a relief for you and for your family?

Gerhard Schroeder: The first three-four months were very difficult but I tried to start something anew. I decided to start working again because I wanted to do something for my family. Now I’m really happy to spend more time with my wife and my children. It wasn’t possible when I was  Chancellor.

A.G.: Since you’ve mentioned the children, how are Victoria and Gregory? How are they doing in their new motherland, in their new family? 

G.S.: They are doing really well, and I’m very happy about it. And I would like that they become good people in the future, and I would also like to bring them up with  respect  for their motherland – Russia.

A.G.: Of course, we wish all the best to you and to your family. But now let’s talk about politics. In a recent interview for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper you said: “Without Russia, Europe would not be able to withstand the competition”. What did you mean, and what kind of competition you think Europe faces today?

G.S.: I was talking about economic issues in the entire world. Europe has great human potential and we can strengthen this power. That is why I decided to work in this direction. Also, many European countries have decided to build a partnership with Russia based on politics, the  economy and culture. If we keep these ties and even make them stronger, we  can  face the competition from Asia and America.

A.G.: When you talk about competition from Asia and America what, do you think, Europe has to fear most? If we speak not of advantages but of the disadvantages of that competition, which is more worrying for Europe?

G.S.: I think that Europe has no ground for such fears. Europe can be better in all directions. We have to stay as a leader in technology, for example. Not only in those fields of technology which are more developed in our countries, but in biotechnology and information technology, for instance. Also, we have to remain the place where social problems can be solved. And of course, Russia is our strategic partner in many conflicts in the world. And I think that is the main issue for the next years.

A.G.: How do you explain the panic that we see in Europe at least through the press, about the alleged dependence of Europe on Russia concerning energy supplies. What other options does Europe have?

G.S.: I know, and I really share your opinion. The question of gas supplies to Europe is quite an important one. And since Russia is the main supplier of gas we have to admit that Russia is not that bad as a partner. There are certain obligations and Russia is fulfilling them. And I want to say that the Europeans are interested in cooperation with Russia and in opening their markets for different Russian products. as well as European companies are interested in exploring, in developing, Russian deposits and opening Russian markets in general. I would like Russian businesses to supply us with different products. And I think that this will develop the economic partnership between Russia and Germany.

A.G.: You are chairing the Nord Stream gas pipeline project. Some people call it the “Project of the Century.” Does that mean that you are becoming “The Man of the Century?”

G.S.: I don’t think so, and I don’t really want to become “The Man of the Century.”

A.G.: Why?

G.S.: Nord Stream is extremely important to Europe. Well, I am a politician, and I am doing something different in this project. We need this line as it is a part of a trans-European network that supplies gas to every country of the European Union. Besides, our resources are getting down and we need to use every opportunity to improve the situation. And also we should remember that there was no competition to build this pipeline through the Baltics of through  Ukraine or Poland. We need more capacity. That's why we need new opportunities to get it.

A.G.: There has been much controversy about the route of the pipeline from Russia to Europe by-passing Eastern European countries. And some European leaders, especially in the Eastern Europe say that by signing the deal with Germany Russia is using Gazprom to divide the EU. How do you think the project that you are heading will affect the European energy security, the energy of supply and the energy of demand?

G.S.: I don’t want to criticize anyone. We offered practically every country in Europe to participate in the project. It is financed not only by Russia and Germany but also by Dutch companies. I repeat once again that the project is a pan-European one. And the security of gas supply will be higher. Europe needs more gas as the demand grows and we are not able to satisfy it with our own reserves.

A.G.: In one of your interviews you said that “Germany should not point fingers at Russia too much”. In other words, do you think that the West has recently been criticizing Russia too much?

G.S.: It is not a question of criticism. If you look at Russia, a country with no experience in democracy, it is now in an all-embracing democratic process within its territory. And I think that this development will go on. We can criticize Russia, why not? But we should not point fingers at Russia. We should let it proceed with its democratic reforms.

A.G.: Why did you agree to become the head of the Nord Stream project? There were a lot of options around the world why did you do it? Can you give us a reason?

G.S.: There are two reasons for this decision. First, as I have already mentioned, the project is very important for the European energy system. Then, I really want to help to develop relations between Russia and Europe. Both have great common interests. Besides, the Russian President asked me to participate in this project. That is why I  agreed.

A.G.: You wrote a book “Decisions: My life in politics”. Reading it, one gets an impression your life in politics is not finished.

G.S.: No, that's not true, because my political career is over and I will not make a comeback, like a boxer. I don't want to start in real politics once again. I will remain a politician in the future, undoubtedly, but there is a border between economics and politics and that's quite important. That's why I do not want to come back to active politics.

A.G.: First of all, they say “Never say never again”. You mean you're not going back to big politics, but you'll stay connected to it.

G.S.: Certainly I'll be connected with politics because I did it for a long time but no more than anyone else who gives comments on Russian TV. I do not want to enter politics  again.

A.G.: Let me quote a person you certainly know very well – Alexander Rahr, analyst at the German Council of Foreign Relations who wrote: “People see Schroeder as a man who lost the struggle for power. His book helps him to present himself as a winner. To him it's crucial that history preserves his image correctly.” Is that an insult for you?

G.S.: No. Certainly not for me. I have known Mr Rahr and duly estimate what he's doing. There was also his book in Russian. I wrote my book because I wanted to tell about those seven years I was  German Chancellor. I wanted  to share my opinion. I wanted to present my biography as a politician.

A.G.: Here is a quote from a promo you made for your book: “Now that I've time to read the newspapers I can see there's nothing worth reading. Now it's time to change this.” What do you mean? What are you going to change and how?

G.S.: I do not remember that I really said it, but it was really right. When I talk about journalists and about those articles, I really do not take it seriously. Now I'm reading criticism and a lot of newspapers, even more than earlier.

A.G.: Did you ever say that Russian President Vladimir Putin has one of the toughest political jobs on the planet?

G.S.: That's correct. It's my opinion. Russia is a great and large country with different times in its history, with different developments, with different events. This country is quite difficult to hold together and manage. The president cares about the country and it's quite a difficult function and task for Mr Putin.

A.G.: Again in your book you say a lot about friendship and politics. This friendship issue has been very big during the whole history of your relations with Putin, and you've been criticized for it, by the way. Do you really believe that friendship, good personal relations, are really good for big politics?

G.S.: Certainly. I would like to tell you one thing – good personal relationships help to solve different conflicts. Good relationships between people and countries should continue, and what we're talking about in this case is people. That's why I support these personal relationships, which help us to solve conflicts. The interests of people really have great importance in talking about the interests of Russia and Europe, about the relationships between big countries. Everybody should understand this.

A.G.: A personal question: after you left your post you still continue to maintain this friendship with Vladimir Putin, you call him on the phone, you meet him when you're in Moscow? You still have a chance to act like friends with him?

G.S.: As a matter of fact, sometimes when I come to Moscow and he's also in Russia and in Moscow, we can visit each other, we're happy to see each other. There is a relationship between Lyudmila [President Putin's wife] and my wife. Why shouldn't we carry on our relationship? Just because of his state position? I know from my own experience the time of an active politician is quite short.

A.G.: This summer when I interviewed Mr Putin, he said he does not have a mobile phone. How do you reach him?

G.S.: I do not call him. Normally I have an opportunity to talk to him when it's really important. Sometimes it happens when I come to Russia.

A.G.: Let's talk about your relations with Angela Merkel. You criticize her a couple of times in your book. “Merkel lacks leadership, and is unable to say ”enough is enough", you wrote.

G.S.: I did not write this in the book. It's probably taken from one of my interviews. I said it in another way. When I go to abroad I do not criticize my own government in Germany. I'd like to stick to this position.

A.G.: Let's switch to George Bush. You criticize him in your book. I've got an impression that as an author of the book, you overestimate the power  that Washington really has over Europe. Do not you think it's a bit exaggerated?

G.S.: I do not think so. I do not overestimate the EU and Mr Bush. We've good, friendly relationships, especially between the EU and America. I did not criticize anyone, and did not criticize Bush. There is a difference of opinions on Iraq. There are also other issues like Kosovo and Afghanistan.  But, we stand on one side and would like to stay together in the future. In this case I would like to avoid any different opinions in the future, because the past shows us that our positions were sometimes really correct.

A.G.: Another question is on this new partnership agreement Russia and the EU are going to sign soon. Germany has a very strong word in discussing this new agreement. It's not going very easily now, there are problems. Are there any points dear to you, what articles would you personally like to see in this agreement?

G.S.: I do not think I should talk about different articles in this agreement. I have a very good impression of the basic articles. I think one should be proud of our abilities to get better in the future. The German Foreign Minister was talking about cooperation in science, in the youth sphere, about the development of cultural relationships. I think we should talk more about the upcoming agreement.

A.G.: The last subject I'd like to discuss is the growing neo-Nazi activity in Germany. People in Russia are worried about it. Why does the Constitutional court in Germany allow these neo-Nazis to hold their rallies? Why does not the EU react to the same kind of neo-Nazi activities in the former Soviet Baltic republics, which are now new Baltic states – is it because there are the same problems in Europe? Or because the Baltic states try to play like an outpost to Russia?

G.S.: I'm not able to tell you anything about these affairs. I'm reading about it in the newspapers. I can tell what Germany is doing to prevent these events. We use the police and the justice system. When people break the law they should be in jail. We should also carry out work in schools. That's quite important. I think we will succeed in doing this. The situation in other European countries is the same. I'm sure we do not want to make anyone unhappy and make our relationships more complicated. That's why we would like to fight against these fascist trends in Germany.