US-EU free trade deal threatens European sovereignty and security – German MP
The political standoff between the West and Russia has put many through difficult times. Russia is living through a severe crisis, exacerbated by EU sanctions – but that’s as business in Europe also is in trouble, as the loss of a major partner has dealt a blow to prosperity. Can the European Union afford the confrontation, given the state some of its economies are in, and the dissent that is growing within some member states? Does the EU even need this confrontation – or is it simply following some larger agenda? We ask these questions to the Vice-President of Germany’s Left Party and Member of the Bundestag. Sahra Wagenknecht is on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevardnadze: The President of the European Council Donald Tusk has said that toughening of sanctions against Russia is unlikely, he’s also admitted that there’s a group of EU members that wants an end to these sanctions. Is there a chance that there will be a change of EU policies in this regard?
Sahra Wagenknecht:I really hope so, because it’s obvious that these sanctions have no positive results. They have a harmful influence on the Russian economy. They have a harmful influence on the European economy. In Germany a number of enterprises are suffering from a drop of their sales levels. This policy is absolutely meaningless, and that’s why we call for an end to these sanctions. I don’t know if the EU will move in this direction, everything depends on the pressure it’s under. But we won’t be able to reach an understanding with these tools, we won’t be able to move forward, to build better relations. On the contrary, our relations will only become worse.
SS:You believe that new sanctions against Russia would be fatal for the EU. Why can’t Europe give up this policy? An economic war against Russia also means a slowdown for German economy, for all sides of the conflict.
SW:If Europe followed an independent policy, if European politicians put Europe’s interests first, they would immediately call for the lifting of sanctions. The problem is that somebody is in favor of these sanctions, the United States want them to stay in place. It’s well known that American energy corporations would like to push Russian gas out of Europe and fill the vacant spots in the energy market with their own shale gas. The United States are actually harming the European economy. There aren’t a lot of American corporations on the European markets, so sanctions are causing damage to Europe itself.
SS:You believe the U.S. is deliberately pulling Europe into a confrontation with Russia. Why isn’t dialogue possible? If I understand correctly, you think U.S. is dictating its policies to the EU, why are EU states eager to comply, why not go against the U.S.?
SW:Of course the politicians, those behind EU strategies are under U.S. pressure. It is clear that the goal of American foreign policy is to aggravate tensions between Germany and Russia, to aggravate tensions between Europe and Russia. And NATO is a tool the U.S. uses to spread its interests, to extend its sphere of influence. Why do Europeans participate in all this? That’s something to think about. Of course, we're seeing pressure on the media. Last year German television reported on American think tanks working with European, including German, media. And that's a major influence. Delivering information is a real art and it has an effect the politicians.
Of course we can think endlessly about why Europe doesn’t follow an independent policy. But I am glad that's not always the case. We saw the Minsk agreements, the agreements between Merkel and Hollande, that were made without consulting Washington and that are not encouraged by the U.S. These are the trends we must develop in Europe. We need to understand that it's in our vital interests to maintain good and peaceful relations with Russia.
SS:When we hear the term ‘West’ we automatically think Europe and the United States, North America. Do you think it’s possible that we’ll one day stop seeing these two parts of the world as one?
SW:Of course I'd like to see everybody in the world cooperating with one another. Many left-wing politicians suggest disbanding NATO and creating a new collective security system, which would include Russia. Obviously the U.S. would also be a part of this system, and they would also act as a consolidating force. But I see more and more cases when American politicians, mostly Republicans, act absolutely arrogantly, steer Europe towards war, encourage nationalism, and a buildup of military force. Europe should have an independent policy, simply based on its own interests and the interests of the European people.
SS:Another interesting topic - The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – the planned free trade agreement between U.S. and EU – tell me, if it’s a mutually beneficial deal, why is there so much secrecy surrounding the talks about the conclusion of this treaty?
SW: I think it's obvious - these negotiations are kept private because they're unpopular. Nobody wants people to know what the agreement is about because it contradicts their interests. This agreement, the EU-Canada CETA deal, all of them are related to one another. Of course, they aren't really about establishing a free market, their main aim is simplifying the customs procedure, getting rid of it completely. So these agreements would be harming European democracy, harming European standards, they would create a subgovernment of corporations, that would decide on adoption of laws, that would be able sue entire states, that would create a separate justice system. Not to mention that we’re already being spied on by the USA. Germany’s intelligence service has passed confidential data on European citizens, on European politicians to the NSA. For me that's unacceptable. So if we decide on any new agreements with the U.S. we should first think of our information security.
SS:You say America’s main goal is to end relations between Russia and Germany – but is the U.S. succeeding? Chancellor Merkel has recently been in Moscow, she’s held talks with President Putin, the two states are cooperating during talks in Minsk…
SW:Fortunately, Chancellor Merkel made a step forward. She was the one who initiated the Minsk agreements. She is always holding talks with President Hollande. I believe she is trying to resist U.S. pressure. There is a well-known think tank - the think tank Stratfor, its chief clearly stated that Washington is interested in creating tensions between Germany and Russia, because when these two countries are cooperating, it's much harder for the U.S. to fulfill its interests in Europe, to impose its policies. And I believe the main task of the German government is to focus on our own interests, to act more wisely. We should act like a sovereign nation and not base decisions on the will of Washington, stop submitting to its interests, to its wants and needs. The German government should be independent from the U.S. Administration in Washington.
SS:NATO is expanding its military presence in Eastern Europe, the USA is deploying heavy weaponry there and in the Baltics – do you feel there are valid reasons for this, should Europe be afraid of something?
SW:That's a dangerous policy, an irresponsible policy. This decision should be cancelled. Eastern Europe doesn't need heavy weapons, it doesn't need troop deployment. Otherwise we’ll be seeing the beginning of a new arms race, Russia will have to keep up. This is a very dangerous policy. It's like playing with fire. Guns and war should be completely out of question. We just can't think in these categories, in military categories. Demonstration of military might - that's a completely wrong path.
SS:Sahra, You just said that Chancellor Merkel is submitting to American influence – why is that?
SW:I don't know. You should ask Chancellor Merkel about that, she has all the information. Of course Germany has its obligations when it comes to NATO. But while Germany is a NATO member, a member of NATO’s military structure, it has never had a say in any of the bloc’s decisions, Washington has always been the only one to make decisions in NATO. Of course Merkel understands all this. I'd like to believe that she has the power to act independently, out of our own sovereign interests.
SS:At the same time Germany is one of the richest and most powerful European countries, it doesn’t have to depend on the United States, does it?
SW:Absolutely not. From the economic point of view we're independent. It’s actually not that easy to find a European country economically dependent on the USA, we have our own economic ties inside the Eurozone. That is exactly why we don't need the TTIP and other agreements that are being negotiated. Germany doesn't need them, our export levels are quite high. From the economic point of view, these agreements are completely unnecessary.
SS:Former West German chancellor Helmut Schmidt has said in an interview to Deutsche Welle in 2007: “There’s no threat coming from Russia. The threat is coming from the USA”. What threat is this exactly?
SW:The American attempts to expand NATO borders to reach Russia, attempts to establish a new political order in Ukraine, make it a NATO member. These are provocations, which create a dangerous situation - that's the threat. Demonstration of military power, a new arms race – this could lead to a military confrontation. That’s a threat to peace, a threat to the whole world, in fact.
SS:What do you think of the Eurocomission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s idea of a common European Army? Would having its own army allow Europe to escape the U.S. and NATO domination?
SW: I don't think the EU needs its own army. Member-States have their own armies, and the only reason we need military force is for protection. So I don’t see a reason why we should create a separate European army. Europe doesn’t need a war, we don’t need to intervene anywhere, following the American lead. Europe doesn’t need its own army to become independent from the U.S. I think we should focus on reforming NATO's structure. While this military alliance exists in Europe, the U.S., as NATO's leader, will continue to force its policy on European countries.
SS:You’re saying often Germany’s dictating terms to the EU, that Berlin has stop acting as the continent’s hegemon - Why is German hegemony in Europe dangerous? It’s not a military domination, not a political one, just a reflection of the country’s economic clout…
SW:If Germany starts to vainly instruct other countries, as it has already happened before, if Germany once again becomes the European country that tells other countries what to do, it will undoubtedly provoke aggression from other countries. It frightens me that today, Germany and its Federal Chancellor are hated all over Europe, provoke great opposition. I can honestly say that the instructions that Germany offers to other countries concerning their internal policy are meaningless. It's the wrong policy. The strategy Germany proposes means that everybody has to save money, minimize their expenses, that salaries and pensions should be cut. This has no future. It will have a bad influence on its social life. On the one hand we’re seeing people getting richer, while on the other poverty levels are rising, especially among the middle class. The prescriptions that Germany is trying to give to other countries are harmful.
SS:Let’s talk a little bit about European-Ukrainian relations. You’re saying the EU Ukrainian policy has failed. However, the Association agreement was signed, the cooperation is growing – why is it a failure?
SW: We should look at the results of this policy, and not only for the EU. Ukraine has slipped into civil war, its economy has collapsed. And we should do everything we can to come to such agreements with Ukraine that Russia will agree with. Ukraine is a country that has traditionally been tied to the Russian economy. If we look at Ukraine's heavy industry, its market has always been Russia and not the EU, and it will never be the EU. If we make Ukraine choose either to work with us or with Russia, we actually pressure Ukraine to make a difficult choice, and we become responsible for all the events that we see today. Of course we should follow the policy of cooperating and collaborating with Ukraine, that's absolutely right, but we have to do it without excluding Russia and without blaming Russia for everything. That is completely the wrong way.
SS:The number of Ukrainian refugees in Europe has surged in the past year, the country is now among the top 6 states with most refugee claimants, along with Syria and Somalia. At the same time the majority of Ukrainian claims are rejected (unlike the Syrian ones) – why don’t European authorities want to accept Ukrainian migrants?
SW:Of course all this is quite cynical. Europe is responsible for the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine. People are trying to flee conflict and from this point of view they're no different from the refugees from Syria. Of course let's not forget about persecutions. As I have noticed these last months, and the media has been talking about this, some members of the Ukraine opposition are being threatened, some are killed. There are also combat volunteers in Ukraine who are Neo-Nazis, who wear Nazi symbols. I'd probably try to flee from such a country myself. And I find it absolutely unacceptable that the Ukrainian government supports such nationalist structures, and not citizens who are reasonably afraid of all this, who try to flee, but are refused the status of a refugee by the EU.
SS:I’m just trying to compare the situation around migrants from, say, Syria with that of Ukraine – I understand the migration processes have gotten complicated, there’s more people coming in than before, but nevertheless the Somalians and Syrians get asylum and Ukrainians don’t: why?
SW:There no difference between those who flee from Eastern Ukraine and those who flee from the Syrian civil war, which by the way is on the West's conscience, as it was first and foremost the USA who wanted to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, it's a country that was destabilized by the USA. And I would say that it happens all the time. First countries are destabilized, then a civil war begins. The West plays this game, but then refuses to accept refugees. It's a common phenomenon that doesn't only occur in Ukraine. There's a whole tragedy in the Mediterranean Sea, where refugees drown and the EU watches dozens of thousands of people die. Of course that is very cynical. All in all I consider it necessary to improve the refugee policy. Only well-educated migrants are wanted in the EU, those who went to schools in their mother country, so it would be possible to save money on their education. That's why the refugee policy is very restrictive, especially in Germany, where the number of migrants is quite high. I don't know why the situation with Ukraine is like that - maybe because some suspect that it is too close to Russia and that influences the situation. But there is one general problem: the fact that the right of asylum does not fully function in the EU. Many people are under persecution, many people are afraid for their lives. However not everybody is granted asylum and many people are deported.
SS:You said once that Syriza getting into power in Greece is an uprising of the Greek people against the dictatorship of finance, that it’s an opportunity for the whole continent. Can they really change things? They don’t want to abandon the euro, they continue to fulfill their IMF obligations and agree to more reforms…
SW:I think that Alexis Tsipras’ government can’t cope with the responsibilities it has. It’s trying to show goodwill, trying to pay off debts, negotiate. And it’s obvious that the EU institutions, the EU Commission, the IMF, and the Central Bank, all share one goal- to put a knife to this government’s throat. If it agrees to another austerity program, it will commit political suicide, I mean agreeing to cuts in spending and a huge value-added tax – all the things the former government did, which led to a catastrophe. And if they don’t agree to this program, nobody is going to strike a deal with them. That’s why it now seems that there is no way of solving this problem. I understand that the Greek government is afraid to leave the Eurozone, a new currency won’t be able to find its place on the financial market, if they leave the Eurozone, there’s a high risk that this currency won’t be valued on the international market, it will have a very low cost. And Greece really depends on its import, especially energy, food and medical supply, and in this case it won’t be able to pay for all the products. Of course Greece is very worried and that’s why they are trying their best to stay afloat.
SS:As you have said, the clout of the left is on the rise in Europe – the Podemos of Spain is one example. At the same time we see the right and nationalist parties gaining momentum – as shown by the Popular Front in France. Can we actually witness a political rupture in the EU?
SW:On the one hand, I’m glad that many in Southern Europe are now acting against this meaningless policy that threatens their lives, their well-being. When people elect parties like Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece, it puts pressure on the EU establishment, and I hope that this trend picks up. On the other hand, there are many people that are disappointed by the Europe we have, that’s why new right-wing parties appear, parties with nationalist slogans. We see it in France, with the Front National Party. This is very dangerous, as these nationalists, these right-wing populists are becoming stronger. They’re talking about dividing Europe, but they simply don’t have any new strategy, they have nothing new that we can go forward with. These right-wing populists don't want to increase taxes on wealth, they don't need a social EU. They base their decisions solely on nationalist principles, on propaganda, and I'm afraid that these movements will become stronger.
SS:Thank you. Goodbye.