Merkel lacks courage – German politician

With cracks appearing in the EU over migration and the transatlantic partnership in tatters, can Germany hold the union together, even with long-serving chancellor and Europe’s de facto leader Angela Merkel in her final term? We spoke to Dr. Horst Teltschik, a prominent German politician and national security advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

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Sophie Shevardnadze: Dr. Horst Teltschik, national security advisor to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, welcome to the show. It's great to have you with us. Dr. Telchik, polls show that around 80 percent of Germans are dissatisfied with the current ruling coalition of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Social Democratic party. With the Chancellor on her way out, will Merkel’s departure become the final nail in the coffin of this already precarious government?

Horst Teltschik: Dobryi vecher! Well, Chancellor Angela Merkel will be in office, in power, for the next, more or less, 3 years. I think she would stay, we will get a new head of the party, of the Christian Democratic party, a new chairman or a chairwoman, we don’t know yet, but nevertheless, the Chancellor will stay, I’m quite sure. And she has still a very strong position within Europe, and still within Germany. Sure, after being in office now for more than 12 years, people expect in, more or less, in the next time, a change of the Chancellor. This was true with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, or, for example, with Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.

SS: Sure, I understand that the Chancellor will stay through her term till 2021, but the leadership race inside Merkel’s party has already started, and naturally, the candidates are taking swings at Merkel’s legacy and policies. So with a new party chairman elected, who will most likely not be agreeing with Merkel on everything, how is she going to rule without her own party’s backing?

HT: Well, a party chairman can try hard to mobilise the party if he doesn’t, or she doesn’t agree with the Chancellor, but you see, our experience with Angela Merkel is, she never will take the decision not being sure that she will be backed by the new party chairman or chairlady and being backed by the party. She is great in getting compromises, in harmonizing people, therefore, I’m quite sure it will work.

SS: But, you know, you’re saying this, but then, other news outlets are saying that there’s some sort of confusion within the ruling party. Who do you think will gain out of this situation the most - the traditional Social Democrats, or the more fringe forces like the right-wing AfD?

HT: You see, it depends on who becomes the new party chairman or chairlady. If we get Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer as the new party chairlady… She is already at the top of the party as the Secretary General, and she is the lady who will not question the Chancellor at all, but if she disagrees, she will try to find a compromise. Therefore, I am not worried about that. If Mr. Merz becomes the new party chairman, well, he is trained in business and backed by the German business people, he might try to push Merkel more than Mrs. Karrenbauer. Therefore, it… But this will make the party more lively, and therefore, nobody is really worried about it.

SS: For as long as Angela Merkel has been the Chancellor, she has also been the informal leader of the European Union. Do you think the next Chancellor will also take that position, or that position will be relayed to someone in Paris?

HT: Well, our experience is that Germany is the biggest and the strongest country within Europe, therefore, the Chancellor, whether he belongs to the Christian Democrats or to another party, he will be still the main pillar within the European Union, but nevertheless, each Chancellor has to be interested in a very close and friendly relationship with the French president. Europe can be successful only if France and Germany stick together, this was true in the past, and it will be true in the future as well. Therefore, the question might be, who will take the lead, will it be the French President or the German Chancellor. It depends on who is more courageous, who has more ideas, and better ideas, and who can mobilise the other members for his position.

SS: Also, Angela Merkel has been the driver of European unity and integration for most of her term at the head of Germany - will her departure empower the Eurosceptic forces inside the union?

HT: Mrs. Merkel was always interested to keep the European Union, the members, together. But she was not really a driving force for more integration. She has said several times: “We need more Europe!”, but she never explained to the public what that means. I think president Macron was quite more outspoken, and expecting an answer from the German government. Well… He got one, after several months, just a few months ago. But this answer was not a very courageous one, it was a small step forward, a small step towards the French President, but it was not really a great step forward. I do hope that the successor of… Sorry, go ahead.

SS: What happens now with French President Macron’s far-reaching plans about reforming the European Union? I mean, he always had Merkel’s support for his idea, but can he push them further with the new face in Berlin?

HT: As I have told you, Merkel was very careful not to move too far in the direction of Macron. She welcomed his speech, but she wasn’t ready to explain to the public what her interests really are. And therefore, she moved very slowly, and from my point of view, not good enough and not courageous enough. I do hope that the successor of Merkel will be more courageous, more foresighted and more in favour of more integration of Europe.

SS: Angela Merkel’s refugee policy has not only divided the Germans on the issue, it brought divisions into the European Union as well, with, for instance, Eastern European members openly at odds with Brussels over the issue. Will the next German leader have to roll back Merkel’s refugee plans - just to keep everyone from completely falling out with each other?

HT: I think Chancellor Merkel was right when she publically said: “We can make it!”, and when she was ready to allow the refugees being in Hungary, suffering a lot, children, elderly people, and all ten thousands of refugees, to say: “Let them come”. But I think what the problem was, she didn’t immediately develop a strategy how to cope with these refugees. And therefore, the German people were overwhelmed. On the one side, they tried hard immediately to help refugees, on the other hand, they were overwhelmed – how to cope with them, with the children, with the housing, and so on. And the problem of the Chancellor and her government was not immediately to explain to the people: “Look, we will develop a strategy how to handle this wave of refugees.” For example, Mrs. Merkel went to Turkey to discuss with the President of Turkey that Germany will help them to take care of the 3.5 million refugees in Turkey in order that they should stay in Turkey and not try to leave to Europe and to Germany. This happened very late. She should have gone much earlier.

SS: There are external issues to the EU as well - and most recently and unexpectedly, from overseas, with the American president’s nationalist approach threatening the established transatlantic order. Is Europe going to move further towards self-sufficiency, away from the partnership with the Americans?

HT: Well, it’s obvious that we have some problems with the current US President. As you probably know, he publically has said that he is not in favour of the European Union, and that he favours the Brexit, the fact that the Great Britain will now leave the European Union, he is supporting it. He started to question NATO, meanwhile, he said he’s in favour of NATO, but NATO has to spend more money on defence… And, as you know, we are interested in good relations between United States and Russia as well. Nevertheless, the United States is a democratic country, they have a legal system which still works, and therefore, there are a lot of similarities between the United States and Europeans. In the past, the United States were a close ally. Therefore, I do hope we will, we can still have a close relationship, because what you have to know, there are members, European members, who would not be happy just being dependent on the Europeans alone. They want to have the Americans in Europe. That’s true, for example, for the Baltic countries, it’s true for Poland and others.

SS: Yeah, ok, I don’t think anyone is talking about cutting the ties between Europe and America completely, but, you know, in light of the recent events, people are saying, maybe, it’s time for Europe to be more independent? And not completely dependent on their economic and political decisions when it comes to the President in the White House? Maybe, it’s time to be more independent regardless of who the US President is? What do you think? More independent, I am not saying completely independent or completely cutting the ties with America, but more independent?

HT: You see, when I was in office as National Security Advisor to Chancellor Kohl, at the beginning, we were faced with really tough Cold War between your country and NATO. This was a time of the “Double-Track” decision and the deploying of the middle-range nuclear systems in Europe and in yoru country. And even during that time, we tried hard to tell the Americans what our interests are. At that time, President Reagan was in the office, and, for example, Chancellor Kohl went to Washington to tell him: “Mr. President, our interest is that you should again have summits with the Soviet partners, that you should start arms control and arms reduction negotiations with the Soviet.” That was our interest, and we told the Americans, and, fortunately, 3 years later, it worked, and, as you know, the outcome was the far-reaching arms control and arms reductions agreement between your country and NATO and the United States. Therefore, our main interest is that we explain to your country and to the Americans what our interests are, and then, we have to find agreements, either with you, or the Americans.

SS: Well, talking about European interests, the Chancellor has recently been booed as she was speaking in the European Parliament about the idea of the European army that, she hopes, would be a good supplement to NATO. What’s your take on that – should Europe be getting its own army? And if it’s implemented, does it really mean that it will be replacing NATO?

HT: NATO will stay, but as you know, the Americans have dramatically reduced the troops and their weapons in Europe, and all countries have to take care of their own security by themselves. Now, we wanted… We try to integrate Europe, therefore, it’s absolutely right at first, not to start with… From my point of view, the priority should not be a European army first, my priority would be first to have a common foreign policy, and then, we have to answer the question – what are the common security interests? And if it is in our interest to take care of our own security more than in the past, then we have to establish a common military force. And we started bilaterally already in 1988 with France, we already have a German-French integrated brigade! And it works: for example, in Mali, in Africa, they already are fighting together. Now, the idea is to get the other members in such a common army. And look at our… You have to know about our history. For example, we have a close relationship already, military relationship between Germany and the Netherlands. This is, on the background of our history, absolutely a success story, that Dutch and German soldiers are now together, or German and Polish soldiers. This is, if you look at our history, a miracle for me, still a miracle, and we have to improve it, and this will not be a threat to Russia, as you know.

SS: Yeah, I don’t think Russia ever said that it could be a threat to it, it actually supports the idea of a European army. But if that army comes together, what would it look like? I mean, NATO is an alliance of national militaries, which, although somewhat integrated, operate on their own. Will a pan-European army be efficient – with all the different languages and cultures?  

HT: Well, that’s a really good question. This would not be easy, because different languages are just now, and a lot of different military… Weapons systems, you know, we have several different tanks: the French are producing a tank, the Brits, the Germans, and others, – it makes no sense. Therefore, we have to… But this will be difficult to harmonize our equipment, and the training, and to agree on the common language. This will not be easy, it would take a hell lot of time, but bilaterally, it started to work, now we can enlarge it. This will take a lot of time.

SS: So I want to ask you the final question about what would happen to Russia-German relations with Angela Merkel gone, because Angela Merkel has often been a vocal critic of Russia. She always supported anti-Russia sanctions despite strong business ties between Berlin and Moscow. Will Berlin become more pragmatic towards Russia with new leadership, or is it more reasonable to expect a harder line?

HT: Nobody can make a forecast. From my point of view, my interest would be to move ahead with improving the relations between Germany and Russia, and between the European Union and Russia, and between NATO and Russia. You know, in the 90s, and even earlier, during the first decade of this century, we even have discussed the membership of Russia in NATO, we have discussed the close relationship between the European Union and Russia… I think we should start again to discuss where we can cooperate. Chancellor Merkel once has said: “We have built up a lot of bridges between Germany and Europe and Russia. And to destroy bridges is quite easy, very fast, but to rebuild will take a hell lot of time. I just had a meeting with Russian friends, German-Russia dialogue, and there are so many ideas how we can cooperate – economically, culturally, on science issues, and so on. There’s a lot of creativity on our side, and I think opportunities are big, and now we have both sides to push forward better relations between our countries.

SS: All right, thank you very much for this interview. We were talking to Dr. Horst Telchik, prominent German politician and national security advisor to Helmut Kohl, discussing Chancellor Merkel’s legacy and the divide within the European Union. That’s it for this edition of SophieCo. I'll see you next time.