Merkel Challenger Schulz Trump 'Most Un-American' U.S. President Seen in Years
Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president and Angela Merkel's challenger in the German election, says in an interview with DER SPIEGEL that he views Donald Trump as a threat to European security. He also calls on the chancellor to do more to strengthen the EU.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Schulz, you have accused Donald Trump of destroying Western values. Is it at all possible to talk constructively with a man like that or does he have to be opposed?
Schulz: We have to engage in a dialogue with him because he is the elected president of the United States of America. But we have to emphatically oppose his foreign policy ideas.
SPIEGEL: Trump has announced that he intends to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. How should Europe respond to this?
Schulz: Trump is withdrawing because he wants to lower environmental standards for American products and manufacture more cheaply. His reasoning is quite simple, but very shortsighted. It won't succeed because, by doing so, Trump is missing a golden opportunity to modernize American industry.
SPIEGEL: Europe will have to pay the price.
Schulz: When it comes to climate protection, the whole world will have to pay the price. But if Mr. Trump intends to conclude a trade agreement with the EU, he will have to abide by our climate standards.
SPIEGEL: But Trump doesn't want a free trade agreement with Europe.
Schulz: That's not so clear. In any case, waiving climate protection does not make American products more competitive. We Germans are particularly aware that you can only be successful on the global market over the long term if you offer energy-efficient products that are, by nature, climate-friendly.
SPIEGEL: How dangerous is Trump?
Schulz: Donald Trump has made the principle of purposely breaking a taboo into a means of achieving his political objectives, which is something that he has in common with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Trump systematically violates international rules. That's something we have to be brutally blunt about. But we cannot allow ourselves to forget that Trump is not the U.S.
SPIEGEL: At the NATO summit, Trump did not expressly affirm the alliance's mutual defense pact. Do you think he can still be relied upon if the alliance is one day confronted with a serious crisis?
Schulz: I still hope that the American system of checks and balances will ultimately prevent this man, with his erratic political style, from jeopardizing our security architecture. But it is most definitely a matter that should be taken seriously when an American president does not clearly support Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.
SPIEGEL: Could this lead Russian President Vladimir Putin to some silly ideas?
Schulz: I have a hard time answering this question with a "yes" or a "no." We will first have to find out more about the obscure connections between Washington and Moscow. Totally irrespective of this issue, though, I am not prepared to submit to Trump's logic of rearmament.
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SPIEGEL: Three years ago, NATO collectively agreed to the goal of member countries spending two percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. The foreign minister at the time, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a member of your center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) also took part in this decision.
Schulz: I did not participate in this decision. By the way, it says in the paper that NATO member countries will "aim to move towards the 2 percent guideline" by 2024. In contrast to what Mr. Trump believes, Germany does not owe money to either NATO or the U.S.
SPIEGEL: Isn't it a bit exaggerated to talk about a "logic of rearmament"?
Schulz: I like to put it in very practical terms. If we spent 20 to 30 billion euros more on the Bundeswehr (Germany's armed forces) annually, it would become the largest army in the European Union over the next decade. I don't want that. Instead, we have to look for alternatives.
SPIEGEL: What might those be?
Schulz: If we want to strengthen the EU, then we urgently need a two-pronged approach. First, we can save a lot of money if we finally move to harness synergy effects in military spending. The parallel structures in the individual armies still remain far too costly, and we could save a lot by making joint purchases. Second, we cannot only think in terms of conventional military logic, but instead have to be far better prepared to thwart cyberattacks. Most importantly, we can no longer allow the EU to become bogged down in petty details.
SPIEGEL: What do you suggest?
Schulz: The EU is a community of values, not military buildups. Europe also has to make overtures for dialogue. It was on this foundation that the Minsk Process was created, in which it was said: When very specific criteria are fulfilled, we can avoid confrontation. That, at least, is how further escalation was prevented during the Ukraine crisis.
SPIEGEL: Isn't it a bit strange that you insinuate that a NATO ally like the U.S. is pursuing a logic of rearmament, while you speak of Russia as a partner for new phases of disarmament?
Schulz: I have no illusions. Of course, Russia is massively upgrading its military. We know that Russia is pursuing a policy of expansion. This is of course a cause for concern among Eastern European countries. But is this logic of rearmament the only political tool that we have at our disposal? There are always alternatives that we have to discuss. That is in the finest Social Democratic tradition.
SPIEGEL: But isn't it a contradiction when you say that Europe has to take its security into its own hands and, at the same time, reject higher military spending?
Schulz: It's not a contradiction. I am strongly in favor of equipping our soldiers as best as possible; we owe that to them. But I don't understand why the Bundeswehr should be larger in 2025 than the armies of the nuclear-armed, veto-power-wielding European members of the Security Council, France and Britain.
SPIEGEL: At the end of the Cold War, Germany had 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks; now we only have around 200. The Bundeswehr is lacking fundamental things like night-vision devices and trucks that actually work. And you seriously maintain that an increase in military spending will spark an arms race?
Schulz: I have never said that I'm not prepared to spend more money on the Bundeswehr. Former German Defense Ministers Thomas de Maizière and Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg made dramatic mistakes. Just this morning, I visited the Armed Forces Operations Command in Potsdam. It's interesting to note that the number of tanks also played a role there. The Bundeswehr no longer has enough to conduct a decent exercise. So our army certainly needs more money. But not 20 to 30 billion a year.
SPIEGEL: And instead?
Schulz: We have increased the defense budget this year by 2.7 billion euros. The material deficiencies are not due to a lack of money, but rather serious problems with procurement. This is the defense minister's responsibility.
SPIEGEL: When Vladimir Putin visited Emmanuel Macron on May 29, the new French president said that he would respond militarily if there was another poison gas attack in Syria. Is that how the new self-confidence of European defense policy looks, and shouldn't Germany logically be part of this?
Schulz: We all agree that poison gas attacks, like the ones that have quite obviously taken place in Syria, are a violation of international law. It's also clear that the international community must react to this. But Germany can only take part in military operations if it has a mandate from the international community.
SPIEGEL: And if the Russians have no interest in this?
Schulz: We cave in too quickly when Russia threatens to use its veto. That's how it was during the 1970s and 1980s, too. Nevertheless, we were able to broker arms limitation treaties -- with people who were difficult to negotiate with at the time. Why don't we try to take this path again today?
SPIEGEL: Is the chancellor giving short shrift to the issue of disarmament?
Schulz: Yes. Ms. Merkel has embraced the two-percent goal once again. I have explained why I'm against it. Voters will have their say on the matter during the general election.
SPIEGEL: You have spent nearly your entire life shaping European policy. Now that you are the chancellor candidate for the SPD, it is primarily German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel who is addressing the topic of Europe. Do you fear your history as an EU politician could be a burden because many Germans associate you with the Brussels establishment?
Schulz: Not at all! In all of my speeches I talk about why a strong Europe is necessary in order for Germany to be strong over the long term.
SPIEGEL: We are referring to content-related, new initiatives, which came from the foreign minister, not from you.
Schulz: I think that I have sufficiently shown over the past years that I have a clear notion of how we can make Europe stronger, more democratic and more inclusive. There is really no competition there with Sigmar Gabriel.
SPIEGEL: It was Gabriel, not you, who presented a paper called "Élysée 2.0" after the election in France.
Schulz: A German foreign minister has to develop European policy initiatives. I wish the chancellor were just as active -- not to mention the German finance minister.
SPIEGEL: You are the candidate for chancellor.
Schulz: That's true. And I speak gladly and often about Europe, like here in this DER SPIEGEL interview.
SPIEGEL: Do you concur with Gabriel's statement that Germany should invest more money in Europe?
Schulz: I worked as a member of the European Parliament for 22 years. I was the head of the Social Democrats' parliamentary group for seven years and the president of the European Parliament for five years. And I've always called on the (conservative) Christian Democratic Union and (its Bavarian sister party) the Christian Social Union to stop all this talk about Germany being "Europe's paymaster." A strong Europe is in Germany's interest.
SPIEGEL: In other words, you are now also saying that, if need be, we have to be prepared to put more money into the EU budget. "How would it be," Gabriel wrote, "if we did something 'unheard of' during the next debate on Europe's finances? Instead of fighting to reduce our payments to the EU, we could indicate our willingness to pay even more."
Schulz: Gabriel said that with regard to the loss of payments from the British, which the other member states will have to compensate for. There are two possibilities: either we reduce the EU budget or the shortfall is covered by the remaining 27 members.
SPIEGEL: That would increase Germany's contributions.
Schulz: At any rate, I am strictly against making cuts in the current budgetary period for things such as research funding and investments as a reaction to Brexit. I think that we can do an excellent job of explaining this to the German people.
SPIEGEL: Gabriel has also proposed a Eurozone budget. That would also mean higher costs for Germany.
Schulz: Not necessarily. There are funds in the EU budget that could be used for this. And taxing the financial markets could also help pay for it.
SPIEGEL: Is the chancellor buckling under too quickly to Trump, as some members of the SPD contend?
Schulz: There are people who say that she kept her silence at the G-7 summit in Taormina, Italy, and then turned around and banged her fist on the table at a beer tent in Trudering, Germany. I don't know if that's true; I wasn't at the table. I am making the case for me and my platform. Voters are smart enough to see the differences.
SPIEGEL: You are saying this now because Merkel refuses to be pushed into the Trump corner.
Schulz: If Merkel has discovered Europe in a beer tent, I can only say: better late than never. Otherwise, it was the height of hypocrisy: The chancellor sat down for a beer with CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer, the man who after the election praised Trump as a very resolute man.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the beer tent in Trudering, the Munich suburb where she famously announced that the U.S. and Britain are no longer reliable partners for Europe.
SPIEGEL: How would you have responded to Trump?
Schulz: I would have oriented myself according to what former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said to then-U.S. President George W. Bush when the Americans launched a war that was in violation of international law. Schröder showed that a German chancellor can act in a clear and self-confident manner toward a U.S. president. Trump is betraying everything that made America great: tolerance, democratic institutions and respect for the individual. In that sense, Trump is the most un-American U.S. president that the country has had in a long time.
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SPIEGEL: You recently ran into Gerhard Schröder on the day of a soccer match. What was his advice to you?
Schulz: I spoke with Schröder about a lot of things, including foreign policy. Schröder knows how important European policy is to me personally. And this will become a key issue in this election campaign, so in that sense I'm grateful to Ms. Merkel that she has joined the contest of ideas for a reform of the EU. I have worked together with Angela Merkel on European policy for many years, so I was surprised when Volker Kauder (Eds: who heads the conservatives' parliamentary group), who has little experience in European policy, claimed that I had not represented German interests in Europe. That's an example of how the conservatives conduct an election campaign.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean by that?
Schulz: Keeping quiet and letting the others do the talking. That may be Ms. Merkel's method, but it's not mine.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Schulz, we thank you for this interview.
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen