SPIEGEL Interview with Czech Foreign Minister 'We Have to Move Away from a Europe of Small Minds'
In a SPIEGEL interview, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg attacks European politicians for lacking vision, describes the resentment felt by small EU members at the dominance of Germany and France and warns the Germans against megalomania in their defense of the euro.
SPIEGEL: Minister Schwarzenberg, as an aristocrat from Bohemia, you spent most of your life in Austria and Germany, before returning to Prague and becoming a politician after the collapse of the Soviet bloc. You also have a Swiss passport. In which language do you dream?
Schwarzenberg: It depends where I am. Sometimes in Czech, sometimes in German.
SPIEGEL: So it's always Central European. In your opinion, how far does Central Europe reach? Which countries should still be part of the European Union?
Schwarzenberg: Central Europe has no clear borders. It passes straight through Germany. Düsseldorf and Cologne are part of Western Europe, while Munich and Dresden are already in Central Europe. It's a good thing that Croatia will soon join the EU. Ukraine should also be a member. I believe that the entire western Balkans should be part of the EU, at least if we want to avoid sitting on a powder keg. And Turkey, if it still wants to be -- provided it undergoes some important reforms.
SPIEGEL: So the EU still has a strong appeal for neighboring countries?
Schwarzenberg: Its light is flickering at the moment.
SPIEGEL: Is Europe using its influence appropriately to bring about change in Russia, with its authoritarian government, and in Belarus, a dictatorship?
Schwarzenberg: Europe has become very introverted. It looks beyond the edge of the plate, if you will, but not beyond the edge of the table. Europe has lost something of its global perspective.
SPIEGEL: Volker Kauder, the head of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and Christian Social Union (CSU) parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, recently said: "All of a sudden, people are speaking German in Europe."
Schwarzenberg: First of all, that's not really true. I just saw a study that clearly concludes that fewer and fewer young people in Europe are learning German, regrettably.
SPIEGEL: But you do realize that Kauder was speaking metaphorically.
Schwarzenberg: Yes, of course. But one has to be careful with such statements. In your country, one can certainly find the belief that "Am deutschen Wesen soll die Welt genesen" (ed's note: a 19th century quotation that was later adopted by the Nazis and which translates roughly as "the German nature will make the world prosper").
SPIEGEL: On the other hand, some have practically demanded that the German government assume a leadership role in Europe.
Schwarzenberg: At the beginning of the crisis, I once made the following suggestion to a group of my European counterparts: Why all these complicated resolutions? Let's just enact an EU regulation that there should be a German accountant in every finance ministry in the EU. Everyone laughed, but now we're slowly approaching that point.
SPIEGEL: It's true. The Greeks already have a German watchdog.
Schwarzenberg: Sometimes Germans seem to be saying: If all of you could just be as industrious and frugal as we are, you wouldn't be in such a mess. There's even some truth to that. But one shouldn't declare oneself to be a role model.
SPIEGEL: Would you advise German politicians to be more modest?
Schwarzenberg: It's like this: The rich uncle who helps you out, but makes a big show of it, gets on your nerves. Small countries, in particular, are sensitive about this. And they don't necessarily like it when Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy sit down and flesh out the policies, and then notify the others of their decisions. This can only go well for a while.
SPIEGEL: Your Polish counterpart, Radoslaw Sikorski, has taken a very pro-European and especially pro-German approach. He has urged Berlin to take the lead in the efforts to rescue the euro. He recently said that German inactivity scares him more than German power.
Schwarzenberg: That's truly a Copernican revolution in Polish political thought. I only hope that the Germans will acknowledge this appropriately. He is being strongly criticized for his position at home.
SPIEGEL: Are you saying that Berlin should have responded in a more enthusiastic manner?
Schwarzenberg: I would have liked that.
SPIEGEL: Do you understand the German fear of becoming the main financial contributor to a so-called transfer union, where the richer members of the euro zone would subsidize the poorer ones?
Schwarzenberg: Of course I understand it. The only thing is, the German recovery and Germany's export performance are based on the fact that the countries that are now in debt went shopping on credit in Germany. Who benefited the most from all the reckless debt policies? You did! The Germans should keep that in mind.
SPIEGEL: And what is your opinion of the chancellor?
Schwarzenberg: Ms. Merkel is a very tough politician. She knows when it is best to wait until one's opponent destroys himself. This is a great art, which I acknowledge. Does she have a vision for Europe? Perhaps. But I for one am not aware of it.
SPIEGEL: Czech President Václav Klaus is suspicious of the Germans and highly critical of the EU. How do the Czech people feel?
Schwarzenberg: The Czechs are no more critical of Europe than the Germans or the Austrians. Incidentally, I am opposed to a two-speed Europe. Anyone who has ever driven on the German autobahn knows that the slow lane leads to the exit. I don't want to diverge from the main European direction.
SPIEGEL: Do you feel that the principal blame for the crisis lies with the banks or the politicians?
Schwarzenberg: The politicians, without a doubt. Budgets that required deficit spending were approved for decades as a matter of course. This couldn't go well indefinitely. Of course, the banks took advantage of this. In the last 30 years, there have been hardly any politicians who have warned against spending even more money.
SPIEGEL: Such politicians were immediately voted out of office.
Schwarzenberg: But one shouldn't be afraid of that. It's the way things go. Anyone who acts against his better judgment just to improve his showing in the next election is irresponsible.
SPIEGEL: Would the end of the euro also mean the end of Europe?
Schwarzenberg: Although the euro is an important project, it is only an instrument. The European Union was established as a political project, and it would survive without the euro. We must provide a uniting Europe with democratic legitimacy. The EU is a very complicated structure today. Brussels has taken control of everything it possibly could. As a result, we now have competencies there that would be more effective if assigned to regions or countries. We have to move away from a Europe of small minds. We have to take seriously the principle of subsidiarity (ed's note: a principle of EU law that states that the union should not take action unless it is more effective than action taken at national, regional or local level) and make important decisions together.
SPIEGEL: London opposed a European consensus in the last negotiations in December. Europe without the British -- is that possible?
Schwarzenberg: I don't believe that the British will leave the EU. They seem to have recognized that they made a mistake in Brussels.
SPIEGEL: You think British Prime Minister David Cameron could do an about-face?
Schwarzenberg: We would be much poorer without England. We need a common foreign policy, a common security policy and a common energy policy. We don't need a common cheese policy.
SPIEGEL: You say that you see yourself as a European through and through. Where exactly does this deep conviction come from?
Schwarzenberg: It clearly has something to do with my family history. Europe has shaped the major changes in my life, both positively and negatively.
SPIEGEL: What do you mean? How did you experience the major changes?
Schwarzenberg: I have my mother to thank for that. When I was 10, she said to me: Kary, you are now a teenager -- she was very English --, and now it's time for me to have a serious talk with you. I have to tell you that we will lose all of this, and that we'll probably have to leave the country.
SPIEGEL: How did that affect you at the time?
Schwarzenberg: I still remember the conversation very clearly, and I know exactly in which room of imelice Castle it took place. I did the only thing that was right at the time: I explored my native country one more time. In the summer of 1948, I walked down the Vltava valley, which has unfortunately disappeared into a reservoir today. As a boy, I absorbed everything I could.
- Part 1: 'We Have to Move Away from a Europe of Small Minds'
- Part 2: 'Václav Havel Impressed Me Right Away'