SPIEGEL Interview with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle 'We've Had Enough of Faint-Hearted Politics'

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle talks to SPIEGEL about new government plans to tackle the economic crisis, Obama's Afghanistan strategy and his own contribution to German society's acceptance of homosexuality.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, 47, is leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party.
dpa

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, 47, is leader of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party.


SPIEGEL: Mr. Westerwelle, if things had turned out slightly differently, we would have been coming to meet you at the Finance Ministry. We always thought that Guido Westerwelle would have to become finance minister, because of his focus on economic issues. And now we're meeting with you here at the Foreign Ministry. How could that happen?

Guido Westerwelle: The Free Democratic Party has a long tradition in foreign policy. The periods when the liberals were in charge of foreign policy have always been great ones in our history.

SPIEGEL: Perhaps, but you personally were always interested in other issues.

Westerwelle: My passion and my commitment to foreign policy may not have been visible to you while we were in the opposition. But both were very much present.

SPIEGEL: The new government coalition of the Christian Democratic Union, its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union and the FDP is fighting over tax policy at the same time as you saunter off to Warsaw and Washington. That doesn't seem very consistent to us.

Westerwelle: Given all the hard work and loss of sleep involved, I don't feel that the word "saunter" is entirely appropriate. Things aren't any different for the chancellor. I want to do a good job in my position, while at the same thing making sure that political concerns of the liberals are not ignored. So far we've been very successful at that.

SPIEGEL: Really? Otto Graf Lambsdorff, the honorary chairman of the FDP, has written that a spirit of discord has already set in among the three coalition partners.

Westerwelle: The CDU/CSU and the FDP have concluded a coalition agreement, but we have no plans to merge. There is much common ground in some areas, but none in others. However, there is a difference between today and the past: We all want the government to succeed, and we are not constantly trying to catch each other out, as was the case with the former coalition government of the CDU/CSU and the Social Democratic Party.

SPIEGEL: Not everyone in your party shares your opinion. Your deputy, Andreas Pinkwart, said that the Christian Democrats are trying bit by bit to wriggle their way out of the coalition agreement. Things weren't this surly in the "grand coalition" of the CDU/CSU and SPD after only three weeks.

Westerwelle: I think you're romanticizing the past.

SPIEGEL: Is Mr. Pinkwart correct?

Westerwelle: I don't want to dispute that there are one or two people who still have a few objections to the FDP using its strong showing in the election to implement a new kind of politics. But I prefer to look at the results. The growth acceleration law that the government has now passed corresponds exactly to what we in the coalition agreed to.

SPIEGEL: But no one really believes that "Bavaria's last Social Democrat" and the "sensitive soul" really have the same goals.

Westerwelle: Who are you talking about now? Not my friend Horst surely?

SPIEGEL: Exactly, your friend, CSU Chairman Horst Seehofer, whom you called "Bavaria's last Social Democrat," and who called you a "sensitive soul."

Westerwelle: Let me respond to that by quoting Winston Churchill: If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary. What we have here is no bed of roses -- it's an alliance of political parties that, to the surprise of all the skeptical observers, managed to reach a coalition agreement in record time. It's not a miracle, because the difference between the current government and the last one is that the grand coalition was an arranged marriage. This time it's an alliance that both partners, the Christian Democrats and the FDP, wanted.

SPIEGEL: You paint a very rosy picture. To get back to your friend Horst: He said that he didn't think the FDP's plans were feasible.

Westerwelle: I have no intention of being someone who comments every time someone heckles me. We have freedom of opinion here in Germany. As someone who did plenty of shouting and his fair share of heckling during his 11 years in the opposition, I won't deny anyone else the right to speak during our first few weeks in the government. The results are what count, and they speak for themselves. The coalition agreement was concluded so that it would be valid, particularly when it comes to the issue of fair taxation.

SPIEGEL: Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear, even before the actual coalition talks, that there would be no drastic labor market reforms. Did you think that was fair?

Westerwelle: I have found the chancellor to be a fair negotiating partner.

SPIEGEL: But you do admit that, when it came to the labor market, the FDP hardly manage to push through any of its plans?

Westerwelle: On the contrary. For example, we achieved significant improvements in the area of temporary employment, in the interest of creating new jobs.

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