There has been considerable harmony on the foreign policy front, which is disconcerting to many because that's exactly where the differences were once most salient. The relationship with the United States remains distanced, while that with Russia is amiable. Where do you see differences with the SPD?
Merkel: Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and I have an excellent working relationship. I can't rule out that we'll disagree at some point. But at the moment I'm pleased that this isn't the case.
SPIEGEL: You are traveling to the United States this week. Will you address the issue of torture with (US President) George W. Bush?
Merkel: Partners like the United States and Germany must always discuss all issues, including these questions. I welcome the fact that a discussion over legitimate methods of questioning and interrogation is taking place in both Germany and the United States. And I'm even more pleased that the President and the US Congress have agreed on a common
position. It represents a change in the public debate in the US, which I very much welcome.
SPIEGEL: The US government feels it is legitimate to hold prisoners under water until they believe they are drowning. Is this acceptable to you?
Merkel: There was a similar debate in Germany over the 2002
kidnapping of Jakob von Metzler, the banker's son. The issue then was whether it is legitimate to threaten or use torture to save the life of a child. The public debate showed that the overwhelming majority of citizens believed that even in such a case, the end does not justify the means. That is also my position.
SPIEGEL: Do you agree with Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble's view that in the fight against terrorism, it is necessary to use information that may have been obtained through torture?
Merkel: Not in a criminal proceeding. Information obtained under dubious circumstances cannot play a role in legal proceedings in a constitutional state. But everything that's available must be taken into account in threat prevention. What do you do when other countries' intelligence agencies give you information and you aren't entirely certain about its source? Simply ignore it? That's impossible. We have a duty to guarantee the safety of our citizens.
SPIEGEL: In the interest of threat prevention, can German officials be sent to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay to interrogate detainees?
Merkel: An institution like Guantanamo in its present form cannot and must not exist in the long term. We must find different ways of dealing with prisoners. As far as I'm concerned there's no question about that.
SPIEGEL: Will you address Guantanamo with President Bush?
Merkel: We will certainly talk about the whole issue of combating terrorism. But it's also important to me, and I'll make this clear during my visit, that our relationship with the United States is not reduced to questions of fighting terrorism and the Iraq war. German-American relations were so good for so many years because they extended deeply into the normal lives of people.
SPIEGEL: In the past, your party in particular emphasized the
German-American friendship. Now you're just talking about relations. A deliberate downgrade?
Merkel: Oh, please! I can just as well call it "friendship." The
German-American friendship! Is that better? We're splitting hairs here. I want to improve the quality and substance of the German-American relationship.
SPIEGEL: Does the word friendship also describe the German-Russian relationship?
Merkel: It's more of a strategic partnership. I believe that we do not share as many values with Russia yet as we do with the United States. On the other hand, we have a strong interest in Russia developing in a reasonable direction.
SPIEGEL: Do you consider Vladimir Putin "a flawless democrat," as your predecessor once called him?
Merkel: I would like to see Russia develop as democratically as possible. But when we judge Russia we must also consider where the country is coming from. Our concepts of democracy can't just be schematically transferred. However, I do admit that I'm concerned about some recent developments, such as the new laws against non-governmental organizations.
SPIEGEL: Putin used Russian natural gas as a political weapon in his dispute with Ukraine. How should the West react?
Merkel: I believe that it's become very clear to us in recent days how what is really an economic issue, namely the purchase and delivery of gas, is deeply political. I have the impression that the Russian president got a sense of this in recent days.
SPIEGEL: What political inferences do you draw from the incident?
Merkel: First, we need good, stable relations with Russia. Second, we must make every effort to save energy and focus on using various sources to meet our energy needs. We must not allow ourselves to become dependent.
SPIEGEL: Does that mean you want us to wean ourselves away from Russian natural gas?
Merkel: We will depend on Russian natural gas in the long term. But not on Russian natural gas alone, and not too heavily. We also need a clear idea of where our energy is to come from in the coming decades.
SPIEGEL: Is this a question that's better addressed at the European level?
Merkel: The European Union will also have to address the issue. It's a question of tremendous economic and strategic political importance.
SPIEGEL: Your first appearance as chancellor on the EU stage, at the EU summit in Brussels, was declared a success internationally. However, the Germans will pay dearly for the compromise you helped negotiate. Net payments will increase by 2 billion a year. Is this the price Angela Merkel, the good European, expected?
Merkel: The agreement in December 2005 is a good outcome for Europe and Germany. Europe demonstrated its ability to take action and can now concentrate on improving its competitiveness. Germany will be paying even less than envisioned in the compromise (Luxembourg) Prime Minister
Jean-Claude Juncker presented in June 2005. Beginning in 2007, Germany's gross payments will fall significantly short of our own target of one percent of annual gross national income. Like the other net contributers, Germany will show solidarity by paying its contribution to the expanded EU, and that's why the structural funds flowing back to Germany will be less than in the preceding finance period. It would be naïve to believe that with ten new member states from eastern and central Europe, we'd be paying less and getting more back.
SPIEGEL: How do you see the prospects for the European constitution, which failed last year in various referendums?
Merkel: Implementing parts of this constitution and leaving out others -- without knowing where we're going -- isn't an option. That would be detrimental to the overall balance, which is why we must embark on another comprehensive discussion of the issue once again. I would like to see Europe retain the idea of a constitution in the end, and I plan
to campaign on its behalf.
SPIEGEL: Do you see an opportunity for resolving the issue when Germany assumes the revolving EU presidency in 2007?
Merkel: I do see an opportunity, but it will require a lot more
discussion. After all, it isn't just about concerns in France and the Netherlands. I sense massive reservations in Great
Britain and even in the Scandinavian countries, reservations that will have to be overcome.
SPIEGEL: But how?
Merkel: By listening, by talking, by convincing and through economic success. In Europe we need greater economic vitality, more jobs, more innovation and more confidence.
SPIEGEL: Is it misleading to believe that you have made foreign policy a top priority, possibly in an effort to escape problems on the domestic front?
Merkel: Yes, your impression is misleading. Events have forced us to increase our focus on foreign policy. Just think of the negotiating marathon at the European summit. The fact that the financial budget was on the agenda increased the significance of the meeting and led to a heightened perception of foreign policy. I will have been in office all of 100 days in March. I'm sure that when you take a look back then, you will detect a balance that will also include successes in
terms of domestic policy.
This is the first part of a two part interview with Merkel. You can read the second part focusing on domestic policy here.