SPIEGEL ONLINE

SPIEGEL ONLINE

06/04/2007 11:00 AM

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the Bush Climate Dispute

'I'm not Expecting a Solution this Week'

In a SPIEGEL interview conducted in the run-up to the G-8 summit at Heiligendamm, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, 52, discusses protest culture, argues that expectations for a climate change deal must be managed and talks about the growing rift between Russians and Americans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "I prefer to be closer to the people, even those who are protesting."
AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "I prefer to be closer to the people, even those who are protesting."

SPIEGEL: Ms. Chancellor, at the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, the powerful will talk behind barbed-wire barriers and a high fence, while 16,000 police officers are deployed outside. Costs have swelled to over €100 million ($134 million). Is there even a reasonable relationship any more between costs and benefits ?

Merkel: I will be the first to admit that there are side effects to this sort of summit meeting that do not please me. On the other hand, these security precautions are unfortunately necessary.

SPIEGEL: People are gathering to protest vocally -- against this summit and against prevailing policies.

Merkel: I take a more differentiated view of this. The fundamental mood of the vast majority of protestors changed long ago. It is not simply negating or rejecting -- it is also constructive. A great deal of public attention is being paid to the process of globalization, both to the opportunities and the associated risks, as well as the summit's Africa and world climate focuses. The political realm cannot just isolate itself at times when society wants to have a say -- and it must also be open to criticism. I perceive this to be a fruitful and necessary discussion. That is why every contribution is welcome.

SPIEGEL: But are these kinds of fortifications really necessary for this discussion? One of your predecessors as chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, has suggested that it might be a better idea to stage this type of global economic summit in a golf hotel or on a remote island, such as Helgoland.

Merkel: That's a legitimate question. Of course we could switch to a more remote venue. We could also decide to meet exclusively at the United Nations headquarters in New York from now on because they are used to these sorts of events there. But I would see that as similarly artificial. I prefer to be closer to the people, even those who are protesting.

SPIEGEL: Will there be any dialogue between the host of the summit and the people on the other side of the fence?

Merkel: I certainly have no plans to go to the protest.

SPIEGEL: But will you open the gate and receive and listen to a delegation of the protestors?

Merkel: In the weeks leading up to Heiligendamm, I conducted many conversations with critics, artists, human rights activists, trade unionists and representatives of non-governmental organizations. Without this summit I would never have met many of these people. Some of these encounters were extremely useful to me.

SPIEGEL: Hundreds of government officials have been preparing for this summit for months. Everything at this point has been said and written. At this juncture, how much political latitude does the German G-8 chair have left?

Merkel: It is true that parts of the conference program have already been exhaustively negotiated for all intents and purposes. Take hedge funds, for example, where I would like to have seen more transparency and willingness for self-regulation in order to limit the risks for the global financial system. The finance ministers have already done as much as they could in this respect. And because one colleague will soon become prime minister, namely Gordon Brown, it is not to be expected that he will change his position in his new office. Still, we will keep this issue on the agenda at the G8 summit and it will remain there throughout the German presidency, which continues through the end of 2007.

SPIEGEL: And how are things looking with the very ambitious climate goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2050? Is US President George W. Bush even open for discussion?

Merkel: This issue is being negotiated down to the wire. You can assume that I will not agree to allow any established scientific findings like the United Nations IPCC report to be watered down.

SPIEGEL: The unusual aspect of this disagreement is that your political friend Bush is in fact your adversary in this instance. What do you expect from him?

Merkel: We will conduct highly constructive talks with all of our partners and nobody will be forced into a corner. Incidentally, I see it as progress that the Americans are now acknowledging that climate change is primarily a process caused by human activity. Our opinions have long differed when it comes to how to go about limiting global warming. America wants to increase efforts to use new technologies and new biofuels, and in doing so test the extent to which CO2 emissions can be reduced. We Europeans, on the other hand, are more convinced that the motor for change should be agreeing to international targets and to structure our measures accordingly. I also believe that we can bundle these measures together under the auspices of the United Nations.

Is Bush Creating an Alternative to Kyoto?

SPIEGEL: Bush is threatening to create an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, namely a conference of those countries that prefer to take a more leisurely approach. Isn't this an affront to Germany?

Merkel: I do not interpet it that way. To me it is clear that we must achieve, in a process led by the United Nations, a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012. There will certainly be meetings before that, and they can even be useful. But the important thing is that they must culminate in a UN process. This is non-negotiable, as far as I am concerned.

SPIEGEL: In other words, it is not acceptable to have a process running in parallel to Kyoto?

Merkel: We have not finished our talks yet. I am confident that we will still see some movement in the negotiations.

SPIEGEL: Are you also confident that the summit participants in Heiligendamm will be able to agree to a goal of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050?

Merkel: I believe it will be very difficult, and that is by no means only because of the Americans. If the United States doesn't move, then a number of other nations may wait and see too. I'm not expecting a solution this week. This is a tough task we have to work at patiently. We Europeans have a clear position. For 10 years, I have fought passionately for climate protection. From the very beginning it has been a tough struggle -- it's not a terrain in which one can achieve quick victories. But we're making progress step by step.

SPIEGEL: Would failure damage the trans-Atlantic relationship?

Merkel: Our friendly relationship with the Americans means that we can also hold different opinions on certain issues and we can address them. For example, the American president tells me that he does not see Germany's stance toward nuclear energy as being particularly forward-looking. I encourage him -- as I do all other industrialized nations, by the way -- to be bold in moving forward with concrete climate protection goals. We serve as role models for emerging countries.

SPIEGEL: Europeans and Americans agree on at least one issue, namely that the burning of fossil fuels must be reduced. One side is concerned about the scarcity of these fuels, while the other side fears the effects of a continued increase in the consumption of natural resources. Why is this underlying mutual consensus not enough to reach a joint policy on climate change?

Merkel: I believe a reassessment has taken place. Whether we attribute it to climate change or the growing dependency on unstable regions of the world, we always arrive at the same point: how to achieve greater energy efficiency and reduce our dependence on imports. Only two years ago, it would have been inconceivable for the American president to announce plans to replace 20 percent of conventional fuels with biofuels by 2020.

SPIEGEL: But in the end, will you generously concede that, instead of 2 degrees, 4 degrees of global warming are not such a bad goal after all?

Merkel: No. That would be precisely what I would call a "lazy compromise." We should orient ourselves, as I said, to the scientists' findings and we should not seek to play down those conclusions.

SPIEGEL: In other words, there won't be collective bargaining on the issue?

Merkel: No. There will only be negotiations over how we can continue the process and do the right thing. In this respect, one can find compromises and define intermediate steps. But the 2 degrees are non-negotiable as far as I am concerned.

SPIEGEL: So you also expect to encounter dissent?

Merkel: There will be certain things which will be in the (closing) document and other things that will not be in the document. The fact that those things are not in the document will be an indication that there are differences of opinion. You can be certain that I will promote our European position, an approach of which I am convinced.

SPIEGEL: In the end, you will not be the one to determine, in 2050, whether the climate goal was in fact attained. Isn't this highly tentative, agreeing to goals now when compliance with those goals can only be monitored in 43 years?

Merkel: We need binding, long-term goals, which in turn can be used to formulate concrete short-term policies over a period of years.

SPIEGEL: These long-term goals have often been defined -- and just as often undercut -- regarding a different topic, namely Africa. Critics of this sort of summit ceremony can provide hard data to prove that none of the financial commitments the industrialized nations made at the last global economic summit have been met.

Merkel: As far as Germany is concerned, all I can say is this: Our foreign aid budget is the one that is growing most strongly out of all our government departments. However, I would like to revisit the issue of what exactly constitutes a reasonable contribution to Africa. What kind of aid has a sustainable effect? Building schools, hospitals or democratic institutions? What should the African governments' contribution be? Should military deployments, such as that of the Bundeswehr (the German armed forces) to secure free elections in Congo, be considered part of aid efforts?

SPIEGEL: Isn't it slowly getting to be time to divert aid for China to Africa?

Merkel: Nowadays we give only a very small proportion of our development aid to China, and that only in the areas of climate and environmental protection. In other words, we attempt to provide support in an area that is mainly in our own interest. Apart from that, it is indeed true that China does not need our development aid.

SPIEGEL: Will the nuclear conflict with Iran play a role at the summit?

Merkel: Iran will certainly be a topic. The actual negotiations will take place at the UN, but there will be preparatory discussions at Heiligendamm.

SPIEGEL: Will this include discussions of tougher economic sanctions against the mullah regime?

Merkel: We will talk about both approaches: about economic sanctions and also about renewing the offers of talks, which is something we have very seriously and repeatedly proposed.

SPIEGEL: Iran has expressed interest in the construction of a high-speed, German-built Transrapid rail line, and there have been initial talks with German industry. Do you consider it a good idea to provide Tehran with technological assistance of this kind?

Merkel: To put it clearly: No. I consider the construction of a Transrapid rail system in a country whose president repeatedly announces his desire to destroy Israel to be totally unacceptable.

SPIEGEL: At the moment there is considerable disagreement between America and Russia. The summit is also an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bush to speak with one another once again. Will you try to act as a mediator between the two?

Merkel: I very much welcome the Russian president's plans to travel to the United States in early July. I was also pleased that the American secretary of defense (Robert Gates) visited Moscow. I am convinced that the two leaders do not need a mediator, but instead are man enough to discuss the issues face-to-face by themselves.

SPIEGEL: The United States has called the Russians' concerns about its planned missile defense system "ridiculous." Putin, on the other hand, has made some strong statements of his own. What are your expectations from these two antagonists?

Merkel: I expect the same thing that is expected of us, namely that each of them fulfils his responsibilities. And part of that is that one continues a dialogue, which is exactly what is happening. Anything which is not discussed promotes disagreement. In my opinion, the fact that everyone is using frank words does not aggravate the conflicts. It makes them more visible, but it does not aggravate them.

SPIEGEL: That sounds very idealistic: everyone talks with everyone else, and dialogue is an end unto itself. But what is your position on the missile shield issue? Putin doesn't just want to talk -- he is dead set against it. The Americans don't just want to talk, rather they say this defense technology is non-negotiable. What is your position?

Merkel: That we see who is really the threat. As Germans, it has to be in our interest to protect ourselves against threats and dangers in an appropriate way. I consider Iran, but also other countries, as potential threats. In light of the relationship with Russia following the end of the Cold War, I would, taking everything into account, expect cooperation. One thing is clear: These systems are not directed against Russia. Ideally the Russians should and must be included in the project.

SPIEGEL: What do you mean by "include?"

Merkel: Inclusion means, as far as I am concerned, not only notifying but cooperating. For example, attempts could be made to develop certain technical components jointly. Tests could be done in a very transparent way, and data exchanged. I am in favor of more cooperation to eliminate misunderstandings and prejudices.

SPIEGEL: The Americans and Russians also disagree over Kosovo. The Americans want to see the region gain independence from Serbia as soon as possible, but the Russians are strictly against this. Their positions are fundamentally incompatible. Do you have any ideas for compromise?

Merkel: It is quite possible that this problem will be one of the central foreign policy discussions at Heiligendamm. Russia is very concerned about the Kosovo question. We must determine, in a discussion of the issue, how much latitude still exists. The positions are not only disputed between the United States and Russia, but also between the EU and Russia. I believe time is of the essence here. We must make a decision soon.

SPIEGEL: At the summit?

Merkel: No. That is not our objective. But the time to decide is approaching.

SPIEGEL: The Group of Eight also sees itself as a sort of community of values. Russia is part of the group, and yet critical journalists are murdered there, an independent press has become almost nonexistent and the opposition are brutally prevented from staging demonstrations. Is Russia even a member of the club of democratic industrialized nations anymore?

Merkel: Russia certainly belongs to the G-8 group. I have already made it clear on several occasions that we are critical of some things. On the other hand, Russia is an important economic power, a key supplier of natural resources. Despite the differences of opinion we have on certain issues, I find it very important that the Russian president is taking part in the G-8 summit.

SPIEGEL: SPD parliamentary leader Peter Struck has recommended that Germany practice an "equidistant" policy. In other words, it should maintain the same measure of closeness and distance between itself and both the United States and Russia. What would be your recommendation?

Merkel: I have no recommendation for Mr. Struck. We have a strategic partnership with Russia, which we certainly plan to intensify, but the trans-Atlantic community of values has developed over many decades. But we are not a closed club. If it happens that commonalities with other countries are strengthened, we cannot close the door for reasons of principle.

SPIEGEL: Are Americans and Germans friends, while Russians and Germans see themselves primarily as partners?

Merkel: As far as political structures are concerned, there are greater differences between Russia and Europe than between Europe and America. I believe the Russian president feels the same way.

SPIEGEL: In light of these discussions, what have you learned in recent months about the forces that hold together this EU and this Europe? Are the inner forces strong enough so that one can envision a United States of Europe without being a complete dreamer?

Merkel: Let's be realistic. We don't have to dream about a United States of Europe at this point. In my policies, also during our presidency of the EU Council, I have consistently attempted to ensure that the commonality and cohesion of the EU is made clear to others, and I have warded off all attempts to divide the EU. Our interests are best preserved if we do not allow ourselves to be divided, if we carefully coordinate our interests -- from climate protection to the negotiations of the World Trade Organization to security and defense policy -- and if we then present a unified front. As far as I am concerned, there is no alternative to the road to European unification.

SPIEGEL: Do you encounter committed Europeans when you speak with the various heads of state? Or have many of them -- France's new President (Nicolas) Sarkozy and others -- in fact remained nationalists who have only learned to argue from a European standpoint?

Merkel: The European Union is not a state, but we all have common European interests. Of course, we still have German interests, the French have French interests and the Poles have Polish interests. I can only encourage everyone not to be too half-hearted when balancing these interests. Europe must be solidly united today on the decisive, big issues, and we should also be able to shelve national concerns and sensitivities once in a while. Otherwise Europe cannot function.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Chancellor, we thank you for this interview.

Editor's note: This is an unauthorized translation of the Merkel interview, which appears in Monday's edition of DER SPIEGEL.

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