April 16, 2008
Joschka Fischer

Ipek Cem recently interviewed Joschka Fischer, leading European political and Minister of Foreign Affair of Germany between 1998-2005. Fischer shared his views regarding the European Union, the conflict in Afghanistan, Turkish accession to the E.U. as well as sustainable energy policies that he advocates. Tune into NTV networks to get the full story.

Ipek Cem: My guest today is Joschka Fischer of Germany. Welcome to Global Leaders.


Joschka Fischer: Hello.


Ipek Cem: You have been one of the leading politicians in Europe, and in Germany, and now one of the things you do is you have a monthly column called the "Rebel Realist". These two words actually kind of sum up for me, the line of your life being a rebel, and being a realist, and being a politician, bringing everything together. How have you become a realist? Is it through time, or were you always a realist?


Joschka Fischer: Well first of all, it’s the experience of a life span, and if you watch what’s going on, you become a realist. Of course I would define myself as a value-based realist, because I think you must also have certain values and you must stick to those values – when they are called up. Otherwise realism will lead you into opportunism. And on the other side, as a young man, I was a rebel, yeah. I believed there is a quick fix for the problems of the world, and this was an illusion.


Ipek Cem: You are known for your support for sending troops to Afghanistan, especially the southern part, in order to work towards eliminating the Taliban. You feel when there is evil, then one must match it with some force otherwise the consequences are too dire.


Joschka Fischer: It’s also, I mean, a realist or a challenge based on reality... it’s not a question of evil fighting evil, it’s also, I think... Afghanistan deserves to have a better future. Afghanistan is in the situation, in the region, where it’s the battlefield for regional and international interests, and Afghan people suffered a lot. So if NATO will withdraw its troops without success – and success means certain form of stability that the Afghans can decide according to the agreement with their neighbours about their own future. If we do not match this success, all the challenges will be back: not only the Taliban, but international terrorism. And we will face exactly the same, or even worse threats than we faced before. So from my point of view, we have there also an interest in peace and stability. And for Europe, this is our direct neighbourhood, it’s defined, this neighbourhood between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and the Indus Valley. Therefore we must engage. But unfortunately we underestimate also the development in Pakistan, for Afghanistan.


Ipek Cem: You know, this country, it has very remote parts, it’s a difficult country, and sometimes I feel with all these local, very severe conflicts which have global repercussions, the public is constantly exposed to them through TV, through news. There comes a point when the public becomes almost sedated by it, they stop reacting to the severity of the problem, whether it’s in Afghanistan, whether it’s in Iraq... I mean people are aware of what’s going on. But how to shy away from this kind of complacency?


Joschka Fischer: Well, this is part of the new political reality of globalisation. In Germany our most famous poet is Goethe, and there is a famous sentence in his time, in the 18th Century and early 19th Century, that ‘when the people far away in Turkey were fighting each other’... now, this is not any longer reflecting the reality. There is no "far away" in a globalised world. I mean 9/11 was not organised in Afghanistan. It happened in the centre of the United States: the most powerful nation. And what we see is an interdependency, a two way street, not only for goods and capital, but also for political conflicts. And therefore I think we must engage in regional stability, and we must engage in a stable environment – especially with Afghanistan. I am not so pessimistic. There is an important difference between Iraq and Afghanistan because no one questions the territorial integrity and independence of Afghanistan. They are fighting against each other, but this is not a question that the country will break up. I think also in the regional environment there is still the opportunity for regional consensus. In Iraq the situation is more dangerous, and more complicated.


Ipek Cem: When we talk about these issues, we know of your position about the strong role for Europe, a united role for Europe in foreign policy execution. We don’t actually see this materialising over the years, and the US still remains a very dominant world power. Then we have other world powers coming up, economically and politically. What’s the role you see for Europe today, and how can it be strengthened?


Joschka Fischer: Well, first of all, I mean, Europe had a devastating set back with the disaster of the constitution. If France would have voted "Yes", I think we would be in a different situation, also in the perception of our international partners, but that was a missed opportunity. I hope that the reformed treaty will be accepted so it will be a half step back. But you are right: Europe is not in a good shape, but where we are integrated we are strong. Take the Euro, for example. It was heavily disputed, especially in Germany – the giving up of the Deutsche Mark – but today the Euro is one of the real strengths of the European Union, of the fourteen members of the Euro zone. Because we are integrated now, and suddenly the Euro, together with the Dollar, is the dominating global currency. This is the example, I think, which fits perfectly well into the future perspective of Europe. We must integrate, we must join our sovereignty, not give up our sovereignty, but pool it in the common institutions, because the world of tomorrow – Germany and Turkey for European dimensions are big countries – 82 million people, you are close to that, it will increase, but compared to India and China we are small countries. Even in India we wouldn’t be the biggest states of the union, or the biggest region in China. So we shouldn’t overestimate our possibilities if we stay separated. We must join to play the role in the future, and not be dominated by others. I think this is very important and the only way out is an integrated Europe, and I hope Turkey which is ready for Europe, can join the European Union. I hope that all the concerns on the European side will be reduced and that one day we will really be in one union.


Ipek Cem: The European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, was just  in Turkey, within Turkey there is a political process going on with the possibility of closing the AKP if the courts decide that it’s appropriate, This is a highly controversial issue, and we hear from Europe many different messages now about Turkey. On this issue, and I will go back about, you know, whether privileged partnership or full partnership. First on the issue of secularism and Turkey... have you been following the recent developments in Turkey?


Joschka Fischer: Yes.


Ipek Cem: Could I get some of your ideas on that?


Joschka Fischer: Well, first of all that’s an issue which has to be decided in Turkey.


Ipek Cem: Yes, absolutely.


Joschka Fischer: But if you ask me for my view, as a friend of Turkey, I think we are used to that, because in Germany our conservative party is a Christian Democratic party, but nobody is questioning that we are a secular state, but we have also Christianity in our constitution. In France this would be impossible. France is very strict in the separation of religion and state, similar to Turkey.


Ipek Cem: Yes.


Joschka Fischer: But the French are more religious than the Germans, if you look to the reality. For us it’s nothing unknown that you have a religious background for a conservative party, because the majority in Germany are Christians, and especially in Catholic areas this was very important. And it was also very important to transform the traditional approach into a modern approach, into a democratic approach which was part of this democratic success story in post war Germany, but even more in post war Europe, but you had the same in Italy with the Christian Democratic party, and in some other places: in Benelux, for example. Whether this will happen here in Turkey, we will see. But it’s strange to see from outside that a government which is five to six years in government... should be a threat, a constitutional threat, after the re-election, and outside of Turkey nobody believes in that. This is a strange situation from my point of view, and I hope it could be settled in a way that Turkey’s development will not be hurt, and Turkey’s... because Turkey is a very important player in the region. Especially as a friend of Turkey, I hope that the success story of the last years can continue. Of course I have many friends who voted for AK Party which never dreamed to vote for AK Party, because they belong more to the left and they are similar to me, they are not serious believers. They have their Islamic background as I have my Catholic background, but the same lifestyle as I have, and I’m definitely not a traditional voter. But they said, "What should we do? Where is a modern centre left party, in Turkey?"


Ipek Cem: This is one of the issues we have here that is different form Turkey is that secularism has made it a level playing ground for all, and has not imposed on the right to be religious in your own affairs. Now, whether that should be imposed on the State or not, this is the issue that’s really a divisive issue that’s really a controversial issue, but we will see in the next days to come. We, in Turkey feel that sometimes we are misunderstood. This way or that way we are categorised just as a moderated Islamic country which actually we don’t necessarily want to be categorised as a religious category, while on the other hand just we are not a Western democracy per se either. So we are, you know, a unique bird. But going back to the question of full membership versus....


Joschka Fischer: But allow me... allow me... two sentences about...


Ipek Cem: Yes. Please.


Joschka Fischer: So, I think it’s very important that the separation of State and religion will continue, because this is one of the basic principles of Europe. How to deal with that, you have to figure it out. It’s strange, once again, it’s hard to believe that this will take place in a European country. The Constitutional Court, after the second victory in free and fair elections, maybe will forbid activities of leading members. This raises questions and concerns in Europe, but also with many friends of Turkey, because what we see is this that wonderful country will be key for the relationship between Europe and the Middle East, for example.

Many Muslims, moderate, reform oriented Muslims, are looking whether Turkey can make it. Turkey is a big hope in the Islamic world, and it’s a big hope in Europe, and that’s exactly what I’m talking about without intervening in Turkish affairs. These are decisions which must be done in Turkey with the Turkish people, but we hope – as friends of Turkey – that the success story will continue, and not get derailed, and especially as someone who is fighting since many years for the accession of Turkey to Europe, I think it’s very important... I believe in the European future of Turkey. There are many who will be happy if the situation will be derailed. I know them. They...


Ipek Cem: In the European Union, some leaders...


Joschka Fischer: Some... not only the leaders. Let’s talk frank. I mean there are reservations and we should be, I mean, address these reservations. That’s not your job, that’s our job. But I can see that a lot of people will be very happy if the Turkish success story would be derailed. So I hope that this crisis can be settled in a responsible way, and the Turkish success story can continue.


Ipek Cem: I guess you mentioned the fact that the importance you placed on values as well as realism, and the question in Turkey is whether there is any manipulation in terms of political power being done, vis-à-vis religion, and political power. So I guess this is really a difficult question to answer, but one we must be honest about and it’s actually a problem in Turkey whether it can be perceived from the outside or not. But going back to 1999, and the progression of the talks with the European Union after the opening up of the accession negotiations. We had a sense in those years when we were accepted to be on the path to membership, that we were fair and equal to other candidates, we would be part of the same enlargement. Turkey would be a difficult country, large country, economics Muslim country. But we had a sense we were on equal ground. Now the situation seems very different. Turkey feels as if Europe is constantly looking for excuses not to include it as a full member. Do you think there is regression?


Joschka Fischer: Well, maybe there is. There might be a positive impact in the crisis that some of the European leaders will understand how sensitive the Turkish situation is, and how dangerous it would be if Turkey wouldn’t be a success story. I mean, Turkey is a different dimension. Always used to say it makes a difference whether an elephant wants to enter a house or a smaller animal, because an elephant changes the statics. And many times I discussed with Turkish friends in the Government exactly that issue from elephant to elephant, because we are also a big animal in the EU, and we experience the problems. Anyhow, the concerns are bigger, more serious, because it’s a different size. Scepticism... When you act, they are sceptical... If you don’t act they blame you... So it’s sensitive the size Turkey has, and Germany understands that very well because we share this experience. But, nevertheless, I think for me it’s always fascinating since ‘66 I have come to Istanbul and I know Turkey. And this is today a very different city, by the way, one of the I think most thrilling and interesting, and beautiful cities in the world. I have travelled a lot, and I don’t say that only to you, I say that also at home. It’s my real feeling. I see the changes, and I think it offers a great opportunity, and by the way, I know a little bit about Turkish history and how important these basic principles were during the founding of the Republic, by Kemal Atatürk, but Turkey today is in a different situation, and especially if you will enter the Union, this gives you an even stronger framework. Turkey, today, is a country on the move to modernisation... is a country on the move to Europe... and I think you have now greater opportunities and can afford greater flexibility which might have been very dangerous in the old days, as history has proven, so I hope that there is also reconsidering. In Europe, we will continue to fight, because Turkey is key for European security. It was key during the Cold War, therefore Turkey joined NATO, and the Council of Europe, and in the new world of the 21st Century, it is even more key. You are in a very important geo-political situation. And I think our relations should be improved, and you should become a member. It’s a long road on the way, to be candid as a friend. This will not be decided in the west of Turkey, this will be decided in the east, and in the south-east, because this is the issue of modernisation, but I think it’s a great opportunity for your country. Turkey will play a very important role in the 21st Century.


Ipek Cem: We hope so. Coming back to Germany and Turkey there is also about 3 million Turks, or Germans of Turkish origin in Germany. And some of them are better integrated, some of them are living through problems of integration. There have been issues, burnings, other incidents recently which caught media attention, and public’s attention here. How do you think that the status of Turks, or Turkish origin people are in Germany today? How can this be improved?


Joschka Fischer: First of all, we have radical nationalists, and racists a very small minority which by and then does not only attack Turks but also others, whether they are Jewish or Africans, or whatever. And the State is obliged to use the force of the State and of the law to really suppress these neo-Nazi groups. Whether the last tragic event in Ludwigshafen was a crime or not is still in the open, and I really think it was the right decision to accept, also, Turkish experts in proving what happened. But we should really see and wait. But terrible tragedies, terrible crimes happened, and this must be avoided. Secondly, I think we have a wrong perspective on the Turkish immigration. We talk about, mostly, the problems. What we don’t talk about is success stories, and let me say that as a German who is a former member of the Government. Germany can be proud about its citizens with Turkish origin, because it’s the most successful group of immigrants. You have businessmen, small businessmen, lawyers, artists, the whole variety, and I think also the impact of the Turkish culture plays a very important role. Writers, very famous young writers, we have in Germany. And on the other side we have problems, but which are not only based on the migrants, which are also based on problems which Germany produced for itself. So, from my point of view, it’s a great success that now the new Conservative led Government, the Conservative Minister of Interior, is moving on into additional efforts for integration. I am a member of the left, we fought – especially the Green Party – for years, decades, for changing the mindset of the Conservative side. Now I am very happy that this has really started. So I see there, also, a new opportunity for integration, but let me also be quite frank, the speech of Prime Minister Erdoğan raised serious concerns in Cologne. This raised serious concerns. I understood what Erdoğan wanted to say, but the wording, I think, was not very helpful. Because I believe in integration. My family lived for 200 years in Hungaria. My father, grand father, grand grand father were never in the German army, they were in the Hungarian army. In the First World War they died – my grandfather died – not for Germany, but for Austria and Hungaria. So when after the war, as ethnic Germans, we were sent back in ’46, and I was born in ’48, so I know the problems of integration, and it’s really a challenge for society, but also for the families who left their old country. But it’s also a huge opportunity, and Germany should be proud about the immigrants and especially the immigrants from a Turkish background.


Ipek Cem: Since 2005 you are no longer with the Green Party. You had been with the Green Party about 20 years, and now we have a new Government leading Germany. How do you see the way Chancellor Merkel’s Government is positioning Germany within Europe, and within the world as a global foreign policy power, as opposed to how you were positioning it?


Joschka Fischer: Well, I’m completely out of politics I am still a member of the Green Party, but no longer active. I am now an observer. Well, first of all, I think it’s... I would be happy if the Chancellor would be more active in pushing forward the European perspective of Turkey. I understand her problems, to be honest, because in her party... there is a sceptical majority... to use diplomatic words. So she is in a complicated situation, but I think the issue of the EU perspective of Turkey is very, very important. It’s a strategic issue, and it cannot be dealt with from the limited perspective of party politics, I think. Secondly, I would be in favour of a strong engagement in Afghanistan, because Germany missed an opportunity after the coming back of the Taliban. I think we are, in NATO now, in a situation where we have to reconsider the strategy. Everything has to put on the table, because I am also not convinced about the American strategy, to be quite frank.

So we need a new way of thinking, and unfortunately this didn’t take place in the last NATO summit. So it will be delayed until the next President will be in power, will be elected. But I would be in favour that Germany will be also more proactive. I don’t believe that NATO will be successful with sticking to the national caveats. We need a common strategy, and a common implementation. A fair burden sharing. This is, I think, where Germany could have played according to the Petersburg, Petersburg Agreement which led to government in Afghanistan. Germany could have played a role, but this was another missed opportunity. More or less the Government is following the cause of the previous red-green coalition, so I am not too unhappy in the foreign policy with the present Government, but these are two key elements where I think the present Government is underperforming.


Ipek Cem: How do factors like the rise of China as an economic power and a rising political power, and the dependence on Russia for energy, how do they reshape Europe’s politics? Germany’s politics?


Joschka Fischer: Well, there you can see, how it’s Europe... Germany alone is not strong enough any longer, and I’m guessing is also Turkey alone won’t be strong enough - I said it before. The new dimensions in the 21st Century will reduce our size. Europe is weak in dealing with Russia because we are disunited. If we would be united, you would see that Russia would depend more on Europe, than Europe on Russia. Energy is not everything. You can’t eat energy. You need energy, you must sell it. You must go to the market. Russia needs to trade with Europe. Russia needs Europe know-how. Russia needs Europe investments. And we need a strategic relationship with Russia, and Russia a strategic relationship with us. I see the common interests are much bigger and more important than possible conflicts, but we give to Russia the wrong incentives because we are disunited. For example, if Europe, and I don’t understand why the EU leadership is not moving forward with that... if Europe bears the consequence of the experiences with Russia and our energy dependency then it must be that we unite our energy foreign policy. This will change immediately our situation. Turkey is a key factor, as a hub for gas and oil supply lines from the Middle East, central Asia; and alternative, of course to Russia.

So all these issues, I think, should be brought together in a common energy foreign policy, and then the European position will change. But, once again, we must have an interest in good or excellent relations, and stable relations with Russia. By the way Russia is also, I mean, dependant on Europe. The majority of the Russians are looking towards Europe, and Russia will face also the problem with the size in the new world order.

China is very different. China is changing the rules. India is changing the rules, and this is, I think, the important message to Turkey. The old equation was: first development, industrialisation, first to get rich, then fix the environmental problem. This is the equation of the past. This will not work any longer. Why? Because the tremendous size of the Chinese and Indian population which is how moving into industrialisation will have such a dramatic impact on the global environment that we must now find a new equation... that sustainability must be part of industrialisation for emerging countries. I think this new equation is important in the era of globalisation.


Ipek Cem: I am glad you mentioned the issues about the environment after talking about energy. You mentioned that sustainability is no longer a dream of the Greens; it’s not this idyllic, perfect world, but rather a requirement, a global necessity if we are to keep growing.


Joschka Fischer: Hard reality.


Ipek Cem: Can you explore that idea further?


Joschka Fischer: Look at the prices. Prices of rice has doubled. Prices of other agricultural goods are also going up and up, higher and higher. Energy, I mean yesterday we have been at the top of $110 barrel oil. Gas is following. Raw materials. What you see is a change on the demand side. Why is that so? Because now a minority model – Western market economy, and consuming economy – is becoming a majority model, and this has dramatic consequences for the global environment. You will face that, too within very short period. And if we cannot really fix these problems, I think we will, at the end, be locked into extreme poverty, and a destroyed environment. This would be the nightmare scenario. And we are interdependent. The success of all of us is a success story of globalisation, of open markets, of open trade. When I was born, sixty years ago, we had 2.5 billion people living on Earth. Today you have 6.6. In the midst of the century we will have 9 billion people, and if only the half, but I think all of them will do that, but if only the half of them would try to reach the living standard of Europe and America, how should it – really, I mean – work in a limited environment, without dramatic changes? And dramatic changes means that the prices must reflect the real costs of the use of environment. We cannot go on by seeing the air as a sort of land fill for emissions for free – or water, or whatever – we will have to pay the price for that, and on the other side we will need the most modern technologies, and that exactly must be the trade-off, in a post Kyoto agreement that the emerging markets have the right to request most modern technologies. No one can deny Turkey or China, or Brazil, or India this right.


Ipek Cem: One of the problems with saving the environment is the difficulty of coordinating policies across many nations, as we saw in Kyoto. What would be a good way to proceed so that there is more communication, more coordination, and united action?


Joschka Fischer: First of all, if we don’t coordinate voluntarily, exploding prices and environmental disasters will force us to coordination, but this is the bad option. I think price is very important. This should be considered if policy makers think about the future, especially in emerging markets, the prices will continue to rise, even dramatically, if something terrible would happen in the Middle East, for example in the Gulf, God forbid that it will happen, but if it would happen we would face a devastating situation. So we have to prepare for that. Price is very important, and the consequences of we draw out of the price.

Water management for Turkey will be a key element of your future. The sustainability of economic growth in Turkey will depend on a very sophisticated and modern water management. Energy preservation, saving energy is also a form to exploit existing energy resources. You don’t have to look for oil and gas, look to the energy wasting in this wonderful city of Istanbul, where millions of people live, and with investments in housing, in the infrastructure – in the energy infrastructure – you could reduce the energy consumption per capita dramatically, which will also reduce your import bill, and free resources for investment in different sectors.

And thirdly, Turkey is a country with a lot of wind, a lot of sun, and very important, it’s a very huge country with areas which are not very developed, where it would be very easy with renewable energies to increase the power supply, to give the regional industry a push. So Spain, I think, might be an interesting example to look at.  Spain is investing a lot and German power companies are  investing in renewables in Spain. And Spain has similar conditions to Turkey, so I would try to develop on a broader scale I think this might be a great opportunity for Turkey. And with your geo-political excellent position, once Turkey is on the sustainable track, this will offer your green industry of the future, big markets in the Middle East, because Turkish expertise is valued a lot there.


Ipek Cem: You repeatedly say that you have left politics since 2005, and in every interview I see everybody is asking you again, when are you coming into politics, or your name is mentioned anywhere from being a possible President of the Federal Republic to being a special envoy to Afghanistan, and so your name is never removed from politics. Is there any chance you will go back to politics, or a political post?


Joschka Fischer: No. I am now 60 years old.


Ipek Cem: Tomorrow.


Joschka Fischer: Tomorrow. A grandfather, and very happy to be out of public life. I enjoy life, now. And of course I am a political man. I follow very closely what’s going on, but not any longer in an active role, and I’ve no desire to go back.


Ipek Cem: On that note, thank you very much, and happy birthday in advance. This is our small gift, from my NTV team for your 60th birthday. I hope you will enjoy it.


Joschka Fischer: This is really wonderful. Thank you very much.


Ipek Cem: It’s handmade.


Joschka Fischer: And hopefully the duck will have a good future in sustainable Turkey.


This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.