Sigmar Gabriel was Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from 2017-18 and Vice Chancellor. Gabriel took over the Foreign Ministry in 2017, gaining popularity but also clashing repeatedly with fellow SPD leaders. He played an important role in securing the release of Deniz Yücel, a German journalist held in a Turkish prison for more than a year.
How do you view Germany’s place in the world currently?
Germany is definitely one of the strongest industrial nations in the world. However, due to its strength, our country is facing a huge challenge and one of its responsibilities is to get more involved on a European and international level. For good reason Germany has been a geopolitical “abstainer” for more than 70 years. Since Germany takes the responsibility for two world wars in the 20th century, our neighbours, and primarily the USA, integrated us in systems of alliances such as the European Union and NATO which limited our security-policy accountability. Aside from economical questions, only Great Britain, France and the USA as members of the Security Council could decide on important international questions. The USA was without doubt the leading nation in the Western world. The postwar order is massively questioned by Donald Trump. Europe has to take more responsibility on its own and that includes us Germans. This is a completely new challenge.
How robust do you think Europe is in its current state?
Europe is still unique, there is no other part of the world where people live as freely, peacefully and safely as they do in Europe. Nevertheless, Europe has to face internal contradictions and challenges. Its fiscal policy splits into Northern and Southern Europe, whereas questions concerning the rule of law and democracy divide into Western and Eastern Europe, additionally questions about governance and the fight against corruption can be distinguished between Northwest and Southwest Europe. One of the biggest European conflicts is clearly the question of how to handle the long-running issue of mass migration. No doubt Europe could also collapse due to internal contradictions. However this is not fate, nothing about this challenge is unsolvable. Everything depends on the heads of states and heads of government who have to be clear about how much is at stake and about how small states such as Germany would exist in relation to the world without the European Union.
They are searching for an identity but sadly at this point in time they find this only offered by the nationalists
How do you think transatlantic relations have changed since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency?
Yes, of course they’ve changed. But this change did not start with Donald Trump. Obama has already talked about America as a “Pacific nation”, as opposed to his predecessor who described the USA as a transatlantic nation. The USA feels “imperial overstretch” and wants to pull back parts of its international responsibility. The difference between Obama and Trump is that Trump tried to fill the vacuum that occurred due to the withdrawal of the USA, with international agreements and the support of the international order/ regime. Trump focuses only on the position of the USA. In his opinion the world is not a place of common rules but an arena in which only the stronger survive. This is the opposite of the idea of the West.
How can we meet the challenges that rising right-wing populism poses?
In the first instance we have to listen to what people have to say. The problem with right-wing populism is that it actually brings existing problems up, but answers with completely wrong, and partly irresponsible, approaches. Of course globalisation produced not only winners but also losers. The question is how can we lend an ear to them, how can we give them new hope and perspectives? And of course, the world doesn’t only consist of ‘anywheres’, as the ideologists of postmodernism believed in, but rather of most people being ‘somewheres’.They are searching for an identity but sadly at this point in time they find this only offered by the nationalists or populists. Therefore the liberals have to answer. This requires taking people seriously and not simply facing them with economic theories and liberal ideas.
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