Germany this week assumes the rotating presidency of both the European Union (EU) and the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrial nations, giving it a chance to shape policy on issues as wide-ranging as global warming and Kosovo’s final status. Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Klaus Scharioth, says his government’s priority will be to try to build momentum for ratification of the EU constitution, which he called crucial for the European Union’s ability to act on global issues together with the United States.
He said Germany will also seek to use its twin leadership posts to build a constructive energy relationship with Russia, and try to revitalize diplomacy on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Scharioth pointed to German and EU efforts to strengthen rule of law in Iraq but said attempts to resolve that country’s crisis were an “inner-American process” that the European Union would not interfere with.
Germany finds itself at the beginning of year setting the agenda for the world’s leading economic powers as well as the European Union. Is that a blessing or a curse?
It’s an opportunity. You see, the bigger the challenges are the bigger the possibilities usually are also. I do not deny that we have huge challenges in front of us. We have the energy problems, the problem of climate change, we have the problem of our economies. Then of course we have also all of the foreign policy problems which bother us—the Mideast, the Iran issue won’t go away that quickly, Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Balkans.
Is it an advantage to be heading these two groups when there’s so much overlap? Can Germany serve to coordinate policy on some of these big issues? Energy, for example, or the Middle East?
I believe it is a great advantage exactly on the question you mention, energy security and climate change. We like to link those two issues and there I think it will be a tremendous benefit to us but also to others that we can coordinate what’s happening within the European Union and between the European Union and its other partners and also meeting in the group of seven prominent industrial nations plus Russia [G8]. For instance, in 1999 we were in exactly the same situation where we had the EU presidency and also the G8 presidency. I think it served us well to help to contribute to a solution of the Kosovo conflict because we could use both fora.
Let’s talk about Kosovo. There are the Serbian elections on January 21. Should we expect acceleration toward a Kosovo solution after that?
I think relatively shortly after the election [UN envoy Martti] Ahtisaari will put forward his package. He will travel to the main players in the region, he will present his package. During the German presidency we will see a lot of action on Kosovo and we will get a new status I think within the next year.
Energy security was one of Russia’s themes during its G8 chair last year but Russia is also seen as a difficult partner on energy. How does Germany see its engagement with Russia helping to ease some of the concerns on energy?
That’s exactly one of the reasons why we believe energy security should be very high up on the agenda. Inside the European Union we will have to do our part to agree on many things which need to be done to actually, for instance, link the various networks inside the European Union with each other. Then I think, of course, we have to create a clear understanding also in Moscow that this is not a zero-sum game. This is a game of interdependency and I think we could both benefit from the very safe, secure, and reliable supply of energy.
Does the Russian candidacy for the World Trade Organization (WTO) help in that regard in terms of raising the issue of some of these rule-of-law aspects maybe that have been missing in previous conversations?
We are advocating Russian [membership talks with] the World Trade Organization. We actually believe that you need a sound legal framework in each country. We believe that generally for reasons of rule of law, which are very important to us, but also to give businesses the security they need to invest and to do their business in a safe environment.
Germany has a special role in the Iran negotiations going on right now. Given what has happened this year—the UN resolution, Iran’s response, some of the signals given by the president of Iran—how important is it for a strong resolution with some sort of sanctions lever?
I think it is important. We actually put forward—originated by the “EU3” [Britain, France, and Germany] but then accepted also by the United States, Russia, and China—a very attractive package. This was in June  and I have difficulties to understand why this was not accepted by the Iranian government because I really believe it is an attractive package and one which would allow Iran to significantly benefit. They have chosen not to accept it at this point. Therefore, I think the next step logically is in the Security Council. [Note: the Security Council voted on December 23, 2006 to impose limited sanctions on Iran.]
The United States has offered to deal with Iran directly if there is suspension of uranium enrichment, and now with what’s happened with the U.S. elections, and with the Iraq Study Group recommendations, is there an expectation there will be a change in the U.S. approach?
The United States has already significantly changed position as of May 31 when it said we could go to the negotiating table directly if certain conditions are fulfilled. We very much appreciated that change. We think it’s a very good move.
Staying in the neighborhood—Turkey. The EU-Turkey talks are described as partially frozen. On what basis do you see talks resuming with Turkey?
We have not said these negotiations, which will lead to the accession of Turkey over time, have stopped. We have just said that altogether there are thirty-five so-called chapters [obligations] in the European Union and of these thirty-five chapters, we have only suspended eight. On all the others the negotiations continue.
Is there a role for the European Union on helping to somehow ease the situation in Iraq?
It is an inner-American process and we will not interfere with that. But we stand ready to help in what we have been doing already before, for instance in training police, also in training the military outside Iraq, and in helping to educate bureaucrats, journalists, professors. We actually kind of have agreements between various German and Iraqi ministries which help to educate students but also bureaucrats—for instance lawyers, and prosecutors, and judges. We believe the key thing is to help the new Iraqi government to really govern and help to really establish their functioning bureaucracy. Altogether we have been training 1,400 people. So that’s a significant effort Germany’s doing but we will not send troops to Iraq.
How do you see the European Union’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process?
It’s extremely important. I think we have to move forward on the Arab-Israeli question. I am very much encouraged by what I hear from the U.S. administration; I think they would also like to give this a new push. We in Europe are absolutely in agreement with that. We believe that the principles of the Road Map are still the principles of finding a solution there. In Germany as the EU presidency we will help to invigorate the Quartet again, which will be the key mechanism to push that forward—the Quartet of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations.
Is part of invigorating the Quartet strengthening support for Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas]?
That’s part of it. I mean we are listening very carefully to Abu Mazen. We support him, there’s no doubt. We of course speak also very, very often to our Israeli friends. You know that our foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has been in the region, because we prepare for January and the first months of our presidency when we will try to see if we can give this thing a push.
What would you hope to be the German imprint on both of these organizations—the European Union and the G8—this year?
On the European Union, we have one fundamental question which might be less interesting for you in the short run but in the long run is of vital interest to the whole West. We have to advance the European Union’s capability to act and therefore we have to find a solution to the still pending problem of what we do with the constitution treaty. Europe needs something like a constitution treaty. We need the foundation for our future and we need to enhance Europe’s capability to act. This is also important for the United States because it is in the United States’ interest to have a strong European Union, united and capable to act. Only then can we, together with a strong North America, act on the world scene to see that our values, which are basically the values of the Enlightenment, are pushed forward. So we really believe this is a very, very important question. We have eighteen of twenty-seven countries which have already ratified the EU constitution treaty. Two [France and the Netherlands] have so far said no and we will make proposals toward the end of our presidency for how to move forward.
From the G8, I believe it is a very important forum. I mentioned Kosovo, for instance: It was under the [German] G8 presidency that we hammered out [UN] resolution 1244 [establishing a virtual UN protectorate in Kosovo] and of course you can’t plan these things but you never know. And it has also played a role to give impetus to some things like for instance what to do about blood diamonds. Many other useful initiatives have come from the G8 so we will continue to use that forum and will try to keep it vigorous.
Are we going to see a bigger role for China in the G8, maybe added to the formula as Seven plus Two?
No, I don’t see that. We will keep the G8 as it is. You know that there are the so-called outreach countries [China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa]. We will probably have a meeting of the G8 plus the five outreach countries but the formula G8 will remain the same.