Will Germany retain this regime of privileged partnership

An interview with Ambassador Walter Jurgen Schmid in the wake of election of a new chancellor in Germany.

Question: Germany under chancellors Gerhard Schroeder and Helmut Kohl was Russia’s principal strategic and economic partner in Europe. Will Germany retain this regime of privileged partnership under Angela Merkel now? To be more exact, do you think Russia could count on active support from Germany in integration into Europe or, say, membership in the World Trade Organization?

Walter Jurgen Schmid: The new coalitionist government has clearly defined its foreign political priorities, including the attitude with regard to Russia. Shortly speaking, Germany and its European partners will go on doing everything in their power to advance strategic partnership with Russia – both on the bilateral plane and on the level of relations between the European Union and Moscow. We still want a stable, economically prosperous, socially stable, and democratic Russia. That’s what we have always wanted, and that’s we want.

Question: And yet, are the Russian-German contacts traditionally based on male friendship and economic pragmatism bound to include some new accents now? Will, for example, the subjects of Chechnya and freedom of the media become elements of the bilateral dialogue now? When a leader of the opposition, Merkel used to be quite critical of Russia on these matters.

Walter Jurgen Schmid: Well, I can only refer you to the treaty of the coalition where neatly half a page is dedicated to German-Russian relations. The treaty reiterates unchangeability of the policy of strategic partnership.

Neither is Chechnya forgotten. The document I’m talking about states that the new government will continue assistance to Russia in a solution to the problem of Chechnya.

Question: Could installation of the new government in Berlin have any effect on construction of the gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea bedrock dubbed the Putin-Schroeder Pact? It is common knowledge that the new chancellor is sympathetic with Poland and the Baltic states claiming that construction of the pipeline encroaches on their interests and jeopardizes their security.

Walter Jurgen Schmid: First, this is not a project initiated by two countries. That’s a project between businesses – E.ON and BASF of Germany and Gazprom of Russia. These companies made plain their intention to continue and advance construction of the gas pipeline.

Second, the European Union decided in favor of energy security for all EU countries in 2003. The European Commission, Council of Europe, and European Parliament backed these decisions. These decisions recognize the gas pipeline as a priority for energy security of all of Europe. Of course, there are problems of environmental protection involved here, and they will be brought up again and again…

Question: Men from East Germany become elected to top positions in Germany more and more often, men with mentality and experience of dealing with Moscow differing from those of West Germans’. Do you think this nuance may have an effect on the relations with Moscow, Washington, Paris, Ankara, and capitals of the so-called “new” European countries?

Walter Jurgen Schmid: I regard it as a natural process that politicians from East Germany enjoy the opportunities equal to those their counterparts from West Germany are entitled to.

The politicians who are currently at the top were also involved in the design and execution of state policy for the last 15 years. They all support the policy born of intensive debates in Germany itself and with our friends and partners. In other words, I do not think that origin of politicians has any effect on national interests of the country or on German policy as such.

Question: What about those who were not born in Germany? Riots in France, for example… Will they persuade Germany to stiffen the immigration rules?

Walter Jurgen Schmid: We’ve been discussing the problem of immigration quite actively for years now, and the heated debates finally resulted in a consensus. It boils down to this: we should pay more attention to integration of immigrants into German society – beginning with management of the process of immigration itself. Whenever there are too many immigrants, they cannot integrate into society or find jobs.

Question: What is your appraisal of the position of immigrants from Russia? Has this particular group been integrated?

Walter Jurgen Schmid: Russian immigrants amount to about 2.5 million people. Whoever speaks German and had close contacts with someone in Germany did not encounter any problems with integration. As for the rest, special programs for immigrants are carried out. In fact, we’ve changed our approach to immigration. Before permitting someone to come and stay in Germany, we check if the person speaks German and if he or she has had contacts in Germany.

For whoever cannot say that he or she speaks German or has had contacts here, we – and the government of Russia – support all initiatives and programs aiming to enable them to remain at home.

Question: So, what is going to happen to the Russian settlements in Germany where only Russian is spoken and where the Russians live on subsidies and grants and do not plan any integration?

Walter Jurgen Schmid: The new law on immigration specifies certain mechanisms facilitating their integration.

Question: What are your personal priorities in the capacity of the ambassador? Your predecessor von Pletz concentrated on the return of the objets d’art moved here in World War II. Are you prepared to continue his efforts in this sphere?

Walter Jurgen Schmid: As for the first part of the question, that is something we could discuss for hours on end. I’ll only say that broad contacts between our countries and societies attaches additional importance to the ambassadorship here.

As for the return of the objects d’art, that’s a difficult question. We are doing what we can to bring a solution to the problem closer.

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