Amb. Dr. Dietrich von Kyaw (Former Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Germany to the EU)

18.03.2010 - Interview conducted by Brandon Gebka

You spoke about the changing world order, and Europe’s struggle to find a place in this new order.  What do you think will be Europe’s role in the new multi-polar world, and what changes need to take place inside of Europe to ensure that it holds a strong position?

Europe's role will be to have greater interest in globalization, but also in areas like Iran, and in promoting free trade with China, because we are an exporting nation, Germany in particular and we depend on trade. Our interest is not only to defend European interests but to regain its strengths and alliance with the West, particularly the United States, because the West on the whole is on the defensive. The West as a whole needs to make major efforts, because America on its own cannot solve all the world’s problems; Obama is not the sole leader; we now have a multi-polar world. For Europe it is even worse; you have a divided foreign policy point of view, so you have to further strengthen our economic possibilities, which are already relatively impressive. But we need to strengthen the element of foreign security policy in European politics. In order to become a valuable partner to the United States, but also to better equip Europe and to promote our interest in the world, we have to slowly accept the idea that we cannot simply remain a regional power. The US no longer has the power to impose its will in Latin America, in Asia or in Israel.  This is important for Europe, as it has great implications. We need to revive the transatlantic relationship and Europe needs to get its act together where it still has deficiencies. The problem is how we manage to translate our economic and monetary power into strategic power on a global level, and that means we have to do more on foreign security power, but also develop further our capacities to employ military missions in the world. 

You mentioned strengthening the transatlantic relationship, but what sort of relationship should Europe establish with developing nations?

Europe needs to create cooperation, particularly in the area of economics. Make them participate in the G20 and give them incentives to come and act as responsible players. But not only as equals, allow them to promote their own selfish interest, because Brazil also has interests, like India and China have interests.  The problem with China is that they hold too many American assets, and there is a neutral dependence, which will make the US hesitant to stand up against China.  As we will always hesitate against Russia, as we depend on Russian gas. We have an energy dependence on Russia, which is not ideal.  We have now our mutual dependencies, as they are dependent on us as their customer; this must be carefully organized. We need a common European energy policy, as up to now, Russia is playing one European nation against another. The French have their national champions, we have ours, and each is not better than the other. But we have a dependency and there is a consequence. We must diversify and we must also develop some parameters as Europeans on how to deal with Russia and Algeria on the issues of energy supply.

Going off the different European nations having differing policies, you mentioned that states' interests and the EU state-based governance system hinders the EU from playing a more important role on an international level. From your experience as an ambassador, how do think that you convince governments to give up more capacities that fall under state sovereignty to further European interests?

I think the day is over that you explain to nations that Europe is beautiful and let’s be idealistic, we love Europe. This time is over.  Telling them it is easier to impress the Americans as one Europe, it is much easier to impress Iran if Europe speaks as a whole; this is where we must look. Sending mixed messages to nations like Iran is unacceptable. These are the kind of things we need to improve on.

I found it interesting when you spoke on your own identity as a modern German patriot.  How can you spread the idea of a modern identity throughout both Europe and Germany?

As long as our political leaders think it is not advisable to out oneself as a modern German patriot, as I express it, there will be no change. Angela Merkel acts like a modern German patriot and acts like a good European, because she knows that Germany can’t progress alone. But she is careful, because there remain objections here and there in Germany, and difficult partners in the EU. I think there is a lack of advertisement for Europe, but what I find more convincing is self interest. We are living in a century of egoists. If you tell them that, if they want to continue to have a good life, you better gang up with the rest of Europe and with the US and explain to them why, and that it has direct consequences for your own income and well being, you can persuade them more easily. For instance, the young people want idealism, but this is limited to when you’re young. When you get in a profession, you start to look at where the beef is. For me, it’s a mixture of common values, ideas and positive feelings, but mainly in interests.

Do you think there would be a way to use culture to compliment the idea of self-interest?

The difficulty with culture is that there are always differences among Europeans, this can be seen in particular in federalist Germany. In federalist Germany, Länder representatives have two areas totally reserved to them in our constitution, education and culture, and they cling to it. Whenever Berlin tries to develop some cultural policies or educational policies in Brussels, they scream and yell.  The only thing we have been allowed to do is a fellowship program on a European scale and some general regulations. Now this is a tedious process. One way out is probably that we would allow our Länder to take part in representing Germany in Brussels on these issues, but there are hesitations that this could weaken our federation. On the other hand, at least to have them together, with the federal minister sitting there giving them the veto right on the federal position, would be an advantage.  I mean, somehow we need to take them along into Europe, we have to be more imaginative. Because at the moment, German federalism is a hindrance to European integration in the fields of culture and education, as we don’t even have unified educational standards in Germany. We are paying a heavy price for that, and we have to find out how we can develop these things more positively, because there is no alternative to this old and outdated provincialism. 

Do you think that the German federalist system is something that could be implemented on a European level?

The only chance for Europe is federal, because we need to maintain our national histories. The maximum you could imagine is a federation, not a confederation, that is too loose, and why not.  Whether that will be feasible with countries like France that have no federal system at home, could be difficult. We have tried to impose a constitution on the British, but they have never had a written constitution before, so from the beginning this was difficult. Now they have lost their illusions. We have to take people along, but we have to do so in a rational way, not getting carried away with sentiments. This can be done by basing development on common interests that are becoming more and more prominent in our respective states.