Martin Schulz on the US election: “It will be a completely different style with Joe Biden”


The SPD foreign politician Martin Schulz is relieved about the election of Joe Biden as the new US president. He would like the European-American relationship to relax significantly. From his point of view, the balance sheet of the “Arab Spring” shows that it is not enough to abolish a dictatorship. A resilient alternative is necessary, says Schulz in an interview with when he presented the book by his party friend Franz Maget “Ten Years of the Arab Spring – A Balance Sheet”. In some countries that experienced an Arab Spring full of hope, the current situation is more of a concern. This includes Libya, a country that plays a major role for the EU in connection with the refugee crisis. A war of terror has been raging there for years. How can Europe help end this war?

Martin Schulz was President of the EU Parliament from 2012 to 2017. He then took over the SPD party chairmanship and became a candidate for chancellor. After his defeat in the 2017 federal election, Schulz resigned as head of the SPD and, as a foreign politician, belongs to the SPD parliamentary group.

(Foto: picture alliance/dpa)

Martin Schulz: The question is difficult to answer. The European Union’s influence here is very limited. A proxy war is waging in Libya, behind which great powers stand. Russia plays a major role, but so does Turkey and various Arab states. The interests are very different, so it is difficult to intervene immediately. Nonetheless, it was possible to get the conflicting parties to one table. In the end it will be about how to divide spheres of influence in the country in such a way that the warlords who negotiate there are somehow pacified. Only in this way will we achieve a more or less stable administration in Libya.

What have you learned from the negative developments in the Arab world?

For Iraq, Libya or Syria, the following applies: the overthrow of dictators is not possible without a government that could govern a country according to democratic principles. You cannot intervene in a country according to the principle: “We will abolish the dictatorships” if you do not have resilient, alternative structures. That is why supporting democratic opposition movements, which, for example, are also granted political asylum here, is not just a humanitarian luxury, as some populists say. If we protect opposition members here, we will also support the building of democratic governments in the future.

A few months ago, with the support of Donald Trump and his government, Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed a joint peace agreement. What does this mean for developments in the Middle East?

Every peace agreement is to be welcomed. It is therefore quite remarkable that countries that were previously archenemies of Israel are now ready to negotiate peace with Israel. It would certainly have been good if this had not happened without the Palestinians. As good as the process is, it always harbors the risk of division in the Arab region and, above all, of deepening the division between part of the Arab countries and Iran, which is still Israel’s archenemy.

Can the elected US President Joe Biden possibly contribute to an understanding between Israel and the Palestinians and possibly even to a two-state solution?

The two-state solution is a European requirement and a requirement of the United Nations. It has long been an intended goal between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. I believe that as an experienced foreign policy maker, Biden is better able to help Israel and the Palestinians find their way back to dialogue than this unspeakable man who is now sitting in the White House has. Yes: Biden has a much better chance there.

This week, Biden telephoned several top European politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. In doing so, he indicated that the transatlantic relationship was easing. How should these develop further?

First of all, I believe that Joe Biden will be a President who will foster the traditionally good European-American, but also German-American relations. His entire political life has so far been shaped by his transatlantic orientation. So I think it will be easy to get back to a status that we had during the Obama administration. It is clear that there are very different assessments between Europeans and Americans – for example about the future of NATO. It is well known that the USA is strongly oriented towards the Pacific. But these are things that did not arise under Trump. That was also the case with Obama. Only under Obama was it possible to talk to one another in mutual respect and on an equal footing. We must first go back to such a way that the tone and the framework of the discussions are such that one does not consider oneself as enemies but as partners. If we can do that with Biden, we’ll be a long way further.

Trump has achieved one thing: a new self-confidence within the EU. We’ll talk to Biden as friends again. Doesn’t that make it more difficult for Europe to defend its interests?

I do not believe that. It will be easier than it was before with Trump. Please remember what Trump’s position was: “Take it or leave it.” Do what I want, take my position, or you will be my opponent. That was the case in economic relations or with NATO, when we left the climate agreement or the World Health Organization – all one-sided steps. Of course, Biden will formulate the legitimate interests of the United States, but always with the possibility of finding a compromise. He will explore common interests that will lead to mutual benefit if we nurture them. That will again become the direction of American policy, and it will make things easier for Europe.

As a European, what do you want from Joe Biden?

I would very much like to see Joe Biden, an American president who will make respect, tolerance and dignity again the subject of politics at the highest level of government. Because if the president of the strongest military and economic power in the world is a person who knows no dignity, is disrespectful and intolerant of any other opinion, then that rubs off. You can see that in Europe too, how the little trumps behave – in Budapest, Warsaw, partly in Italy and France. I know Joe Biden well, and I know the way he does politics too. And that’s going to be a completely different style than what we’ve seen in recent years.

Marko Schlichting spoke to Martin Schulz

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