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New thinking for Germany

October 30, 2018

New thinking for Germany

October 30, 2018
in Harvard Gazette

After decades under U.S. wing, fresh policies should tackle clear problems, says former top official

As the former vice chancellor of Germany and minister of foreign affairs in the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sigmar Gabriel is in a unique position to comment on current conditions in Europe.

In an interview, the Gazette talked with Gabriel on topics ranging from global migration to Germany’s relationship with the United States, the European Union, and China.

GAZETTE: In Germany, as in the United States, nationalism and populism are on the rise. Do you see similarities or differences in these movements?

GABRIEL: I met the former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson the day after he came into office. I visited him in Washington and asked him, “Please explain to me the election of Donald Trump.” He answered, ‘It was a ‘Can you hear me now?’ election.” I think that’s a good explanation. Parts of society feel that the political elites do not recognize them, do not know that there are people in rural areas and families in bigger cities that cannot afford even a small flat. It’s the failure of centrists and progressives because they do not deliver alternatives and the only alternative that some people find is nationalism.

GAZETTE: Is there also a sense of immigration and the rise of populism as a security issue?

GABRIEL: I think it’s a trigger in Germany. You will find the highest rate of voters for the right-wing populists in regions where you do not find migrants. During the last federal election, people asked me, “So over the last few years, whenever I ask for a higher pension somebody tells me, ‘That’s impossible.’ Now a million refugees are coming, and you are offering them billions of Euros. So why do you give money to them and not to us? We are the taxpayers.” There is something that is triggering the emotions, but it’s not the real reason.

GAZETTE: You recently told the publication Der Spiegel that Germany can’t just stand on the sidelines, but most Germans don’t seem to want an active military. How do you reconcile this?