German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been in office for barely half a year and is already organizing a major international summit. Next weekend, the social democratic politician will receive the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and six other heads of economically strong democracies in the luxurious hotel of the castle of Elmau, in Bavaria.
The meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) is encompassed in other summits of the European Union (EU) and NATO. The chancellor has prepared for this with a train trip to kyiv. In an interview granted to DPA, he tells what he has planned for the summit marathon.
–He has just returned from Ukraine, where he has visited the capital, kyiv, as well as the partially destroyed Irpin. Can she describe what she felt with what she saw there?
We all know the terrible destruction that the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine is leaving behind. How many people have died, how many are injured. And yet, it is something else when you see the destruction with your own eyes and feel for yourself that people have died in a certain place, that there were families sitting in the cars that were stopped and destroyed, that they wanted to flee and they were brutally shot. The Russian president (Vladimir Putin) is saddled with terrible guilt over his decision to invade Ukraine.
-For a long time he was skeptical about the possibility of traveling to kyiv in times of war. How would you describe the result now? Was the trip a success?
The right thing to do was to travel now and send a strong European signal together with the French President, the Italian Prime Minister and the Romanian President. I had met President (Volodymyr) Zelensky three times in person before the war started, and since then we have regularly discussed the situation over the phone. The meeting now in kyiv was once again a very trusting and cooperative conversation.
We talked about how Europe can continue to help your country. Specifically, it is about heavy artillery and ammunition. Because that is what Ukraine needs most urgently right now. It is also about protecting against attacks from the air with missiles. And, above all, it is about a future perspective: the hope of a European and democratic perspective for the citizens of Ukraine. At the next EU summit, this week, we want to reach a consensus decision on this.
-You are in favor of Ukraine being a candidate for EU membership, as is the European Commission. But there are still some countries that are skeptical. How do you intend to convince them?
Since the beginning of the war, the European Union has supported Ukraine in a very united and determined way. We must continue to act in this spirit of unity. It is clear that the road to the EU will not be easy, that there are many requirements that any candidate who wants to join must meet. This applies to the rule of law and democracy, but also to all the other rules that we have agreed together in Europe.
At the same time, it is important to me that we now offer very concrete progress to those who were promised almost 20 years ago that they could become members of the European Union. Otherwise, the feeling will arise that being a candidate leads nowhere. We must show the countries of the Western Balkans that we are serious. Albania and North Macedonia have all the conditions to start concrete EU accession negotiations: they should start now.
Furthermore, the European Union must prepare for enlargement. To do this, it must modernize its decision structures and processes. It will not always be possible to decide unanimously everything that needs to be decided unanimously today. And that is what we will have to discuss at the EU summit, along with many other issues.
Do you think you will still be able to witness Ukraine being admitted to the EU?
The States and their citizens have in their hands the speed with which they manage to fulfill the conditions of admission. Ancient Macedonia changed its name to North Macedonia to resolve a dispute with Greece and was not rewarded for it. Something like this must not happen again. With the condition of candidate, we want to create hopes, not disappoint them.
-You have invited the Ukrainian president Zelensky to the G7 summit to be held in Elmau next week. What are you going to talk to him about there?
In Elmau, the focus will be on Ukraine’s long-term outlook. It is clear, and we will reaffirm it there as the G7, that we will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. We want to make sure that the plans of the Russian president do not prosper. Putin obviously hopes that once he has gained enough ground, everything will calm down and the international community will return to its agenda. That is an illusion.
-Another topic of the G7 summit will be the global food crisis. There are experts who expect the worst famine since World War II. What can the G7 do to counter it?
The war that Russia has started against Ukraine has consequences for the whole world and for many countries that are far from war. In this case, global solidarity is demanded. We have launched a global initiative to promote food safety. Ukraine’s grain silos are full, millions of tons of grain waiting to be exported. However, Ukraine had to mine its ports to protect them from Russian attacks from the Black Sea.
We support the efforts of the UN Secretary General to open an export corridor for Ukrainian grain. Negotiations take some time and go back and forth. We must hope for the good of the world that an understanding is reached. Russia must allow safe transportation while at the same time giving credible guarantees that it will not use the corridor for an invasion. After all, it cannot be that the grain ships leave the Ukrainian ports and the Russian warships go to the ports.
– Is a UN mission conceivable to ensure access to Ukrainian ports such as Odessa?
All of these issues are currently being negotiated, but speculating on them publicly would make these difficult negotiations even more complicated than they already are, so I’m not doing it.
-What other topics do you want to advance in the summit?
Elmau is about how to stop man-made climate change, how to concretely advance digitization. And how do we go about advancing the issues of democracy. The G7 is the union of seven economically strong democracies, that’s what makes it special. But our understanding of democracy falls short if we focus solely on the classical West. The great and powerful democracies of the future are in Asia, Africa and South America and they will be our partners. We must look at the whole world and not just have a narrow view of Europe, North America and Japan. That is why I have deliberately invited five more guests: the heads of state and government of Indonesia, India, South Africa, Senegal and Argentina.
– Do you expect concrete results on climate change at the summit or work tasks?
We have been promoting climate protection as the central theme of this G7 Summit all along. It is important to me that we cooperate on this. The countries that together aim for greater climate protection must be able to cooperate with each other in the way we envision for the whole world. That is the idea of the Climate Club, which wants to establish comparable standards for CO2 consumption.
-When would the summit be a success for you?
If Elmau sends a signal of unity, I’d be very pleased. If we manage to make progress on the important challenges for the future world – I have mentioned climate protection, digitalisation, the question of how we can organize solidarity with those who have to fear going hungry. We want there to be a background of solidarity in the fight against pandemics. And then, of course, it comes to our response to the war in Ukraine. It would be a special success if the summit could be the starting point for a new look at the world of democracy. The world will be even more multipolar in 30 years than it is today. It will have many power centers, not just two or three. If we can make this world work anyway, and democracies play a central role in it, that will be a big step forward.
-Some time ago, you were the host of a summit, the G20 summit in Hamburg, which was overshadowed by violent disturbances. Are you afraid of similar scenes at this G7 summit?
Security forces always have to prepare for all eventualities. Although I have already participated in many G7 and G20 summits, which went smoothly, of course you have to be prepared. The Police, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, the services and also the Bavarian security authorities have done this very carefully. Everyone hopes that the peaceful course of the last G7 summit in Elmau in 2015 will be repeated.
-Was it also a reaction to the experience of the Hamburg summit to choose Elmau again now?
Elmau offers the ideal conditions for the summit to be peaceful and good for our guests and for what we want to achieve together politically.
-It is likely that energy prices will also be an issue at the G7 summit. Now Gazprom has reduced gas supply through Nord Stream 1. Do you fear that this is the first step towards a complete cut off of supply?
First of all, we are currently experiencing a reduction in gas supplies to Germany and other Western European countries, which is technically justified. This may be a coincidence, but it doesn’t have to be. We will continue to monitor very closely and do our best to ensure there are no technical reasons for these cuts.
-After the G7 summit, the NATO summit is approaching. In her first interview after leaving office, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently defended her opposition to Ukraine’s NATO membership. Was this decision correct at the time?
The criteria for NATO membership must be met by any state wishing to join the alliance. Ukraine’s accession to NATO was not on the agenda. Everyone knew about it, including the Russian president. It is even more absurd that Putin has justified his invasion of Ukraine, among other things, by arguing that Ukraine could suddenly end up there. However, it was clear that this would not be a problem at all for the foreseeable future.
-The former chancellor also made it clear in the interview that she had done nothing wrong in her policy towards Russia. Do you think this is the right attitude? And would he say the same about her own posture?
The attempt at reconciliation can never be wrong, nor is the attempt to get along peacefully. In this sense, I see myself very close to my predecessor. But one mistake of German economic policy was that we concentrated our energy supply too much in Russia without building the necessary infrastructure to be able to quickly change course if the worst happened.
Since my time as mayor of Hamburg, I have long advocated the construction of liquefied natural gas terminals on the coast of northern Germany. Now we have to catch up quickly.
“Have I understood you correctly then?” You didn’t think anything wrong, but the chancellor did?
It is an inadmissible abbreviation of my answer. I always worked well with the previous chancellor and I see no reason to question it in hindsight.
Olaf Scholz turned 64 a few days ago and has been German Chancellor for six months. The former SPD General Secretary, who was also Mayor of Hamburg, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Finance and Labor Minister, has had to deal with a war right at the beginning of his term that has changed the world and will continue to do so.
Three days after the start of the Ukraine war, the reorientation of German foreign and security policy began. At Elmau Castle in Bavaria, starting Sunday (June 26), it will host a major summit for the first time attended by some of the world’s most powerful men and women. The interview with the chancellor was conducted by DPA in his office on the seventh floor of the Chancellery in Berlin.