Even for a foreign minister who travels a lot, Annalena Baerbock has had tough days: the climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with sleepless nights. On Sunday, just back in Berlin, we went on to France, which has recently had troubled relations with its most important ally in Europe. It was also about help for Moldova, the small neighboring state of Ukraine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin now also wants to destabilize. And on Tuesday she had to go to the Chancellery to negotiate the future of the Bundeswehr’s mission in Mali, which the Greens politician, unlike Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht of the SPD, would have liked to stick to.
Nevertheless, she comes to the Museum for Communication in Berlin in a good mood, where the Southgerman newspaper hosts the European Business Night. At the table she is talking to Wladimir Klitschko, also a guest at the SZ Economic Summit, which she has already received at the Federal Foreign Office and who, together with his brother Vitali, Mayor of Kyiv, guided her through the Ukrainian capital.
It is the arc that it will draw, the Russian President’s war of aggression, the climate crisis and what consequences should follow for Germany’s foreign trade policy, for a geostrategic view of relations with China in particular.
Shortly before the end of the year, she already takes stock that it was a “mostly terrible year”. Russia’s war of aggression has catapulted the world into a new era, bringing incredible suffering to millions of people in Ukraine. But also “heat waves, droughts, floods of a force that we have never seen before” – in Pakistan, but also in Nigeria. At the climate conference, before one of the many bilateral talks, she asked again whether 1.4 million people in Nigeria are actually fleeing the consequences of the climate crisis, largely without the world taking any notice of it.
“We are facing a new era that we did not wish for at all,” says the Green politician, but also advocates “living up to our responsibility as Europeans to shape the next few years”. And at the same time, one of the lessons learned from the Russian attack, is to think about the concerns of others. For many states that opposed Russia’s aggression in the UN General Assembly, the climate crisis is the greatest threat to their security.
When economic dependencies are used as leverage
That is the point – “I want to let you participate in the life of a foreign minister after ten months” – on which Baerbock reports from the climate conference: Developing countries, whose interest should be to receive compensation for climate damage, the fastest possible reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to achieve, together with China, the largest emitter after the USA, Saudi Arabia, Russia and other oil-producing countries would have blocked advances by the EU. One has to ask oneself how that could be, says Baerbock – and points out that in some of the capitals of these countries the airport looks so that one has to ask oneself whether one has landed in China.
It’s about spheres of influence where economic dependencies are used as leverage, the message says. For this reason, the western states would have to make offers to the many smaller countries that are looking for partners for their economic development and for solving their problems. China is ready. That, too, is a lesson, because one should have listened to the warnings of smaller Eastern European neighbors about Russia.
It must be ensured that what “we are experiencing with Russia does not happen again”, that one does not rely on the principle of hope again, is not naïve again. “Democratic change does not automatically follow trade,” says Baerbock. And that is why foreign trade policy cannot go on as it did in the 1990s, the heyday of globalization, when it was all about prices and efficiency and little about geopolitical interests. It is a task for companies to diversify their sales markets and reduce their dependencies. But it is also the task of the state and politics to reshape reality.
Europe must reflect on its economic strength as a single market. It can set standards, it has to drive innovation, with chips, artificial intelligence, with climate-neutral economies. Security in the conditions for private investments also creates the space for more European sovereignty, for increased cooperation with value partners in the G7, above all with the USA. The West must also think together about where to finance infrastructure and pool investments.
Baerbock is not about decoupling
With regard to China, the Foreign Minister confirmed that she is counting on more reciprocity, more reciprocity. It is not about decoupling from China, but about European companies in China having the same rights as Chinese companies in Europe. Even in competition with the USA, the Europeans should insist on this with their market power.
The basis for export guarantees must be “to make the economic risks a little clearer to companies, to look together with them where we are investing”. Large investments by German companies in Russia have shown that they can also affect national security.
But Baerbock appeals to also see the positive: If Europe trusts in its values, “we are stronger,” she says. Putin didn’t manage to take Kyiv because he underestimated “the incredible courage” of the Ukrainians – and that “we Europeans stand together and take sides for freedom, for peace and our Europe”.
Her words, in turn, encourage Wladimir Klitschko to “real German-Ukrainian friendship,” as Baerbock puts it. He brings the Foreign Minister her scarf when she is shivering because of the lack of sleep and the temperature shock of 25 degrees in Egypt and minus degrees in Berlin in a conversation with SZ editor-in-chief Wolfgang Krach. “I don’t tremble before your questions,” she says, and then moves the audience again with her last answer. Krach wants to know what she will do on the first day when the war is over. “Probably cry,” says Annalena Baerbock.