Annalena Baerbock on a ‘transatlantic green deal’ and German strategies in facing Russia and China

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Event transcript

Annalena Baerbock
Co-leader, Alliance 90/The Greens

Fareed Zakaria
Host, Fareed Zakaria GPS, CNN

FAREED ZAKARIA: Thank you so much. This is a huge pleasure and opportunity for all of us, but for me personally. And so I will—I will take the opportunity to dive right in. I think none of you are interested in hearing my views on this when we have Annalena Baerbock with us. Let me first extend a warm welcome from the Atlantic Council and, more figuratively, from the United States, to Annalena Baerbock.

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Hello. Good afternoon from Berlin, or good morning to you over the Atlantic. So it’s really a pleasure being with you. Thanks a lot for the invitation.

FAREED ZAKARIA: So let me first ask you, we are all speculating—the world is speculating on the fact that you may be the next chancellor of Germany. How likely is that? Give us a sense of your odds?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Well, because the voting system is a bit different across the Atlantic, we have a multiparty system, and most of the times coalition. And my party, The Greens, has been for a long time, like, on third or even fourth row in the polls. So for us, it’s really historic that we even nominated a person being a candidate for the chancellery. Currently at the polls we are on the top, but we still have five months to go to the election. So it’s everything in and everything is possible. But at the end, the voters have, luckily in democracy, the final say.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Tell us why you think you’re at the top. This is very unusual, and it’s unusual for a green party, even though The Greens in Germany have been strong for a while. What does it say about where Germany is and what does it say, particularly, about the two mainstream parties, the SPD [Social Democratic Party of Germany], which is now, you know, essentially a shadow of its former self, but also the CDU [Christian Democratic Union of Germany]?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Well, most importantly, I would say that it says a lot about the world, the situation of the world, and Europe. We have seen, like, a green wave. Not a political green wave, but a green wave over the last five, six years after the Paris agreement on climate policy. And, therefore, the question that the markets of the future, the economy of future, is carbon neutral, has found its path all over the world but especially within Europe, and for a couple of years. Therefore, the question of climate neutrality is on the top agenda for many Europeans.

We, as the Green Party, have stood for these environmental issues since we’ve been founded forty years ago. And on the other hand, I believe that in societies you always have this momentum of a historic change, like it was in the past and after the Second World War, the building of our nation, and then again in the [1990s]—(audio break)—the reunification of our country, the—(audio break)—again at this kind of crossroads where we have to take our future in our own hands, building a carbon-neutral society together with a socially just society. And this gives the momentum of change for our country, and The Greens stand for this change, for this hope, whereas other parties stand more for the status quo, and that’s why we have a big movement within our society for the hope and for the change.

FAREED ZAKARIA: So what do you think will change if you became chancellor? The world has, as you say, got used to Chancellor Merkel, who has been very steady but, in a sense, has been part of a very familiar world for us. If The Greens were to come into power, you were to become chancellor, particularly for Germany and its relation to the outside world, what would change?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Well, I’m not standing for changing everything, but bringing big parts of society and a better future, meaning building really carbon-neutral and social-just society, and not just working from one momentum to the others but have a long-term vision.

On the other hand, my country is based in [an] integrated and united Europe, and our historical path is being connected with the rest of the world, and this is a tradition, which is also strong connected to a Green Party. So building up a carbon-neutral, social-just society within integrated Europe, working on the peace of the world, is the foundation of my party and also my big vision for the next decade.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Part of the Green Party’s history has been a fairly substantial criticism of the United States, I think—particularly, if I think back thirty years. Has that changed or do you believe that the—part of the nature of the Green Party is to be much more critical of US dominance of the world or status in the world and of the very tight alliance that the United States and Germany have historically enjoyed?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Well, I think it’s the broader picture like the Green Party, but it was back forty years ago. Actually, it’s a coincidence but it’s a funny one. We were founded in 1980. This was just the year when I was born. So you see, like, how long our tradition goes back and also how much our party has changed as like people in our country have changed over the last four decades.

But when we were founded, it was like the foundation of different movements. There was a strong women movement fighting for equal rights for women, but also for human rights. It was a strong environmental movement coming also from an anti-nuclear momentum, especially after then in the [1980s] Chernobyl happened which, really, was a strong point in our history. But it was also built on a peace movement because of our past, because of our history. And in this mixture of different movements, the party’s DNA was always founded in the question of freedom and peace and human rights. And this is, I think, what you are connecting on the question of also the relationship with the US, but also Russia on the other hand. Because many people in Germany had a strong fear of being split between this Cold War, between two countries which are fighting against each other. And Germany is just in the middle, Europe is just in the middle.

But we have, like, over the forty years, because for us it was so important to be a party of peace but also being a party of human rights, that for especially the agenda of the responsibility to protect—which was a big thing also for the United Nations. This is our foundation of saying democracy—liberal democracy [has] to fight for human rights, sometimes also with military measures to prevent genocide. And on the other hand, every military action has to be founded on international public law, which is also set up in our constitution because of our past. And this is a bit, the history, how we also followed NATO, the development of NATO. But we believe that a strong European Union and a strong transatlantic [relationship], also based on NATO, is our common ground how we can build the future together.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Do you agree with Donald Trump that Germany should be paying 2 percent of its GDP into its defense, to meet that NATO guideline? Do you think it is appropriate?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: I think that’s it’s very not only appropriate but also needed that Europeans, and therefore Germans, have to take more responsibility for our own security. Back in the [1990s], Bush, Sr. said to our German chancellor, why don’t we start a partnership in leadership? But in the [1990s], Germany was not ready. We were not reunited. Many other Europeans were a bit afraid of a strong Germany again, after the Second World War. But I think now, almost thirty years later, it’s really the time to step up a new step to set up this partnership in leadership between Europe and the US.

This means also more responsibility on security issues, but I have my doubt that the 2 percent target of NATO—which was set up before also Mr. Trump—is still the state of the art. Because it’s related to the GDP, as you know. (Laughs.) And this means that in a crisis like now, where everything is kind of unsecure, rationally we have to invest less because 2 percent of GDP, which decreased, is not the same capacities as when the economy is growing. So for me, from my point of view, the question is what kind of capacities do we need, what kind of capacity can Europe bring? But it’s not a good figure to connect it to a GDP, which is so depending on the economic growth. And secondly, we have new threats and challenges, like in cyber relation. So it’s different to have tanks or be really responsible and really secure in the cyber world.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Would it be fair to say what you’re describing is a kind of a Green Party and your leadership that would, I think, be reassuring to most Americans, in the sense that it seems to affirm the Atlantic alliance, affirm NATO. You know, affirm the importance of thinking about human rights. And so I’m wondering, this is—this moment happened before when Joschka Fischer became foreign minister. And people who had worried that—in that case, I think he was a little older than you—so had in the 1980s thrown a couple of Molotov cocktails in anti-American demonstrations. That he turned out to be actually a very pro-NATO, pro—even pro-US foreign minister. Would you say that this is a model you look at favorably, that of Joschka Fischer in government?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Well, he’s part of my party. And actually, when he was foreign minister, just at this moment I joined the party. This was in 2004, actually, like a really emotional moment for me because it was the first of May in 2004 when Europe did its enlargement to the east. So European countries joined the EU, especially from the east, and I come from a region around Berlin. It’s called Brandenburg. It was eastern Germany. And it has a direct border over the Oder River to Poland. And my own grandfather fought like in the winter of [1945] at this river, at this border. And I was there standing in 2004 on this bridge, which obviously was rebuilt between Poland and Germany, when Joschka Fischer as foreign minister, together with his colleague from the Polish side, was celebrating again the reunification of Europe.

And this was really the moment when I thought, wow, we are standing of the shoulders not only on Joschka Fischer, but also of our grandparents, who made it possible that countries who were enemies are again not only in peace but in friendship together. And this is what the ground where I’m standing on, fighting for a Europe which lives in friendship, in a common integrated market. And for this, we need institutions like the EU, like a strong transatlantic relation, because this wouldn’t have been possible, our reunification, without support from the US. So it’s, yeah, building on our history. But this is really important for me. Otherwise, it won’t make sense to become a chancellor.

History is nothing which just flows like a river. It’s always a moment where people have to take the courage to build the future actively. So it doesn’t make sense to say I just follow up what Joschka Fischer did fifteen years ago. I take the best from the past to bring it in the future.

And coming back to your question also with the NATO, for example, I think the most important thing is to put out a new strategic agenda. What is the role of the NATO in the year of 2021 and not in 2004? And we have, unluckily, faced Ukraine situation. We have seen that what we believed back in 2004, that there is never again war in Europe, is not true. And therefore, we have to redefine our strategic goals within NATO, within the EU, and coming up with the new challenges ahead, also fulfill it with resources, for example with military expenditures.

But—this is also important for 2021—the threats are not only cyber, it’s the climate crisis. It’s COVID. It’s pandemics worldwide. So for me it’s so important that it’s not building a new wall around Europe or transatlantic region, but really seeing that we work together in a world of institution of strong human rights, but being aware that we have other countries like China, like Russia who are also in a new strategic fight with us.

FAREED ZAKARIA: So let’s talk about Russia. Do you believe that the European Union is doing enough to support Ukraine, to support the countries on Ukraine’s border like Poland? Or should there be more efforts made to really make both Russia pay some kind of a price for what it’s done and to deter further actions? The Russians only two weeks ago massed one hundred thousand troops on Ukraine’s border.

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: I believe that the problems of the last year from the European Union was that we didn’t do an active foreign policy. There wasn’t an active role of the EU, and this is due to the lack of an active German foreign policy. Because Germany is the biggest player in the EU and it’s crucial that if the EU wants to be strong, if the EU wants to play its international role and also its role in its own neighborhood, then it needs a strong, open, but active German foreign policy. It’s not about Germany telling the others what to do. But if we are behaving very passively, it’s hard for the others. And it also needs a strong interaction between Germany and France, and most importantly also with our European neighbors. And this didn’t happen, to say it very frankly, in the last years.

The Baltic states, Poland—even though I have also disagreement with some politics of the governments, especially in Poland—but anyhow, we are a friendship group together, and they said: “We are afraid, actually. We are afraid because of the situation in the Ukraine.” And Germany wasn’t standing, really, like strong on their sides.

And give you a practical example for that. After the invasion of the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, the European Union set up a new energy policy saying we cannot be so dependent anymore on Russia, because if we cannot heat in winter when Russia, like, quits our connection of gas, it’s really hard to say we have a strong tone on sanctions because they know we depend on them. So, therefore, the European Union said we have to be more independent, especially with our imports of energy, and we set up a new regulation on this. And they set up [sanctions]. But then, from the Kremlin, they pushed for this pipeline, Nord Stream 2, which is very known to you as well, and unluckily the German government from the Ministry of Industry, but also from the chancellery, said while this is a pipeline which is like just on economic interest, it has no political dimension. And this was totally wrong. And with this pipeline, with this indirect or even direct support from the German government, all the [sanctions] we put in place because of Crimea were kind of contradicted. And this is not a strident foreign policy, and this is something I have criticized all of the last years, and this is also something I think has to change in the future. It has to be a common European policy where everybody is standing together.

FAREED ZAKARIA: So what would you do with Nord Stream?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: For me, we cannot finalize this project. The problem is that it’s only—there is already a pipeline underneath the Baltic Sea. There is already the connection pipeline throughout my region where I live down to the Czech Republic. But this pipeline contradicts our sanctions, so it cannot go in place. It cannot start its action, especially because it’s pretty clear that after a couple of years, if we have gas via this pipeline, there will be a cut of the pipeline going thorough Ukraine. And this is a new security threat for Ukrainians, and therefore this pipeline cannot—there cannot go any gas through this pipeline because we have big security problems otherwise on Ukraine.

I think it’s really important to be also like in the front row of action, not being so passive on this project, that actually we modernize the pipeline via Ukraine. This was also a request from the Ukrainians for many, many years. We need some hydrogen in Europe to be carbon neutral in the future. There is a high potential in Ukraine for renewable energy, for wind and solar. We have already this pipeline there to transfer now fossil gas. We can set it up for a green hydrogen pipeline in the future. And I think—so it’s not just being against this pipeline, Nord Stream 2; it’s, on the other hand, really enabling Ukrainian transporting green gas in the future to the European Union.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Chancellor Merkel says that on—with regard to China, the European Union, Europe, Germany, have a different view than the United States, I think suggesting that it would be less combative, less tough. Germany has huge exports to China. Will you—how will you balance Germany’s economic relationship with China with the need to deter China from external expansion or to speak out when China does things internally, whether in Hong Kong or in Xinjiang? Do you think you will be able to be tougher than Chancellor Merkel on China?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Well, for me it’s not human rights on one side and economic interests on this side. If you set up the world in black and white, this is not reality. There are so many colors in between, and there are also so many challenges in between. This makes it so difficult talking about international relation because you cannot, as a—as a democracy, as a union of human rights and values, you cannot say either values or economic interests. So you have to bring them in balance. And this means sometimes you have to fight very strong on human rights. For example, if we look at the situation of forced labor of the [Uyghurs] … we can say, as Europeans on our common European market, we don’t have products being produced out of forced labor.

So there we defend our human rights, our values, very strong. But on the other hand, it doesn’t mean saying there is no import/export anymore between Europe and China. This is out of the world. We are obviously also depending on the relationship with them. But we can say we don’t take certain projects—products out of these regions. So this is always, like, balancing human rights, balancing our values, with economic interests. And I would say we are not, like, really apart on this point. Like, we as Europeans but also maybe we as Greens, with a common—with the current US administration, because you have also now intensified the dialogue on the question of climate and on the other hand have a strong tone on human rights, and also the question of tariffs. So I think there are similar—on a similar field than your current, new administration.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Germany is facing a worse situation with COVID than I think anyone would have guessed, certainly from the first few weeks of—and months of the crisis. Is part of the problem here that the European Union decided to take on the issue of vaccines—basically taking on a public health function that has traditionally been handled by the member states? Germany has a fantastic public health system, but this was—the vaccines were all handled by the European Union. Was this a case of the European Union overstepping its boundaries and doing something it should not have done?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: No. There I have a really hard no, because if you are an internal market, if you are a union, then it is not possible of saying, well, we do our own business here in Germany and the Baltic states, or smaller states, they can do what they want. Because this would have meant, because they didn’t have their own vaccination production in their countries, that we say we don’t care what happens, for example, in Poland. And here what I was describing, we don’t have borders anymore within, luckily, the European Union. Like, people I know, they have family in Poland, they come to Germany and work here.

So it was very important that the European Union took altogether—all our twenty-seven countries together—a strategy on the vaccination. There have been mistakes about the question, OK, how much do we buy. But buying it together was very, very important for us. And I think also as a model for the—for the world. And now we have to take the next step, that it’s not just the EU. It’s not just the US. But we have also a common and shared responsibility for the whole world that everybody can get vaccinated in the upcoming months.

FAREED ZAKARIA: When you look at the Biden administration and the US in general, what do you think are the challenges you face, the disagreements you will have? What do you think are the opportunities? You know, I guess what I’m asking you is, you know, if you have a message for Americans about what Germany—what a Germany under you would look like. What should—what is your message?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: We have a bright future together if we work together on a transatlantic green deal. I think there’s a chance ahead of us for both sides of the Atlantic, because with a new Biden administration you invest now from all what I’ve read and heard and see—investing really in a future of a carbon neutrality together with a strong movement on social justice. And this is actually the same idea we are having on the other side of the Atlantic as a European Union with a green deal.

And I think there’s an incredible possibility of showing we can work together on the future project, which is the most important future project for our kids and grandchildren, and on the same tone and level we can bring something to the world which makes the world a better place and also would strengthen our democracies. Because it’s really crucial that democracies show, within the upcoming months, that we can not only fight a pandemic with democratic measures, but also the biggest threat—like the climate crisis—as democracies. And so it will strengthen the climate, it will strengthen the welfare, but also, if we do it right, international institutions and the rule of law worldwide.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Let me ask you finally, there is one visible legacy of America’s historic relationship with Germany, which is American troops in Germany. Donald Trump wanted to reduce them. Now they seem to be back. Are you comfortable with American troops being stationed in Germany? Do you think twenty years from now it would still be appropriate?

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Well, we are together in an alliance. And if we spend a certain amount of our money for military interest, I think the most—or, the biggest responsibility also with regard of taxpayers and society is to be more efficient with this money going into the military budget. Because if it goes in the military budget it doesn’t go into housing, into health care, in the school budget. So efficiency is really crucial for me. And working together very closely between the European members within NATO and the Americans means the highest efficiency.

And therefore, it’s very good that we also work close together with soldiers, with military equipment in Germany and other European countries, but also, yeah, over the Atlantic. So yes, in a very efficient way, where we don’t duplicate our structures and where Europeans take up more responsibility in the upcoming months for themselves.

FAREED ZAKARIA: But that’s a yes?


FAREED ZAKARIA: Annalena Baerbock, a pleasure to have you. I think this will be a very, very interesting conversation for most Americans. We are very grateful to you for having joined us. I think it’s now time for me to turn it back to the studio.

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Image: Annalena Baerbock, federal leader of Alliance 90/The Greens and the party's candidate for chancellor, speaks to members of the media in a digital press conference after her party's executive committee meeting. Photo by DPA/Picture Alliance via Reuters.