The holiday in South Tyrol is over. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) is back in Berlin, international relations have no summer break. In addition, the hot phase of the federal election campaign has begun. During the interview in Maas’s office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a good-humoured minister can be seen – who also got an insight into his plans for the …
The holiday in South Tyrol is over. Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) is back in Berlin, international relations have no summer break. In addition, the hot phase of the federal election campaign has begun. During the interview in Maas’s office at Foreign Affairs, you will see a good-humoured minister – who also provides insight into his plans for the time after the elections. Thorsten Knuf and Stefan Kegel spoke to him.
Free press: Mr Maas, you have been in office for three and a half years now. Is it deceptive, or has the world gotten more restless since then?
Heiko Maas: That’s not wrong at all, it is. My predecessor Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, “The world is falling apart.”
The events are taking place in Afghanistan. According to US intelligence, the capital Kabul could soon fall into Taliban hands, just weeks after the withdrawal of Western troops. Was the effort in vain?
No, I do not think so. A lot has changed in Afghanistan in those 20 years. From increased median income to increased overall life expectancy and reduced infant mortality to girls being able to attend school – progress has been made. They need to be politically anchored. That is why we are doing everything we can to strengthen the peace process. If it doesn’t work out, these advances can fade quickly.
What influence does the West have left to stabilize the situation?
Afghanistan has no future without financial support from the West. We contribute 430 million euros annually. But our help depends on whether there is a lasting peace and whether the achievements of the past 20 years are entrenched. If the Taliban establish a caliphate, they will disengage internationally, there will be no diplomatic recognition for such a state, and international aid programs would be over. You have to make that very clear to them.
Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has just halted the deportation of criminals to Afghanistan. Will this be permanent given the growing power of the Taliban?
That depends on local developments. The Afghan government has asked us to agree on a moratorium on return until the end of October. Now is the time, then we’ll see. The new federal government will then have to decide, taking into account the situation, whether or not return flights of serious criminals can be resumed or not.
Is the Minister of the Interior’s change of mind also based on a new valuation of your home?
Our latest management report from the end of May is currently being updated. And he will confirm that the situation in the country is very serious. Of course, we have already discussed this in the federal government in recent days.
There are different schools of thought in your party when it comes to foreign policy. This ties in with Russia, but also in the dispute about the purchase of armed drones. Which direction will prevail?
From the experience of recent years, I can say that the expectations placed on Germany from the outside are extremely high. When it comes to respecting values and international law, Germany must take responsibility in Europe and in the United Nations. We are so valued because we rely not only on military means, but on a network approach. Anyone who wants German engagement will always buy diplomatic and political engagement with it. I do not know of any military conflict that would have been pacified in the long term without a political solution.
Your first term is almost over. What should people and the history books associate with these three and a half years of Heiko Maas as Minister of Foreign Affairs?
The time was not easy internationally. First we had Donald Trump in the White House, then came the coronavirus. I have based my policy on this realization: our major challenges such as globalization, digitization, climate change, migration and also the pandemic have one thing in common: borders no longer matter, we need more international cooperation. We founded the Alliance for Multilateralism, to which more than 70 countries have now joined. We fought for that under difficult circumstances.
After the general election, a government with a different composition is expected to take power. Which zodiac sign would you prefer?
There will be no more grand coalition. Having had such coalitions three times in the last four parliamentary terms, I think enough is enough.
Did you think red-red-green was responsible?
Because of the foreign policy ideas of the Die Linke party, I can hardly imagine such an alliance. But that’s up to the voters to decide. And I am convinced that Germany can also be governed by a coalition of three parties. The political landscape is changing. An automatism that always gives the strongest party to the chancellor does not exist and has never existed.
Want to put your foreign policy legacy in the hands of a green foreign minister?
I feel too young to worry about my inheritance.
So you want to remain Minister of Foreign Affairs yourself?
It is an extremely interesting, beautiful position in which you learn a lot. About the world and about Germany, but also about how Germany is seen in the world – namely much better than Germany is sometimes spoken of in Germany.
So are you ready?
I’m participating again for the Bundestag. And since I do not want to leave anything behind, I am glad that the voters are once again entrusting me with a responsible task.
To erson Heiko Maas
The SPD politician is from Saarlouis. After high school, military service and a year working at the Ford plant, he studied law and passed his second state exam in 1996. He joined the SPD as a student and entered the Saarland state parliament in 1994. In 1999 he became party leader and in 2001 a member of the SPD party board. In 2012, he became Minister of Economic Affairs in the Saarland. In 2013 he moved to Berlin as Federal Minister of Justice. He was elected a member of the Bundestag in 2017 and appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2018. Maas is Catholic. He is divorced and has two sons with his ex-wife
Taliban advance further – Germans must leave the country
In Afghanistan, the militant Islamist Taliban are getting dangerously close to their capture of the capital Kabul: Thursday they captured the provincial capital of Gasni in the southeast of the country, just 150 kilometers away. This was confirmed by three provincial councils. In this way, the Islamists have brought under their control the 10th of a total of 34 provincial capitals in less than a week.
The city of Gasni has about 180,000 inhabitants. It is located on the major ring road that connects the largest cities in the country. Due to its proximity to Kabul, the Taliban had attempted to take it several times. They had two police zones in the city since mid-July. Two provincial councils accused the governor of the province of the same name. He had made a secret agreement with the Taliban and practically surrendered the city to the Islamists. The governor left Gasni City in the direction of Kabul, it was said that morning. Moments later, the Interior Ministry announced that the governor and some of his associates had been arrested en route.
The Foreign Ministry on Thursday called on German citizens to leave Afghanistan quickly. Against the background of the deteriorating security situation throughout the national territory, the embassy in Kabul urgently advises all German citizens to leave the country quickly by scheduled flight. The US, Britain and other countries have also been calling on their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible in recent weeks.
Since the decision in mid-April to withdraw international troops from Afghanistan, the Taliban have conquered large parts of the country. The Bundeswehr withdrew from the country at the end of June.