Three Questions with Cem Özdemir, Member of the German Bundestag and the Former Leader of the Green Party
GMF Transatlantic Fellow Peter Sparding sat down with Cem Özdemir, member of the German Bundestag and the former leader of the Green Party, to get his take on the main policy challenges in Germany and Europe ahead of the European Parliament elections, the U.S.-German relationship under President Trump, and what's next for Germany's coalition.
Peter Sparding: Given the changing political landscape in Germany and the difficulty after the elections in 2017 informing the current government, from your point of view what are the potential coalitions going forward? Is there a risk that Germany could become blocked and ungovernable?
Cem Özdemir: I don't think so. I don't hope so. But if you would have asked me some years ago, I would have never thought it could take so long to form a government in Germany and that one of the founding parties of this country shies away from building a government as the Liberals did. As we're living in different times it's hard to predict anything, but I would say that both powers in the grand coalition— the Christian Democratic side and the Social Democrats—want to stay in power and want to build this coalition until the end of this term. But a lot depends on the next upcoming state elections and the European Parliament election next month.
Peter Sparding: The European agenda seems dominated by Brexit right now. Are you worried that there is a situation where all of the other important issues are falling by the wayside? For example, it seems the German-French engine is stuttering a bit when it comes to eurozone reform and so on. Do you think it can be restarted?
Cem Özdemir: Well, it's not only the German-French engine. It is also the situation that China creates, the influence that it plays in Europe on our economy and the effort to split Europe into those who are China-friendly and those who care more about human rights. It is the role that President Vladimir Putin plays within the European Union, strengthening authoritarian parties, right-wing extremist movements, and the involvement in election outcomes. And, of course, the fight against climate change. All that, unfortunately, is completely overshadowed by the Brexit debate. I would have loved to see the Brits deciding to remain and I still hope for a reversal of the decision. But it's not in my hands. The only thing I wish for now is a clear decision and then “let's stay friends.” Of course, my preference is that the Brits would hold a second referendum and then decide with a large majority to remain. But as long as that's not the case, it's best to stay friends.
Peter Sparding: Since we are at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, I have to ask about the transatlantic relationship. We are currently in a very difficult phase in transatlantic relations and especially in the U.S.-German relationship. A lot of that has to do with President Donald Trump, who seems to be picking a lot on the EU and on Germany in particular. But some of the issues also seem more structural; for example, the criticism of Germany for its defense spending or on trade issues. Do you feel that the current rift in transatlantic relations can be repaired and can the long-term issues be resolved? Or are you worried that there is a long-term effect of the current downturn?
Cem Özdemir: What we see right now is that people really matter. I mean, look at all the enthusiasm that Barack Obama had created in Germany and compare that with the current situation with Donald Trump: not only he is dividing his own country, but he is also dividing the West and weakening us. This is maybe the strongest success that Putin ever had in his presidency—that Trump is now the so-called leader of the Western world. Having said that, I believe we should not waste that time but use it as much as possible. That is, we should work together on all possible fields and bypass the U.S. national government as much as it's possible. One good example is that of the governor of my home state, Baden-Württemberg, who together with Jerry Brown, the governor of California, signed that memorandum of understanding in the fight against climate change. Another one is that cities work together and try to learn from each other. The extremely important work that the German Marshall Fund, together with all the other transatlantic institutions, is doing is what matters even more than ever. We should not just do nothing and hope that other, different times will come. We have to make sure that we are prepared for a new administration and use the time as much as possible to do everything that both our sides, the Europeans and the Germans, and the United States are working as well together as is possible in all those fields where it's possible.