Europe's world view: German, EU envoys call for more multilateralism amid coronavirus crisis

Reported By: Sidhant Sibal WION
New Delhi, Delhi, India Published: Jul 01, 2020, 07.05 PM(IST)

German and EU envoys Photograph:( WION )

Story highlights

Speaking exclusively to our Principal Diplomatic Correspondent, Sidhant Sibal, German envoy on his country's EU presidency for next six months said, "COVID will be number one priority," while EU Envoy Ugo expressed confidence on council's presidency under Berlin.

The German envoy to India Walter Lindner and EU envoy to India Ugo Astuto have called for more multilateralism and cooperation in the face of the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the entire planet, and climate change. 

Speaking exclusively to our Principal Diplomatic Correspondent, Sidhant Sibal, German envoy on his country's EU presidency for next six months said, "COVID will be number one priority," while EU Envoy Ugo expressed confidence on council's presidency under Berlin.

Germany is the chair of UNSC for this month.

The envoys also spoke on China. The German envoy welcomed the India-China talks while EU envoy said the focus is to increase cooperation with India.

EXCERPTS FROM THE INTERVIEW --

Wion: What are the key focus areas of Germany as Presidency of the Council of the European Union and as the chair of UNSC for this month?

Walter Lindner: Today, we take over the presidency at the United Nations Security Council and the six-month-long presidency at the European Council. Both are different task, it shows we have an additional responsibility. You are right. The world is in a deep crisis. Some countries have got through, others are still in it -- like US, India, Brazil and other. We all are impacted, all 192 countries are impacted. In the Security Council, as the French Presidency, last month did it -- COVID pandemic as a threat to international peace.

Climate change is also a threat to international peace, so both topics should be dealt with the security council and of course. On the EU presidency, we had prepared an ambitious plan for a six-month plan, now things are different because now everything is dominated by it, this will be the number one priority.

How is the EU's ability to get through the crisis? How do we get rid of the virus? How do we get the vaccine? Or an international response? How do we exit the crisis? How do we face economic repercussion? How do deal with international impact? The restart of the economy should be done in a green and social way. The second topic will be how relations will be the UK as they have left the EU. We have a good chancellor who has 15-16 years of experience so we expect a succesful presidency. 

Wion: How do you see the German Presidency of the council, given Germany along with France are considered the two wheels of Europe?

Ugo Astuto: EU is going through a defining moment. We have been confronted with this unprecedented challenge with COVID crisis. What we get from European citizens is a clear wish of a stronger and more resilient Europe. The EU has given a very ambitious plan to meet the expectations. In order to get stronger on the crisis, the European Union must be equipped with a recovery plan commensurate with needs. This is exactly what we are doing now. The commission has presented a proposal of 750 billion euro recovery institutions, both grants and loans. 

These are on top of broader 2.5 trillion recovery plan for Europe, meant to steer Europe to more sustainable and digital future. The investments are not only meant to preserve the achievements of the last 70 years but to ensure the union is a climate-neutral and digital and socially responsible and strong global player. European green deal and digital transformation is the main focus. This is underpinned by the concept of EU member states. We want to preserve an environment that is fit for the future generation. I'm sure in the six months of presidency of Germany, we will see significant advances.

Wion: How do u see collaboration between, India, Germany and EU on COVID crisis?

Walter Lindner:  If you go back to March, when the lockdown started, we have begun repatriation activities and we have repatriated five thousand Germans and other nationalities like Italian, French, Spaniards. So in all these, we needed close cooperation with the authorities, with the ministry and this was excellent cooperation. Until now, under lockdown conditions, evacuations needed close and trustful cooperation and we have it. it was a very good example of how it works, and it works also the other way when you do now your repatriation programs from European countries to India. So this was a very good start already showed a stable relationship. Now on the help side, of course also, we had a lot of bilateral contacts between European countries and India on masks, on products for medical supplies. All the contracts you to assign before coronavirus are implemented by both sides. I think it's also important that we showed some solidarity in this time of need. Afterwards now when we have a second phase or third phase now, I think there's a lot of help also pouring in from Germany. For example, we have half a billion euro products and credits for you know -- reliefs and hospitals and feeding the poor and I'm sure many other countries in the European Union also do this. I have seen from several countries they are doing similar conflicts. So I think this is also a very active show of solidarity which we do and in the future looking, I think we also draw same conclusions meaning, you have to work more on the multilateral side. We have to do more on the vaccine research together, research institutions. So this is this will be a booming sector, I guess in the future and field of much more cooperation, of possibilities in the future

Wion: We have heard the word green recovery a lot from the European Union. So if you can shed some light on this, what is the concept all about how the European Union is taking a lead on it? 

Ugo Astuto: Yes. Well, the fact is containing the virus and saving lives has been our immediate focus obviously, rightly so. But we should always remember that climate change, biodiversity loss and the unsustainable use of resources and pollution, these remain existential challenges that need to be factored. If anything, COVID has given more evidence, that we need to tackle to address the challenges and full implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development of the Paris climate agreement and the biodiversity goals remain crucial if you want to better equip the world for future systemic shock such as the one we are experiencing now. Now the European Union most COVID Recovery strategy is basically a transition to a sustainable, socially just and resilient and climate-neutral future. We believe there is no contradiction between economic growth and the protection of the environment. Actually, in a way it is an opportunity must see the massive investment that is needed as in elsewhere. 

We need to get it right -- right from the start. We want to design a strategy which is a once-in-a-generation opportunity not just to build back but to build better, to reshape our economy and to invest in a green economy for the 21st century. Not just to not just in the carbon economy, which was typical of the past century. We are committed to digital resilient and socially just recovery and have put in place a number of instruments. Every Euro of investment is supposed to accelerate this green and digital transition and make it fairer and more resilient society just to make a few examples. There are some areas where you can take action and benefit. Energy, with emphasis on renewables and on clean hydrogen and in all these we will make sure Europe is the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. 

We want to ensure that growth can go together with the sustainable use of resources. We want a Greener Future for the Next Generation.

Wion: As Germany heads the United Nations Security Council, one grouping to which all the countries, UNSC has been found missing and can't even come out with a statement.

Walter Lindner: Whoever has worked at the UN, they know everything works on consensus, especially in the Security Council. You have veto powers and you have complex discussions between different countries with blocks of interests. So this is not the easiest deal but Germany is a strong, strong supporter of the United Nations. So is India. UN might be lot of flaws, it is not perfect; sometimes we lose our patience but there is nothing better. So we have to support this one which we have. We are strong supporters of everything dealing with multilateralism. We have this special initiative to support the multilateralism which means everything has to be done together. There's no country which is big enough. Neither India nor China nor Russia nor the US is big enough to solve any challenges of the future be it climate change, be it poverty, be it terrorism many other things. Everything has to be done in cooperation with other countries. This has been shown by this pandemic now, that's why we think we have to support it. 

I think there is tomorrow open debate in the Security Council on this special topic but things take a while in the UN. And we congratulate India to be elected as the non-permanent member for the UNSC from January. When we will leave the security council for this period in December, India will take forwards and we both strong supporters that the Security Council has to be reformed. It's not representing anything which has to do with 2020 is representing the reality of 1948. And this has to change. Otherwise, the UN loses credibility as such to another thing where we have a lot of common ground with India.

Wion: But do you see India and Germany becoming part of the UNSC? Some UNSC permanent members won't be keen.

Walter Lindner: We are working on this at the UN. Many countries at the UN working on this for 30 years. Working groups on reforming the security council. This is a very complex issue and anyone who has worked in New York, I've worked there knows how complex it is. We think overwhelming countries want changing the membership because you can't understand who no India with 1.4 billion people, this is simply not acceptable. Why is there no African country? Why is there no Latin American country? This is in this is impossible to grasp. It has to change. If we don't change, we risk the credibility of the UN system and that is why we work slowly, slowly in G4 but also in other groupings to change this and India will continue this now when they are in the security council. The time is ripe to do this.

Wion: How are India and EU coming together on the crisis?

Ugo Astuto: EU and India share the same values of democracies and pluralism; we are an open society. We strongly believe in multilateralism, in a cooperative approach to international relations -- this is a commonality which is particularly relevant now. A global crisis requires a collective response. EU and India share priorities that will be central when we shape the world's agenda in a post covid world.

We need to fight climate change; we need to make the world greener and sustainable. We both focus on the digital future and need to build resilience in our economies and in our health system and we want to make access to vaccines equitable and universal. In fostering all these objectives, we want to uphold our values, the system of governance grounded in multilateralism. I think lot of ground where the European Union and India can work together and do work together. In the past few years, we have developed cooperative ventures like EU India clean energy and climate partnership, India and EU water partnership, a lot is ongoing and confidence and the next India EU summit will increase the cooperation amidst new challenges. 

Wion: How has the situation in Europe been? Reports suggest Americans aren't allowed.

Ugo Astuto: The situation in Europe has progressively improved; you can see that clearly from the figures but we can't lower our guard. The reaction of the European Union is based on scientific evidence. We are in close coordination with our international partners.  

Wion: How do you see relations with China?

Walter Lindner: Every fifth person on the planet is Chinese and the sixth person on the planet is Indian. Which means, it shows you the dimensions of these two giants. Call them dragon and elephant, it shows the size. The importance, that is why its not something that can be taken light-hearted if there are tensions, violent tensions as we have seen.  For us, especially in Germany, we have lived for 40 years on the verge of the cold war staring at soldiers on the other side and not knowing what will be the next threat. The precious steps to be done to ease tensions. So when we see tensions arising which is very worrisome--not only these are most populated countries but also nuclear states. So any tensions there is a worry for anyone. So that is why we support every step that can be done to ease the tensions. We are happy to know talks going on between India and China to de-escalate the situation and that is how to go about and this is how we see it otherwise. We want to ease of tensions and not increasing.

Wion: How do you see EU China ties?

Ugo Astuto: What I can say is that ties between EU and China are multifaceted and strategically important but also challenging. China at the same time is a competitor, partners and a systemic rival. Let me quote the president of the council said at the end of the last EU China summit that had taken place -- engaging and cooperating with China is both an opportunity and a necessity but at the same time we have to recognise we don't share the same values and political system or approach to multilateralism. So we will engage in a clear, confident way, robustly defend EU interest and standing firm on our values. Overall, EU stance has become more realistic and it is important we strengthen EU cooperation with other major Asian partners such as India, notably India but also Japan, and South Korea.

Wion: How has 2020 changed the world?

Ugo Astuto: If one thing crisis has told us, it is that pandemic spares no one. It stops at no border, it recognises no difference. Dealing with this requires multilateralism and cooperation and solidarity. We need to work together to deal with the challenges of the epidemic and it aftermath including economic impact. Recovery should be green. We need multilateralism more than ever.  

Walter Lindner: As understandable, after COVID, it is to think local, to think national, to renationalise things and produce things being less depended on others. Hope the tendency goes the other way. We have seen through the crisis that we can only survive if we work together--in the health system in solidarity, in multilateral rules. If we draw lessons, more multilateralism and when we start rebuilding, let us remember -- how nice is to have clean air. The planet which we have is one if we mess it up, it is our fault. We have to give something to our children and it is only when we learn some lessons from the crisis. 

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