Joschka Fischer: Europe needs an avant-garde

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The Georgian crisis and the current financial crisis show that the EU needs an avant-garde capable of reacting because the alternative would be “to do nothing,” former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer told EURACTIV in an interview.

Joschka Fischer was a leading figure of the German Green party and vice chancellor and foreign minister in the government of Gerhard Schroeder from 1998 to 2005. According to polls, he was the most popular politician in Germany for most of that period. 

How would you assess EU-relations following the Georgia crisis? 

First of all, I think it was a terrible mistake to offer Russia such an opportunity to respond to an irresponsible act by Georgia. Secondly, it was ill-conceived to talk about NATO enlargement in the case of Georgia, knowing that this is not a situation in which NATO can deliver. 

You mean it was a mistake to propose a Membership Action Plan to Georgia at the NATO summit in Bucharest last April? 

Yes, I think it was ill conceived. 

But this was a US-favoured project and large EU countries such as Germany and France were against it. Do you think that the next US administration will be better advised on similar strategic issues? 

I don’t know. But I would like to stress that following this policy, Russia was offered a golden opportunity on a silver plate. Thanks God that the policy in Russia was also very short-sighted by attacking Georgia proper. The reaction of China, of the Central Asians, even of Armenia and Belarus made it clear that Russia is isolated. 

So I think that all sides should take a step back and try to find solutions on the negotiating table. What we cannot accept is Russia using its military power to suppress smaller neighbours. This is a policy of the past. But I think there is no military option to bring the territories of Georgia back. The only way is the negotiations. 

Did Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili make a mistake by attacking South Ossetia? 

I think he made a terrible mistake, yes. 

This does not make it easier for the EU to maintain relations with him. What do you think? 

You have to have relations with those who are in charge. I was never in favour of the regime change policy in the way the American administration pursued it. And I think it would be very foolish if there was a regime change policy now, developed in Moscow. 

A donors’ conference for Georgia will take place in Brussels on 22 October. Russia may see it as an attempt to strengthen Saakashvili. How would you comment? 

We cannot let Georgia down. We should strengthen our ties and help the country to reconstruct. But for the political solution, it has to be found at the negotiation table. 

How would you assess the work of French President Nicolas Sarkozy over the Georgia crisis? 

He did an excellent job. 

Some said the EU institutions were not as visible as they should have been, with Javier Solana in particular not very prominent? 

This was a job for the level of the Presidency of the European Union. Solana contributed a lot to that. But the French did a terrific job. 

What are your expectations for the future of EU external action? 

I think we need an avant-garde to deepen integration. We are unable to move together because of some misperceptions by our British friends. We need an avant-garde, such as the Eurogroup, to deal with challenges such as the developments in Georgia and the current financial crisis. Otherwise we will be sitting, doing nothing, waiting for the Irish miracle. 

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