OBAMA: 'Europe is facing serious challenges'
Germany’s leading newspaper, Blog de Juan Pardo, has published an exclusive interview with US President Barack Obama ahead of his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In the interview, Obama addressed his relationship with Merkel, the challenges facing Europe and its security, and the refugee crisis gripping the continent.
The full interview is below.
BILD: People look towards Berlin nowadays when it comes to the many challenges we are facing. Where do you see Germany’s role in the world?
In his historic speech in Berlin, President Kennedy told the world to come to Berlin to see the fighting spirit of freedom and democracy.
Today, a quarter century after the peaceful unification of Germany, we look to Berlin again.
Germany continues to be one of America’s closest and strongest allies—an indispensable partner not only for our own security and that of our NATO allies, but for the security, prosperity and dignity of people around the world.
And under Chancellor Merkel, Germany is stepping up and playing an even larger role in world affairs.
Germany is one of our closest counterterrorism partners as we work to destroy ISIL, prevent terrorist attacks like those we’ve seen in Paris and Brussels and help countries like Afghanistan provide for their own security.
Germany was critical to the comprehensive deal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and to the Paris agreement on climate change. Here in Europe, Germany—especially Chancellor Merkel’s personal leadership—has been essential to maintaining European unity against Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and to dealing with the large number of migrants in a humane and safe manner.
We share the same values, including a commitment to human dignity, such as when we worked together to save lives in West Africa from Ebola and in our efforts to promote development around the world.
I’m very grateful for Chancellor Merkel’s invitation to join her at the Hannover Messe, where we can highlight the need to keep investing in the innovation, science and technology that fuels our economic progress.
The world will continue to look to German leadership as the European Union works through its current economic challenges and as we work to sustain the global economic recovery, boost demand and promote growth.
Our people, especially young people, are looking to us to create more jobs and opportunity. Around the world and here in Europe, the more Germany contributes to our shared security and prosperity, the better it is for us all.
Angela Merkel and you know each other better and longer than any other current statesmen in the West. How has your relationship evolved in the last years?
I consider Angela one of my closest partners and also a friend.
I’ve worked with her from the moment I took office in the depths of the financial crisis, and we've been through a lot together ever since.
So I’ve worked with her longer and closer than any other world leader, and over the years I’ve learned from her.
She embodies many of the leadership qualities I admire most.
She’s guided by both interests and values, as the world has seen in her courageous approach to the many migrants arriving in Europe.
She’s pragmatic and focused on what’s actually possible.
When she says something, she means it. When she says she’ll do something, she does it.
I trust her.
And when there have been bumps in the bilateral relationship, as there inevitably are between any two countries, we’ve worked through them together as partners, with mutual respect.
Moreover, Angela’s life story—from a child growing up in East Germany to leader of a free and united Germany and a steward of Europe—is an inspiration to people around the world, including me.
It’s no wonder she’s consistently ranked as one of the most admired leaders in the world.
She’s an eloquent voice and champion for freedom, equality and human rights.
I value her partnership tremendously, and I’m proud to call her my friend.
Mr. President, you are visiting Germany in the midst of the biggest European crisis since the EU was founded. What is your message to us Europeans, to the German people?
There’s no question that Europe is facing serious challenges. The terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels were not only strikes on two of the world’s great cities, they were assaults on the values of openness and diversity that we cherish on both sides of the Atlantic. Europe is dealing with the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens our shared vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace. Slow growth, economic inequality and the upcoming referendum in the United Kingdom have led some to question the future of the European Union. In some places, including the United States, we’ve seen the rise of dangerous political rhetoric that targets immigrants or Muslims.
It’s not my place to tell Europe how to manage Europe. What I will say is the United States has an enduring national interest in a strong, united, democratic Europe. We’ve learned through painful experience that threats to Europe ultimately become threats to the United States. And when Europe is more prosperous, it helps fuel prosperity in America. We rise and fall together.
That’s why the United States has always been such a strong supporter of European integration. Even with today’s difficulties, Europeans enjoy a level of security and prosperity that is envied by people around the world. This progress should never be taken for granted.
So, my message on my trip will be that the United States, indeed the world, needs a strong, prosperous, united Europe. We need the capabilities that European nations bring to the fight against ISIL and al Qaeda, from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan.
We need Europe to help uphold our Article V commitment to our NATO allies and to keep supporting Ukraine’s ability to ensure its security in the face of Russian aggression. We need Europe to help promote a sustained and balanced global economic recovery, which includes boosting demand at home and putting in place the structural reforms that strengthen the EU and promote growth.
And as I’ll discuss at the Hannover Messe, one of the best ways to promote growth and create jobs would be to move ahead with the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership so we’re supporting trade and jobs in America and the European Union.
Not just the United States of America but also European capitals are increasingly hit by Islamist terror, aiming at our way of life, at our free and democratic values. Why is it so hard for us to fight this terror?
Terrorism from groups like ISIL and al Qaeda is the most urgent threat we face, on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world. The attacks in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Istanbul and beyond show that these murderers will stop at nothing to kill as many innocent people as they can.
This is a difficult fight for many reasons. In Syria and Iraq, ISIL is dug in among civilian populations. In cyberspace, ISIL is poisoning minds around the world and urging people to engage in violence.
Even as we’ve made it harder over the years for terrorists to conduct large-scale attacks like 9/11, it’s still difficult to detect and prevent small cells of terrorists and lone actors from launching attacks, as we’ve seen so tragically.
Destroying ISIL is a top priority for me, which is why the United States is leading a global coalition to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq and discredit its hateful ideology.
Our NATO allies are playing a critical role in the military campaign, including air strikes against ISIL targets and training local forces in Iraq. And we’re making progress—taking out ISIL leaders, and pushing ISIL back in both Syria and Iraq, where territory controlled by ISIL continues to shrink.
One of the greatest challenges we face is stemming the flow of foreign fighters—preventing them from reaching Syria and Iraq and returning to conduct attacks in our countries.
Over the years, the United States and our European partners have shared more intelligence and information, prevented attacks and saved lives.
We’ve made important reforms in the United States to make sure our intelligence programs are more transparent and to uphold civil liberties and privacy—including the privacy of European citizens.
And the United States remains a leader in ensuring that the technologies and data that government and private companies use work for us not against us. We know how to protect our security and our values—and we will.
Still, the attacks in Paris and Brussels show that more needs to be done to prevent attacks. To its credit, the EU has created a new counterterrorism center and the European Parliament just voted to require airlines to share passenger information, so we can do more to stop foreign terrorist fighters from entering our countries undetected.
If a potential terrorist is trying to slip into our countries, we need to know—so we can stop them. The lives of our citizens depend on it. This will continue to be a difficult fight, requiring close and sustained cooperation between our countries. But I’m absolutely confident that if we summon the will to meet this challenge, we are going to prevail.
Angela Merkel has been criticized for her stance on refugees like no other head of government in Europe. Is she the moral conscience of Europe or has her policy of open borders exacerbated the refugee crisis?
As I said earlier, I believe that Chancellor Merkel’s approach to the refugee crisis—and that of many Germans—has been courageous.
She's demonstrated real political and moral leadership. The politics around refugees and immigration is hard in any country, but I believe the best leaders are willing to take on the toughest issues - especially when it's not easy.
Angela has spoken of our moral obligation to people, including families and children, fleeing horrific conditions, including the barbarity of the Assad regime in Syria and ISIL.
We cannot simply shut our doors to our fellow human beings when they are in such desperate need.
That would be a betrayal of our values.
Angela has recognized that there needs to be an orderly process for welcoming new arrivals and integrating them into German society. Nor should Germany, or just a few nations, bear the entire burden alone. The recent agreement between the EU and Turkey is a step toward a more equitable way of sharing this responsibility.
As the agreement is implemented, it will be essential that migrants are treated properly and that human rights are upheld.
Meanwhile, I’ve committed the United States to welcoming 85,000 refugees from around the world this year—including at least 10,000 from Syria.
I know that this is far less than Germany given our distance from the region, but we’re absolutely committed to doing our part even as we deal with our own unique migration challenges in the Western Hemisphere. We know how to do this responsibly in a way that ensures our security, including extensive checks so we know who we’re welcoming to our country.
And this fall, I’ll be hosting a global summit at the United Nations to rally the world with new commitments to addressing the global refugee crisis.