With Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (56 years, Völklingen) gives the permanent feeling of being in front of a policy subjected to a period of tests. AKK, as she is known in Berlin, is the president of the German center-right party, but above all, the policy called to succeed Angela Merkel in the chancellery after 13 years. Therefore, the words of the new head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and potential chancellor of the first European economy are scrutinized these days to the millimeter throughout Europe.
In his office at the headquarters of the CDU in Berlin, Kramp-Karrenbauer responds on Tuesday to the questions of EL PAÍS and four other European media for an hour. He does it with an almost athletic efficiency. One question, another, another. Respond bluntly, but with considerable caution. Although it leaves aside any hint of gray when asked by the far right: "There can be no cooperation with right-wing populists." His controversial proposal to suppress the seat of the Eurocámara of Strasbourg, the migratory policy of the EU, the dance of chairs in Brussels or his possible ascent to the chancellery are some of the great topics that he threshes in his office. There, a crucifix crowns the entrance door to the office of this Catholic policy and coming from the Saarland, a small state in southern Germany.
Question. How worried are you about the advance of right-wing populism in the European elections?
Answer. I am determined to do everything in my power to ensure that the election results are solid from the center. For the EPP (European People's Party) and for the CDU / CSU (the Bavarian brother party) it is important to ensure that we have a Parliament that has more pro-European forces than anti-European forces.
P. Do you conceive a cooperation of the European center right with the populists? In Spain, the conservatives have relied on the far right in Andalusia. Do you think it's a good idea?
R. I reject a cooperation with AfD (Alternative for Germany). I also reject it in the PPE, in the same way that our candidate, Manfred Weber, does it. I think you can see with the electoral results in Spain how difficult it is for a center conservative party to carry out a campaign when it is permanently under suspicion of being willing to cooperate with right-wing populists. That divides the party and in my opinion, observed from a distance, this is one of the reasons for the electoral result in Spain.
"A stronger EU also resides in a better cooperation between States"
P. Excludes cooperation with AfD. Does this also apply to the regional elections in autumn in Germany, where the extreme right is expected to become a decisive force?
R. Clearly. We passed a resolution of the party conference in Hamburg which states that there can be no cooperation with right-wing populists. This decision is valid and I am deeply convinced of it personally. It is clear: there is no collaboration.
P. Should the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, be expelled from the EPP?
R. I see Viktor Orbán on his way out of the EPP. We have suspended your membership. It has no influence on our policy at this time in the PPE. We have created a group that will evaluate to what extent Fidesz continues to share the common values and principles that we as PPE adopted together in Helsinki. Everything I have heard from him since then is rather a sign that he is questioning those values. I think he has already made the decision for himself, but the trial period is still ongoing.
P. Faced with the candidacy of Weber there is intense speculation about alternative candidates such as Michel Barnier or Margarethe Vestager. Would they be good presidents of the Commission?
R. The CDU and I personally are firmly committed to the concept of Spitzenkandidat (main candidate). It is a democratic achievement, because it means that citizens can choose their maximum representatives. Only someone who has been Spitzenkandidat should lead the Commission. The EPP clearly opted for Weber and not for Barnier or another candidate.
P. His response to Emmanuel Macron's European proposal was widely criticized because you did not seem to share French Euro-enthusiasm. Do you want a smaller Europe, as advocated, for example, by Austria?
R. My enthusiasm for Europe is very great, but I think that enthusiasm for Europe does not correspond to how many competitions and how many institutions Europe has to have. We need a stronger Europe that acts more together, but above all on decisive issues such as security, defense and innovation. It is where citizens say in the polls that Europe must act together. Also in innovation and how to respond to climate change. It makes sense to talk about common competences, but I believe that a stronger Europe can also reside in better cooperation between States.
"The refugee crisis happened because Europe
It did not work "
P. Do you defend a new EU Treaty?
R. A new treaty is a very broad, difficult and long task. But Europe has changed a lot, it is bigger and more diverse and cultural frictions are felt. We have different points of view between the north and the south, on how to deal with budgetary and financial issues, for example, but there are also clear cultural differences between the east and the west. How to keep Europe together is one of the crucial issues and has to do with where to decide by majority and where unanimously. Also the question of which competition rules should be applied, how to act if there are one or two pending decisions that are entirely correct from the European point of view, but that may require other decisions as a result of international competition, for example, with China , where the economy also has strong support from state intervention. First, we must discuss what can be achieved without amending the Treaties.
P. Should the rules of competition be reformed so that in the future there can be mergers such as Alstom and Siemens?
R. In general, no. I am a supporter of the social market economy. But the market only works if there is fair competition and monopolies are one of the greatest dangers. But now we find that we have monopolies that are outside Europe, but that have a dominant position in the market. We have to check very carefully if the rules are still adequate for international competition or if we have to adapt them.
P. You have proposed to eliminate the seat of the Parliament of Strasbourg. Why did you want to provoke France? Why deepen the gap with such an important partner for Germany?
R. Not only am I aware of the Franco-German friendship, but for me it is something very dear. I come from a region where you can only grow as Franco-German. And I am very, very aware of the importance of Strasbourg. And yet, it is also true that one of the criticisms of the EU is its Administration and that Parliament meets in different places. We have also had this debate in Germany, for example with Bonn and Berlin. If we are always talking about the need to reform Europe, then we must also mention what concerns citizens. I think Weber has made an intelligent proposal: the European Parliament should decide for itself where it wants to meet in the future, but in one place. You have to talk openly about the subject.
P. In recent decades there has been much talk of German hegemony in the EU. With Brexit, the role of Germany will be even more important. Should we worry?
R. There were times when people complained that Germany was not playing the active role that was expected of us. If we look at history, in Germany we opted more for prudence than for fighting for that role. We know, especially from our past, how delicate the image of Germany is. But if Britain fails, it is true that Germany has a completely different responsibility. This is one of the historic commitments that we have taken very seriously. Whether Angela Merkel, Helmut Kohl or Adenauer, I feel equally committed to this historical trajectory. We have always put our strength at the service of Europe. We know that we are one of those States that, because of its structure and strength, because of the dependence on exports and the situation in the center of the continent, we depend like no other in a strong and operational Europe. It is in our own interest.
P. Germany's relations with southern Europe have suffered greatly. What should Germany do to improve its image?
R. The debate we have had in recent years, especially during the financial crisis, has revolved around the cause of this crisis and how we have overcome it. I feel the greatest respect for what has been achieved in countries such as Greece, Spain or Portugal, which has been an incredible achievement. It has also cost many sacrifices. I know what it means when they have to demand a lot from their citizens. However, we remain convinced that stable budget management is a fundamental issue of a sustainable financial policy. The question is how can we jointly address challenges such as youth unemployment, one of the biggest we are facing. It is a terrible signal for a well-educated generation and that their first perception of Europe is that we can not offer them a future.
P. One of the reasons for the spread of populism has been migration. The Dublin Agreement does not work, but its reform is dead. What do you propose?
R. The refugee crisis, especially since 2015, happened because Europe did not work. We have regulations like Dublin III that do not work. We have observed for too long, with too little attention and little support, countries that have a particular external border and have faced a growing number of refugees. This is, without doubt, one of the mistakes we have also made in German politics in general. A solution could be a combination in which states are organized at the national level, with adequate financial support from the EU. We need a system that Europe can only address together. This is one of the biggest tasks facing the new Parliament and the new Commission.
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