Helin Evrim Sommer: "Germany should take South Caucasus more seriously"
Angela Merkel's trip to South Caucasus attracted attention of not only Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, but also the entire world, which closely monitors Germany's foreign policy. Deputy of the Bundestag from the Left faction, Helin Evrim Sommer, who visited all three countries as part of parliamentary delegation accompanying Merkel, shared her impressions of the trip in an interview with Vestnik Kavkaza.
- You work as vice-chairman of the German-South Caucasian parliamentary group in the Bundestag. What makes this relatively unknown region in Germany so interesting for you?
- My origin alone makes me connected to this region. Although I wasn't born in South Caucasus, I'm from Eastern Anatolia, but South Caucasus was always close to me due to both personal and political interest. History and development of these three countries are very interesting, and I know about situation there. While I was studying history at the Humboldt University in Berlin, I learned about many aspects of Stalinism and, in this context, problems of three countries of this region. When an opportunity to participate in parliamentary group came, I immediately expressed interest in it. As a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, I also often work on issues related to these three countries - in particular, slow-moving settlement of conflicts in South Caucasus.
- Was this your first trip to South Caucasus?
- Yes, this was my first visit, and it was very interesting for me to get acquainted with these three countries. Unfortunately, our stay there was very short, but despite that we managed to meet and talk with politicians, representatives of civil society and funds operating in this region. It was great and important to learn about current situation in South Caucasus in the field of politics, economy and culture.
- In your opinion, why did Chancellor Merkel wait so long to visit Caucasus?
- Only Mrs. Merkel can answer this question. Actually, it's stange that she visited Armenia and Azerbaijan for the first time. I believe that South Caucasus should be more prominent in Germany's foreign policy. This region should be taken more seriously by Germany, at least due to its proximity to Europe and existing economic ties. Overall, our federal government tries to maintain status quo, guided by slogan "everything should remain the same as before." This applies to our foreign policy in the Middle East and Caucasus. However, in the long term, this model of foreign policy doesn't take geopolitical and geostrategic trends in Caucasus after the collapse of the USSR into account, so it can't properly function. Today's world has changed, and Angela Merkel's favorite policy of "continuing to do the same thing" can't be pursued forever. Despite all that, I would like to praise the fact that Angela Merkel decided to visit this region, which was almost forgotten in recent years due to such international political trends as Donald Trump's policy, sanctions, crises and migration flows.
- Will Merkel's visit mark the beginning of changes in German policy in South Caucasus?
- I don't think that's the case. In my opinion, Merkel doesn't have political courage. She works in already outlined political framework of the EU's "Eastern Partnership" and association agreements. She doesn't have her own concept and program for this region, and she works only in existing framework.
- World and regional powers - Russia, the United States, Iran, Turkey, China, as well as such large European countries as Great Britain and France - are politically active in South Caucasus. In your opinion, can Germany strengthen its positions in this region?
- Energy factor plays an important role for us. That's what Germany focuses on right now within the framework of the EU and the Southern Gas Corridor. Naturally, German enterprises would like to find new economic sectors, and that's why economic delegation also accompanied us. However, Angela Merkel is pretty realistic about real political capabilities of Germany in this region. As she told us, this trip's goal was to "refresh" relations with three countries.
- Merkel visited Georgia first. What can you tell about Georgians' expectations from this visit?
- I think Georgians were pretty disappointed with the results, since Georgia expected that Merkel would say something new about membership of this country in NATO and will name specific date for its accession to the alliance. Same thing goes for accession to the EU. Angela Merkel clearly didnt' meet these high expectations. We had a meeting with Georgian deputies, who openly expressed their disappointment with Merkel during our conversation. Her obvious restraint when it comes to Georgia's accession to the NATO and the EU was met critically in Georgia. On the other hand, Georgia received increased support from KfW and will receive more funds for development within existing formats of cooperation. Overall, Georgian side's expectations were too high, and Merkel significantly lowered them.
- Was Georgia satisfied with Germany's position on Abkhazia and South Ossetia?
- As for breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgian side was expecting that Germany won't question territorial integrity of Georgia. I think it's a right thing to not support unilateral secession of these two regions politically. So far only five states recognized these territories as independent states, especially Russia, which participated in the last Caucasian war 10 years ago. Such conflicts can be resolved based on international law and mutual agreements.
- It's different from situation in Ukraine, since the EU didn't begin to impose sanctions against Russia in Georgia's case. How can you explain this?
- First of all, conflict in Georgia is much older than the Ukrainian one. If there's a need for sanctions, there should have been introduced 10 years ago after Russia's diplomatic recognition of two regions as independent states. This did not happen at that time, and it wouldn't be logical to impose sanctions 10 years later. On the other hand, despite all existing political problems, Russia remains an important partner of Germany. German government doesn't want to provoke Russia, and Berlin doesn't want another region destroyed by conflicts like Ukraine. Prior to her trip to South Caucasus, Merkel met with Vladimir Putin, and I believe that they talked about her upcoming visit to Caucasus, so that everything went smoothly in the end.