David Henneberger: "To maintain peace in Europe you have to have a strong military position"

The director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation spoke on Onda Madrid's 'De cara al mundo' programme to discuss important issues such as Europe's position in the face of the invasion in Ukraine
David Henneberger

 -   David Henneberger

In the latest instalment of "De cara al mundo", the Atalayar programme on Onda Madrid, David Henneberger, director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, spoke about the role that Germany should play in Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The director of the Naumann Foundation explained how this crisis has served to bring the European Union closer together and how NATO must confront the Europe of Defence. Finally, Henneberger told us how the outbreak of the conflict has affected the work of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the Mediterranean countries. 

What did you think when Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine 23 days ago?

I was in Portugal at an IPDAL conference and we were in shock, it's a date like September 11, we will always remember where we were at the time. The first war of this kind on European soil after the Second World War, there is a before and an after. In Germany the world is completely different, the dogma of pacifism that we lived for decades after the Second World War has disappeared overnight, so I felt a deep shock. 

Indeed, Germany has a special role, in this case it is the locomotive of Europe, it is the most relevant country together with France and everyone is looking at it because of its absolute dependence on Russian gas, should Germany cut off the gas coming from Russia from your liberal perspective?  

We are in an extremely complicated situation, and now it is a question of correcting the mistakes of the past. When we experienced the tsunami in Fukushima, with the consequences for the nuclear plant, Germany got out of nuclear power overnight without the urgent need for nuclear power, at the same time we are on a good path for energy transformation, more renewables, we are with the highest numbers historically in renewable energy production, but we are very dependent on hydrocarbons, Russian gas and oil. All of us who invest in the stock market know that you have to diversify your portfolio and Germany has not done that and now we are trying to fix that serious mistake. Right now I would not want to be in the shoes of the members of the German government, but if there is an escalation of the conflict, involving chemical weapons, with weapons of mass destruction and tactical nuclear weapons, the game changes and the pressure on Germany and Europe is high. 

The role you are playing with regard to Spain, Portugal and the Mediterranean countries makes more sense because a large part of the energy that Europe can consume could come from North Africa...

Of course, one of the positive things we can take from this misfortune is Europe's forceful reaction, we are more united than ever, and now it is a question of finding profound reforms as a result of this European solidarity and delving deeper into key issues such as energy. Spain has warned, quite rightly, that we need to improve energy connections for both gas and electricity in Europe, surely we can even out the effects of trade and I think it is an excellent idea to explore new reforms or projects that could provide a logical solution to the energy problem. Our Finance Minister has said that renewable energies are energies of freedom and I fully agree with his words and, while it is true that there is a dependence on hydrocarbons in the short term, it has become very clear that in the medium and long term we should depend on our own energy, not only because of climate change but because of our strategic independence in Europe.

Even recovering nuclear energy, reopening power plants, although I think this is more complicated...

In Germany this discussion is not going to have a chance, we have already left and this issue is dead. From the liberal point of view there is a good argument against nuclear energy, every medium-sized company that produces paint, for example, needs insurance against third party damages in case there is a chemical accident and the river is damaged and for those who have nuclear plants it is never possible to find such insurance because the market does not provide it, so there is a market failure in that sense because the possibility of a nuclear accident is very low but if it happens any insurer would be bankrupt so it is not possible to insure a nuclear plant in the market and the people should bear that insurance, there is a good argument against them. 

The situation is exceptional, it could be the German state that could insure these plants....

The situation is indeed exceptional, I think it would be more a question of prolonging the life expectancy of active plants, in the case of Germany it is possible, but I don't think we are going to get into that kind of discourse, it is a closed issue. What will be done is to accelerate the energy transformation towards renewable energies and it is a very valid point, countries like France or the United States are thinking about other types of smaller reactors to ensure their strategic energy dependence. I sympathise with the arguments that go in these two directions, but Germany is not going back to nuclear energy. 

David Henneberger

You talk about Germany's shift towards pacifism after the Second World War, suddenly that pacifism has disappeared and an investment of more than a billion euros in weapons has been announced, is Germany preparing for war against Russia?

Nobody wants a war in Europe against Putin, and that is the problem with pacifism. Pacifism is an honourable tradition in post-war Germany and is a totally acceptable, morally understandable and admirable position, the problem is that you don't always choose when you go to war. To keep the peace in Europe, we have seen it many times during the Cold War, you have to have a very strong military position to say here we are. What has been made clear is what the NATO Secretary General says on a daily basis is that we are going to defend every inch of NATO ground, no country in Europe is going to refuse this, including Germany. I don't think we will go to war on Ukrainian territory, but if something happens on NATO territory there would be no other way out. 

Has this crisis served to bring the European Union closer together?

I think so, it is one of those things that is impressive, how we have all found common positions in a short time. It is obvious that the perspectives on the conflict may differ, in the Baltic and Poland people see Putin's aggression and danger with much clearer eyes, while in Spain, due to geography, we feel more distant from the conflict. However, European unity is admirable and personally, I was born during the Cold War, the idea that Putin could threaten EU member states like Sweden about the consequences of NATO membership is unimaginable. I believe that we need to think more quickly about the EU's military unity, something that has been on the agenda for decades and where there have been small steps forward. The most important thing is that it is not about creating competition but about strengthening NATO's European axis. If Russia ends up attacking Sweden, the argument that it is not part of NATO will become very difficult. 

In Spain this is something we will have to face up to, the European axis of NATO, the Europe of Defence, depends on economic investment, of course, on training, but also on an awareness that commitments have to be honoured, however sacrificing they may be. We must accept that the Europe of Defence means sacrificing our young people if necessary....

It is very complicated, and at the moment there are only two countries in Europe that are willing to do this, and they are the United Kingdom and France. In Eastern Europe I am convinced that they would also be willing to do this, but in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy at the moment I think it will be a very difficult discussion. On the other hand, we see that volunteers from all over the world go to Ukraine because they feel that the freedom of the Western way of life is defended there, so I am not saying that this should always be the case because it is a discussion we have to have. In Germany, for example, we stopped military service years ago and it is not only the investment you were talking about of a hundred billion euros, it is also people, it is looking for soldiers and looking for people willing to defend our homeland and our continent. 

Has this situation of the invasion of Ukraine affected the work of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in the Mediterranean countries, for example in North Africa such as Morocco, Tunisia, etc.?

Well, we had an office in Kiev and right now we are helping our local colleagues to be safe. In the Maghreb, the big problem is the Sahel region, on the one hand, Russia's support in Mali is actively increasing the conflict, and on the other hand, the issue of food security. The war in Ukraine, which is the breadbasket of Europe, will certainly have implications for the Sahel region, where more than half a billion people live, which will aggravate the migration crisis, which will aggravate the conflicts in the region, and this will affect our work in the Maghreb and our dialogue project in the Mediterranean.