Frank-Walter Steinmeier who is set to be Germany's new foreign minister told DW-WORLD there would be no fundamental changes in future foreign policy. But he might risk upsetting his conservative partners.
Steinmeier, right, with Joschka Fischer and Gerhard Shröder (l to r)
The man himself was as surprised as anyone when the news broke.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a reserved Social Democrat, has been named Germany’s next foreign minister in the next grand coalition government.
Steinmeier’s appointment raised eyebrows not only because of the unexpected nature of his promotion but because he was and still remains a close confidant of outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
He had not anticipated a calling to the Foreign Office, Steinmeier admitted when he spoke to DW-WORLD about his appointment and opinions on his future role.
In the exclusive interview, the new foreign minister explained his vision for Germany’s role in the world and in particular responded to criticisms of the former administration's relationship with Russia.
New FM: Russian relations have benefited Germany
Steinmeier says relations will continue as usual with Russia
"I am convinced that there are no fundamental changes needed in Germany’s well conceived foreign affairs," Steinmeier said.
"I believe that the policy of dealing with Russia in particular during the past four years has brought advantages for this country, in many areas not only in terms of foreign policy but also in economic areas."
But that may be more easily said than done. Since the Social Democrats will be in a coalition with the conservatives who have a different take on several foreign policy fronts, Steinmeier may find it difficult to continue with his predecessor Joscka Fischer's course.
The conservatives had criticised foreign policy under Gerhard Schröder for being too cosy with France and Russia at the
expense of traditional trans-Atlantic relations and ties with
other European Union capitals.
Indeed, many leading lights from the conservative half of the grand coalition believe that Germany should focus its foreign policy energies on building ties with the United States and that a more critical approach towards Russia is in order.
Philipp Missfelder, chief of the Christian Democratic Union’s youth organization and rising star of the CDU is a strong supporter of a tougher stance on Russia.
"We must stress more strongly the human rights angle with Russia," he told DW-WORLD.
"In my role as chairperson of the Young Union, I will raise my hand time and again to say that Russia must be criticized for its human rights record. There our policy must change."
Coalition talks must resolve Turkey differences
Diffrences in opinion over Turkey will have to be addressed.
Another area where Steinmeier will have to tread carefully with his conservative partners will be Turkey.
During the German election campaign, the foreign policy debate almost exclusively focused on Turkey’s proposed entry to the European Union. Chancellor candidate and leader of the conservatives, Angela Merkel making it clear that her party would not support Turkey's EU membership but rather offer the country a so-called "privileged partnership" instead.
Since official negotiations for possible accession have now begun with Turkey, the debate has died down as the process will take many years.
But, Günter Gloser, the Euro-political speaker of the SPD faction in the Bundestag, said that Turkey would feature prominently in the ongoing coalition negotiations between the Social Democrats and the conservatives.
"I think they will have to clear the differences over the Turkey question," Gloser said.
When it comes to European policy, the two sides seem to be closer. Many representatives of both sides have stressed that the SPD and CDU are basically aligned in their policies regarding the EU.
"Open" Germany must also stand firm
The two sides of the grand coalition are agreed on European policies
In his first public appearance since being nominated for the post of foreign minister, Steinmeier said in a speech to the BDI industry association this week that an exporting nation like Germany must remain "wide open" to foreign ideas and influences.
But he said it was "increasingly clear there was not one road that leads to economic success and prosperity," adding that Germany's economic path was more likely to be closer to a "Scandinavian model" rather than a "liberal" economic model.
The new foreign minister took little time in berating the German media which he accused off exacerbating the country’s low esteem and ailing image on the international stage.
"A Frenchman or a Briton would never dream of talking about their country like that!"
"I am convinced that we won't be able to overcome lethargy and stagnation if we can't learn to talk publicly about our strengths more self-confidently at home and abroad," he added.