German MEP Dietmar Köster: “I do not trust the Iranian Regime!”

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Dietmar Köster in the European Parliament. Photo: Eric Vidal, European Union 2021.

Mr. Köster, how do you view the role of the EU in the Middle- East, especially in the past six months? 

The situation in the Middle- East is very concerning. Although the direct conflict between Israel and Iran has not escalated, we know that Iran has the goal to destroy Israel together with its proxies. I am rather happy that Israel did not react as violently as some expected it.

In the past, before the 7th of October, the EU and the UN had the opinion that the conflict would go on as usual and did not do enough to get closer to a two-state solution. Therefore, there is a lack of EU policy in the Middle East. However, there are a lot of international powers engaged: The US, Russia, Turkey, Iran… So, it is a conflict that could stretch to Europe. Thus, Europe must have an interest in calming the situation so that Israelis can live in peace and not in fear of Iran. 

What tools can the EU utilize to calm the situation in the region? 

It is very important to support Israel in economic and political terms. We need close cooperation, not only on the state level but between citizens as well. We have an association agreement with Israel which is a very important tool. Mostly, we must have a clear stance on Iran since they are a threat not only in the region but for Europe as well. 

Mentioning Iran as a threat on Europe’s soil: We see how the conflict is splashing over to Europe. Protests on university campuses, violence on the streets, vandalism and a drastic increase in antisemitism. What is your take on the increasing violence in the West, which is a result of the conflict in the Middle East? 

I am concerned about the increase in violence. I am from Dortmund (Germany) where there is a significant rise of antisemitic activities although there is a good connection with the Jewish community. Concerning the universities in the US, I am astonished. I would describe myself as a lefty, a social democrat and then I see that lefties, the democrats in the US, are leading this campaign against Israel. It is very important to fight antisemitism in the EU and for the EU to have a good relationship with Israel. I hope that soon we will find an end to this war and that the hostages will be released.

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Photo:: Michel Christen, European Union 2023 - Source : EP

When it comes to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard there seems to be a status quo in the European Union. Why is that? 

The European Parliament demanded adding the Islamic Revolutionary Guard to the terrorist list. Mr. Borrell is reluctant and says it is not possible judicially. But there is a report of experts mentioning the opposite. I disagree with Josep Borrell; he always insists on putting in place the JCPOA. From my point of view, I have doubts Iran has the goal of cooperating with Western states to lift the sanctions and that they would give up their nuclear program. I do not trust this regime. 

Do you expect the next High Representative to be more active? 

We know that the current High Representative is from Spain and they have a ‘special position’ regarding Iran. We don’t know who will be responsible for Foreign Affairs in the next Commission term, but I expect the next High Representative to have a stronger stance on Iran as well as the question of European hostages. 

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Josep Borrell, Charles Michel, and Ebrahim Raisi during a bilateral meeting at UN headquarters. Photo: Johanna Leguerre/European Union, 2022. Source: EC - Audiovisual Service.

We have European elections in less than a month. What are your expectations? Will the Parliament shift towards the right?

We are very concerned about the possible expansion of the far-right, as they are expected to gain at least 30 seats more than what they have at the moment. It is also concerning that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen opens the door for cooperation with the ECR, where we find far-right parties such as Fratelli Italia (Italy’s PM Meloni’s party), PiS from Poland, Spanish VOX etc.

There should be a “cordon sanitaire”: we do not cooperate with the far-right. We must underline the impossibility of working with those who want to destroy the EU, and the far-right is always pushing for it. 

When you look back at your time as an MEP, what are you most proud of?  And what do you think you could have done better? 

I was very engaged in migration policy when I saw how many people were drowning in the Mediterranean. Therefore, I founded a group in the European Parliament that is composed of different political groups, discussing what could be done to strengthen the human rights-based refugee policy. What the EU has decided regarding the asylum package is not sufficient.

Concerning what could have been done better, I would say the role of the EP should be strengthened and they have the right to initiate legislative proposals. I also think the foreign policy of the EU is insufficient as we do not engage enough to come to an end to the aggression of Ukraine by Russia. I do not think we could end this war only on the battlefield, but we must strengthen the dialogue and proceed to negotiate, even with Russia. We must come to an end to the war in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, although they are totally different wars. I hope that in the future, we’ll have more peace in the world.

Dietmar Köster (born in 1957) is a SPD German member of the European Parliament since 2014. Before being elected, he served as Professor of Sociology at University of Applied Sciences in Dortmund.

Köster is part of the Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights, as well as being a member of the delegations to Iran and to the United States.

The interview was conducted by Nenad Jurdana.

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