German Greens leader Baerbock signals post-pacifist shift on foreign policy

Green party co-leader and chancellor candidate Annalena Baerbock speaks at a press conference in Berlin, Germany, 26 April 2021. [EPA-EFE/HENNING SCHACHT]

The German Greens’ candidate for chancellor Annalena Baerbock on Thursday (6 May) said her country must be more active on foreign policy and take more responsibility for its own security, in a sign the party is shifting from its pacifist stance towards the centre.

“I think it’s very much not only appropriate but also needed that Europeans, therefore Germans, have to take more responsibility for their own security,” Baerbock said, speaking at an Atlantic Council transatlantic forum, demanding a more active German and EU foreign and defence policy

However, Baerbock would not commit to spending 2% GDP on the military, expressing doubt that NATO’s spending goal is “state of the art.”

“This means that in a crisis like now where everything is insecure, rationally we would have to invest less because 2% of a GDP which decreases is not the same as when the economy is growing,” she said.

“The question is what kind of capacities do we need? What kind of capacity can Europe bring? But it’s not a good figure to connect it to GDP, which is so [dependent] on the economic growth,” Baerbock added. “And secondly we have new threats and challenges,” such as cybersecurity.

NATO members have made progress toward this burden-sharing target, first agreed to in 2014, but Germany continues to fall well short.

According to her, US troops should stay in Germany as long as there existed “efficient” cooperation with military forces in Europe, even though the troops have drawn protests from German peace activists.

Baerbock said she would want to make sure American forces are deployed “in a very efficient way where we don’t duplicate our structure and Europeans take more responsibility in the upcoming months for themselves.”

The Green leader also said Germany had been too “passive” on foreign policy in the past.

“I believe one of the problems of the EU of the last years is that we didn’t have an active foreign policy … and this is due to the lack of an active German foreign policy,” she said.

“It’s not about Germany telling the others what to do, but if we are behaving very passively, it’s hard for the others” to act, she added.

Greens go geopolitical

“We as Europeans, and we as German Greens are not very far apart from the current US administration”, Baerbock said, adding that Germany and the US could move even closer together than has previously been the case, highlighting the opportunity to create a “transatlantic Green deal.”

Both the Biden administration and the German Greens would fight for the same goals, like a CO2 neutral economy and social justice, she said.

At the same time, if elected, Baerbock vowed to take a strong stance against China’s human-rights abuses without cutting out the world’s most populous nation from the trade or climate discussions.

“We can say as Europeans that we don’t want products on our common market produced by forced labour,” she said in reference to China’s treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.

“So there we defend our human rights, our values, very strong. But on the other hand, it doesn’t mean saying there is no import/export any more between Europe and China,” she said.

With that, Baerbock aimed to strike a different tone than Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was one of the driving forces when the EU and China concluded a controversial Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) in December last year.

The surprise move wrapped up seven years of painstaking negotiations after heavy pressure by Germany, which had been leading negotiations as holder of the EU’s rotating Council Presidency.

Meanwhile, the deal has faced resistance in the European Parliament over reports of forced labour camps in China and its ratification has been put on ice for now.

In regard to Russia, Baerbock said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive behaviour, such as the recent massing of troops on Ukraine’s borders, would stem in part from a lack of an “active foreign policy” from Germany and the EU in standing up for Eastern European allies.

Asked whether to go forward with the controversial Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, Baerbock gave hard “no.” Her stance is in stark contrast to Merkel and Armin Laschet, the new leader of the CDU and Baerbock’s chief rival to become chancellor.

Laschet had said he wants to continue with the project, as do the majority of Social Democrats (SPD).

According to Baerbock, the pipeline violates the spirit of the EU’s economic sanctions retaliating against Russian aggression. “This pipeline contradicts our sanctions, so it cannot go in place,” she said. “It cannot start,” Baerbock said.

Instead, the Green leader suggested Germany should work with Ukraine to set up a hydrogen pipeline.

“We need some hydrogen in Europe to be carbon-neutral in the future,” she said. “There’s a high potential in Ukraine for renewable energy, for wind and solar. We have already this pipeline there to transfer now fossil [fuel] gas. We can set it up for [a] green hydrogen pipeline in the future.”

Election hopes

For the first time ever, the Greens have a chance at picking Germany’s next chancellor and will almost certainly be part of any government formed after September’s election.

Even before she was put forward by her party for the top job, Baerbock was one of the Greens’ leading foreign-policy voices: staunchly pro-European, tougher on big authoritarian powers, and focused on human rights and climate issues, yet keen to strike a pragmatic tone on issues such as NATO and military spending.

The new Green foreign policy tones also marks a generational change inside the party, shifting from a pacifist protest party with growing pains on security policy dilemmas when it served in government in the late 1990s and early 2000s, to a more pragmatic stance.

Asked about her prospects of winning the German election in September, Baerbock said: “Currently we are at the top [of the polls …] but we still have five months to the elections”.

“So everything is still possible,” she added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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