The Brief, powered by GIE – Wind of change over Berlin

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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German federal elections are rarely fought on foreign policy. But if they were to be, the Greens – we now know – could be more than a safe contender.

Knowing that Germany’s incumbent chancellor is stepping down for good in September, one cannot but wonder: What could a post-Merkel era foreign policy look like?

Greens leader Annalena Baerbock gave a glimpse of this on Thursday, presenting her post-election vision to a high-level EU-US Forum.

In her laser-focused habit, she criticised China, the Kremlin and the Nord Stream 2, while stressing the importance of a transatlantic reset under Biden.

With that, Baerbock aimed to strike a different tone than Merkel, who was one of the driving forces behind a controversial Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) the EU and China concluded last December, and a staunch defender of Nord Stream 2.

Earlier this year, Baerbock called for more European engagement in the bloc’s defence policy and a more consolidated German Bundeswehr – a rather unpopular stance, if not unthinkable, for the Greens of the past.

For those following the Greens in the past few years, it has become evident that the party has started breaking out of its traditional boundaries and making itself more palatable for the conservative voter while staying true to its party base and trying to attract young green voters.

The new Green foreign policy colours show the transformation – also driven by a generational change – of the party that struggled with security policy dilemmas while in government in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but has now embraced a more pragmatic stance.

On the European level, many around Brussels might have noticed that after more than a decade in opposition, the Greens now have strong foreign policy experts at their disposal, with some quite likely to receive a call from Berlin after the September election.

While the main party stances on defence spending and nuclear deterrence remain, Baerbock does seem keen to strike a pragmatic tone on issues such as NATO and military spending – which may actually reassure sceptical NATO allies.

“This is a constructive ambivalence that ensures the Greens the political ability to act in possible coalition negotiations and still enables the wings to be involved, which have to support a result,” Christian Mölling from the German Society for Foreign Policy (DGAP) commented.

What does this mean for the face-off between CDU’s Armin Laschet and Baerbock? We could be in for quite some show…

Their encounters will be a challenge and a coalition offer in one: a challenge to the current leadership making the Greens compatible with Germany’s political centre, and a coalition offer to the usual suspects (Social Democrats), but also to the conservative CDU/CSU.

The German Left, usually needed for a Green-Red-Red coalition option, is not too enthusiastic about the Green chancellor candidate.

It is still far off to think about the shape of a potential green-black coalition’s foreign policy, although a recent European Council on Foreign Relations analysis suggested it could lead to Germany “finally having a coherent defence policy”, should both parties decide to work together, and if the election results allow.

But what the fresh thinking of the Greens could achieve, at the very least, is the start of a serious debate about a serious paradigm shift in German foreign policy thinking, and that is no small feat.

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The Roundup

After the EU suspended plans for a trade deal with China, it is now reviving efforts for a similar pact with India. Both the EU and India are wrestling with the growing power of China – and China’s rise is inevitably set to bring Brussels and Delhi closer together, be it in trade, infrastructure partnerships or regional security. Read more on this in our Global Brief.

The European Commission announced its updated EU industrial strategy on Wednesday. Following a request from EU leaders, in this new version the European Commission includes an assessment of Europe’s strategic dependencies, which have been clustered around six main areas. More on this in our Digital Brief.

The ongoing revision of the European legislation on blood, tissues, and cells offers an opportunity to tackle the highly problematic dependency on plasma collected in the US for manufacturing plasma-derived medicinal products (PDMPs), according to an EU health official.

E-cigarettes “undoubtedly” reduce risks compared to traditional cigarettes and have a place in the EU’s plan to fight cancer. However, these products should not enjoy “lighter” regulation and Europe should treat them with the same vigilance as tobacco products, MEP Michèle Rivasi told EURACTIV in an interview.

The heads of the European and French cybersecurity agencies called for more cooperation between EU countries and additional resources, pointing to much higher spending on cybersecurity in the United States.

Europe’s youth is facing difficulties in accessing housing, and the COVID crisis has further aggravated the situation, according to the annual report on the state of poor housing in Europe published on Thursday by the Abbé Pierre Foundation and the European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA).

The Turów coal mine and power plant complex is “strategic for ensuring the energy security of Poland,” says PGE, the state-owned enterprise at the centre of a dispute with the Czech Republic over the extension of mining operations there.

Look out for…

  • EU India-Summit and Informal EU27 summits in Porto, Portugal, tomorrow
  • European Parliament’s committee meetings next week
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to receive Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of North Macedonia, on Monday.
  • EU foreign ministers meet on Western Balkans and current issues, on Monday.

Views are the author’s

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