Global Europe Brief: Germany’s foreign policy after Merkel

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In this week’s edition: Germany’s future foreign policy, Franco-German AUKUS divergence and migration spat.


Foreign policy and Germany’s role in the EU as topics in the German election campaign had almost to be searched for with a magnifying glass to be found.

Yet, the overarching theme of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16-year-long chancellorship has been the country’s switch from a passive to a more active role on the international stage, albeit often driven by crisis.

Germany took on a new and more active role in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict (although the Franco-German mediation attempt is currently at a dead-end).

Merkel became a central figure in the refugee crisis and Germany the driving force behind the EU-Turkey deal. The country re-invented itself with a push for multilateralism and attempts at conflict resolution (Libya).

Despite a traditionally cautious German stance on defence, the deployment of German frigate Bayern to the Indo-Pacific has underlined Berlin’s increasing realisation that a German Sonderweg is no longer feasible.

Despite those more active attempts, an obstacle to a renaissance in closer transatlantic relations remains Germany’s still ambiguous stance on China and Russia.

Ultimately, any coalition government will need to find compromises that are unlikely to satisfy any of the partners.

German Conservatives recently raised the issue of leftist Die Linke’s support to Russia, saying it would be disastrous if it joined the new coalition government.

In the past, Die Linke expressed pro-Russia arguments, backing to have an open dialogue with Russia instead of supporting sanctions.

But a Die Linke source told EURACTIV in Berlin that the Russia issue after the elections will not be on the table at all.

“We will all forget it after the elections, SPD and Greens know this is not an issue, but just communication tricks pushed forward by the conservatives,” the source said.

“Everything will be compromised, including foreign policy matters”, the source added, hinting that Die Linke has an agenda focused more on social than foreign matters and is ready to compromise.

For their part, the Social Democrats say a progressive coalition in Germany would help ease tensions with the US and would follow a more coordinated approach on global challenges.

“Tradition and history suggest that a Democrat-led US frequently gets along with a socialist-led Europe,” an SPD official said, adding that the same applies with US Republicans and the EU right.

“The only exception was the Trump parenthesis”, the official added. “US Democrats see a socialist-led Europe in a positive light”, the SPD official stressed.

And then there’s the foreign minister question.

Social Democrat foreign minister Heiko Maas was recently described by some as “the worst foreign minister since 1945′, though this might also be due to the fact that key foreign affairs portfolios over the past decade had been gradually seized by the Chancellery.

With a tight election outcome, the next German government will need two to three partners. The foreign ministry is likely to go to the second-strongest coalition force, which will make it their prime mission to claim it in the likely lengthy coalition talks that will follow.

The main notion, according to several experts EURACTIV has talked to, is that a Germany after Merkel will be less stable in its foreign policy than it has been under Merkel.

→ Follow our on-the-ground team of reporters from Berlin for developments, numbers and analysis:

German election 2021: Who comes after Merkel?

Germans vote for a new parliament on Sunday (26 September) in an election already dubbed ‘historic’ because it will determine the successor of Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will retire after 16 years at the helm of the EU’s strongest economy.


MIGRATION SPAT | Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga has lashed out against European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas after he told EURACTIV in an interview that the much-awaited European migration pact should be approved after the French elections due next year.


SUBMARINE ROW | European allies rallied cautiously around France after the US and Australian decision to strip Paris of a submarine supply contract, but some warned the dispute should not torpedo trade talks. Paris insisted this is not about a lost bilateral arms contract, but about a ‘broken’ relationship between allies.

Germany has declined to support France in its ongoing diplomatic spat with the US, UK, and Australia after the latter torpedoed a multi-billion-dollar submarine deal with France in favour of a deal with Washington and London. Germany has instead opted for a more conciliatory approach.


TTC LEAK | Although France has been pushing to postpone the summit to next month, all signs are that the EU-US Trade and Technology Council is going ahead as planned. The main areas where the EU and US will seek convergence are foreign investments, export control, AI and semiconductors, according to a joint statement leaked to EURACTIV.


RUSSIAN POLLS | Opponents accused Russian authorities of mass fraud after the ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, won a bigger than expected parliamentary majority despite unease over living standards. The EU refused to recognise the Crimea poll.

OLIGARCH LAW | Ukraine’s parliament passed a law on Thursday to order “oligarchs” to register and stay out of politics, a day after an attempt to kill a top aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, which officials said could have been a response to the reform.



We’ll keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as Europe’s everyday business is back from summer break.

  • Germany elects new parliament, looks for Merkel successor
    | Sunday, 26 September 2021 | Berlin, Germany
  • UN Human Rights Council holds session
    | Monday, 27 September 2021 | Geneva, Switzerland
  • Top military testify on Afghan pullout before US Senate Armed Services Committee
    | Tuesday, 28 September 2021 | Washington DC, United States
  • EU-US Trade and Tech Council (TTC) scheduled to take place (tbc)
    | Wednesday, 29 September 2021 | Pittsburgh, United States
  • European Commission presents follow-up to the migration and asylum package
    | Wednesday, 29 September 2021 | Brussels, Belgium

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