In an emerging multipolar world, Germany will need to be more assertive to defend European and transatlantic values. However, it remains to be seen if the new Chancellor Olaf Scholz will rise to the occasion, and the first signs are not too promising.
The current military built-up at the Ukraine border, one of the main talking points at tomorrow’s European Council meeting, will be the first occasion for Scholz to prove that he is able to take a tough line on Russia. His statements so far, however, are pointing more towards continuity with Angela Merkel’s cautious foreign policy approach.
When Merkel took office in 2005, the assumption of the eminent ‘end of history’ and the inevitability of the global triumph of democracy was still vibrant in the minds of European policymakers and leaders.
Today, with the rise of China and an increasingly revisionist Russia, there is no doubt that ‘history’ has returned and the globe is entering an era of renewed international geopolitical competition.
For Russia, the writing on the wall has been there since the Russo-Georgian war in 2008, yet Merkel kept on with her conciliatory approach, offering her hand to Putin and his minions in order not to alienate Russia from the transatlantic community.
This was especially visible in her approach to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, where she steadfastly cooperated with the Kremlin much to the dissatisfaction of the US and France.
Germany has often been free-riding on American security: Leave the unpleasant diplomatic and military pressuring of Russia to the US, while Germany remains open to bringing Russia back to the negotiating table.
However, with Washington shifting its attention to the East, Europe needs, more than ever, a more resolute German approach towards Russia.
Already in 2011, then Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said: “I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity.”
And indeed, initial statements from Scholz and his SPD point towards more of the same in dealing with Russia.
His comments on Nord Stream 2, for instance, largely resemble those of Merkel. He said Ukrainian energy security would be a concern for his government but refrained from taking a clear position on the matter.
The Scholz administration is even considering embracing the foreign policy approach of former SPD chancellor Willy Brandt, who defined the ‘new Eastern policy’ of Germany in the 1970s and formed the basis for the rapprochement with the USSR.
The SPD’s foreign policy spokesperson, Nils Schmid, already outlined in an interview with IPG last week that the new government’s foreign policy will largely resemble Brandt’s peace approach.
While this rapprochement policy and the emphasis on peace worked in the 70s, they are outright dangerous in an increasingly hostile environment where Russia is working towards readjusting European borders in its favour.
With the US preoccupied with China, Europe needs a Germany that is taking a tougher stance on Russia and drawing red lines to ensure European security, instead of pushing for more rapprochement towards the Kremlin.
Stay tuned at EURACTIV to see which approach Scholz adopts in his EU debut on Thursday.
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Look out for…
- European Council meeting.
- Commissioner Ylva Johansson in Washington for EU – US Justice and Home Affairs Ministerial Meeting.
Views are the author’s.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]