Germany’s new government promises a tougher stance on Russia and China, a change in musical sentiment that will affect the rest of Europe, where Berlin has traditionally been a restraining voice and a central position.
For now, these are just promises, comforting words for members of the coalition’s three unusually divergent political parties. But the government’s commitments to Europe, NATO and the transatlantic relationship are strong and part of Germany’s post-war DNA. And, proceeding from the traditions and importance of relations between Berlin and Paris for Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit France almost immediately after taking the oath.
In a modest but important change in tone, the coalition promises a stronger and more practical military stance, supporting the idea that the European Union should become better able to defend its interests as the United States pays more attention to China and the Indo-Pacific. Scholz regularly speaks of “European sovereignty,” a softer version of “strategic autonomy” advocated by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Contrary to the traditional demand for a “European army,” the governing agreement instead calls for “increased cooperation between the national armies of EU member states wishing to integrate, especially in the areas of training, capabilities, operations and equipment” – a position that will delight Mr. Macron … , whose country is replaced by the president in Europe on January 1, and is running for re-election in April.
The agreement also promises to improve the deplorable state of Germany’s military, although it is silent about the country’s pledge from 2014 to increase military spending to 2 percent of the economic output promised by NATO by 2024. Instead, there is a vague promise to spend, “Long Term” – 3% on diplomacy, international development and defense.
Yana Pulierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations described the plan’s defense and foreign policy plans as “carefully balanced” and “stronger than I expected.” In particular, she highlighted the commitment to continue the “nuclear exchange” with NATO, under which German aircraft drop US-owned nuclear bombs in the event of a full-scale war and replace aging aircraft.
With regard to China, says Yanka Ertel, director of the same research institute for Asia, the country says that “the strategic partner has definitely left,” with much more emphasis on Beijing as a “systemic rival” and economic competitor. There are clear references to Taiwan, abuse in Hong Kong, and violations of rights in Xinjiang, which Beijing will not be happy with, she said.
There is a promise, albeit vague, to at least reconcile Germany’s China policy with European policy. The coalition refuses to support Angela Merkel for an investment agreement between the EU and China. But given the power of German industry and its dependence on the export model, it remains to be seen just how new government the confrontation with China will be.
According to Ms Poullierin, Russia is also spoken of “very soberly” and he takes into account the concerns of the Central European and Baltic states. “Germany is no longer looking for good relations with Russia,” she said, “but seeking stable relations and constructive dialogue.”