April 12, 2011

Where Is German Foreign Policy Heading?

Do A. Merkel and G. Westerwelle want to be remembered as the architects of an "armchair" foreign policy? 

The nuclear disaster in Fukushima and the decision for air strikes on Lybia: These two recent events are decisive for the current status quo of German Foreign policy. The slogan is mainly attributed to the tighter dependence on the outcome of the local elections in two main Bundesländer, namely Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. Therefore, the German government, led by the two coalition partners, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) under Angela Merkel as Federal chancellor and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) with Guido Westerwelle as foreign minister, adopted a wait-and-see attitude in the German Foreign policy.

Many observers would perhaps suggest quite the opposite. For sure, observers will have the right to claim that the German government proved to be able to take action and pursue German priorities on the way to improving German Foreign policy in the two cases. German Foreign policy and Common European Foreign policy are of course very central and related issues for each German government.

This tactic of discordance of opinions cannot go on and the basic questions are
  1. how to explain the expected attitude and the actual developments in German Foreign policy, and
  2. what significance does German Foreign policy have for the coalition building of the future? 
German Foreign policy: Requests and Reality

Who would have dared to imagine one month ago after the horrible earthquake and then the tsunami that caused the worsiest nuclear disaster in Japan that it would be possible to change German nuclear policy and to influence the outcome of two main Bundesländer elections. Those who know the governing coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP will be very much aware that the coalition partners have vigorously supported the longer operating times of nuclear power stations in Germany. The nuclear disaster in Japan ensured that the German government made some efforts to change its policy: suspension of extension of power plant operation in Germany.

Sunday Question. Author: Hr. Hrisoskulov. Source: www.wahlrecht.de
The change has had dramatic decrease of credibility in Germany among the voters in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate and among the foreign partners in Europe, namely France and Poland. The majority of the population in Baden-Wuerttemberg voted out of office the CDU which remained in power the last 60 years. After the local elections governing for CDU/CSU and FDP will become even harder: One and a half years' later, the governing coalition possess only 25 votes in the Bundesrat (The Federal Council is the second chamber of the parliament and represents the German Länder). During the formation of the coalition in 2009 DU/CSU and FDP owned 44 votes. However, short-term prospects are really bad: Recent election polls reveal the concerns, beliefs, and sentiments of German citizens as they prepare to vote for SPD and the Green Party (see the picture "Sunday Question").

If Germany starts trying to suspend the extension of power plant operation that its foreign partners in Europe, namely France and Poland, have become accustomed to, it will just irritate them. France operates the most nuclear power plants in Europe. And Poland builds on the proven benefits of atomaric energy as a clean energy despite it wins electric stream from coal-fired power plants. I am concerned that neither of both mentioned the fact that they are ready to step out from nuclear energy. Whilst the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, approved a stress test on the EUropean level for all the oldest nuclear power plants, this has had a minor success. In my view it was not enough to convince the European partners to give up from their plans.

The problems with nuclear energy divide Germany's civil society into supporters and deniers: First, CDU and FDP tried to get the German government to make a decision on the issue of nuclear power plants; now they want to organise the negotiations in such a way as to ensure that credibility has been confronted with extraordinary problems both at home and in foreign policy, which made determined transformation management very difficult. A. Merkel and G. Westerwelle simply sit back and rely on decision just taken, without requiring a consultation with the partners in Germany and EUrope.

Negative impacts on German Foreign policy can, however, not be excluded despite a passive and confused stance on Lybia. 

Germany's not so constant triangels

Everyone among the western partners of Germany, namely the USA, Great Britain, and France, hoped that their cooperation in foreign and security issues will last during the vote in the UN Security Council on air strikes in Lybia. Until then, Germany's Foreign policy has been known as a foreign policy, that awaited the decisions to be taken and required planning and consideration of all implications at all levels. Germany was a popular mediator and negotiator in controversial issues because of its reasonable Foreign policy.

Germany's not so constant triangels. Author: Hr. Hrisoskulov
The German abstention from voting brooked a taboo: Germany turned its back on the state of the relation with its western and European partners, namely France and Great Britain. Germany, together with China, Russia, and Turkey abstained in their vote on the Lybian case. The western alliance partners are divided, and Germany contributed to the fact. As a result of this situation, the problems with future coalition building already facing German abstention will become much more acute. The damage to Ms Merkel’s credibility among Germany’s allies has been considerable. Even though, actually, A. Merkel and G. Westerwelle just wanted to divert from the obsessive tactical maneuvring at home. However, German neutrality and coalition building in security issues in the immediate neighbourhood with countries like Russia and Turkey will only prevent the emergence of a Common European Foreign and Security policy.

What is left is Franco-British defense cooperation and German series of rotating coalitions and changing constellations of acting upon each other. There will certainly never be a rational explanation for the fact that Germany choosed an Eastern triangle. However, in view of the fact that unresolved conflicts on the Eastern border of the European Union, namely Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, depend on the resolution efforts of Russia and Turkey, Germany tried not to upset both countries. Building on different triangles would not measure up to Europe’s pretensions to being taken seriously in its near abroad.

To conclude my remarks, I would repeat my question: Do A. Merkel and G. Westerwelle want to be remembered as the architects of an "armchair" foreign policy? And I would answer: YES! 

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