German Security and Defence Policy after the Elections
Twelve years of Merkel and no end in sight
“In the globalized world of the 21st century, [the European Union] must shape international policy and, in order to do this, it needs to play a strong, independent role. The Federal Government will take new political initiatives to strengthen and deepen the common foreign and security policy.” The coalition agreement on Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), signed in November 2013, could be the blueprint for any future coalition governing Germany from October/November 2017 onwards. Since the polls predict an 18 percent gap between Christian Democrat Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat counterpart Martin Schulz in the upcoming parliamentary elections, it seems that the “Merkel era”, and with it the current “grand coalition”, will be extended for 4 more years.
A renewed grand coalition – predictable Germany
From an EU integrationist standpoint, proceeding with a grand coalition is certainly the best news. Recent years have shown that Germany’s two major parties share a common approach to international politics. In February 2014, they assured the international community of a proactive German security and defence policy. The Munich speeches sent out the message that the country will live up to its responsibilities. Since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, foregone by the British referendum on leaving the EU, the two parties agreed that Europe has to become strategically autonomous, or, as Chancellor Merkel put it, needs to “take its fate into its own hands”. With regard to Germany’s engagement in the CSDP, the two have found a way to shape it according to a security and defence scheme that they share. A huge part of the recent German “input” into CSDP stems from the country’s dependence on a well-functioning international order. With its highly globalized, export-oriented economy, German prosperity derives from reliable and enforceable international standards and structures. It is these standards and structures that Berlin tries to “set” via CSDP – internally, as the example of PESCO shows, as well as externally. However, in order for the EU and its member states to best tackle respective countries and regional problems, CSDP has to be improved. Cooperation, but also transparency, have to be increased; needs and risk assessments need to be refined. Armed forces planning in the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance should, according to the parties’ shared conviction, be more closely harmonized and complement one another. European deployments should be predominantly carried out within our geographical neighbourhood and uphold and reinforce Europe's security. While the two parties opt for more “conceptual” clarity in CDSP – in its electoral manifesto, the CDU states that CSDP needs “more cooperation and more concrete advancement” while the SPD suggests a European Defence Union and proclaims the long-term aim of the establishment of a European Army – a renewed grand coalition might lose its closest, newly (re)found ally, France. For Macron, the best way to evolve CSDP is operations, not concepts.
A new coalition - a different German security and defence policy?
Even though this coalition option seems to be the most likely, it is still possible that the CDU is able to form a coalition with its preferred partner, the liberal party FDP. The two parties are traditionally quasi-allies in order to gain a majority in the Bundestag and lastly formed the Merkel II government from 2009-2013. The FDP shares most of the foreign and defence policy convictions of the CDU, e.g. the long-term aim of a deeper integration in the field. They do, however, call for a more “differentiated Europe”, which the CDU tries to avoid, as its recurrent plea for an “integrated” PESCO has shown.
The Greens, who toy with the idea of a coalition government with the CDU at the national level, are more critical towards a more active German engagement in military affairs. The focus of this peace-project party lies on “civil cooperation”. In the EU, the Greens want to supranationalise competences in the field of security and foreign policy – a claim that will certainly lead to disputes with the CDU.
Elections are not won over foreign and security policy. This insight also certainly holds true for the 2017 German elections. Since 2014, Germany has taken on more international responsibility than ever since the end of the Second World War. The country also plays a very active role in creating a Europe that is strategically more autonomous. Independent of the outcome of the upcoming elections, there seems to be a cross-party consensus (with the exception of Die Linke and the AfD) that Germany will continue to – conceptually – take a leadership position on defence in Europe, while at the same time shying away from a more assertive role in military deployments.
Dr. Ronja Kempin is senior research fellow at Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik's EU/Europe division, where she focusses on the defence and security policies of the EU, Germany and France. She furthermore serves as political adviser for CSDP to the German Federal Foreign Office.