Euro-Realism: A British-German Axis?

David Cameron, Angela Merkel and Prof Joachim Sauer at Schloss Meseberg, in Germany. Image by the Prime Ministers Office/Flickr.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder once said, “They have it wrong if they ask if Schroeder favors Britain over France or France over Britain. Schroeder favors Germany.” Watching David Cameron with family enjoying a German weekend break with Angela Merkel one could be forgiven for thinking all is well in the British-German relationship. And yet for all the well-publicized frictions it is equally clear that Cameron and Merkel get on. It is also clear that the two countries need and will need each other. Is this the beginning of a British-German axis?

There is after all much to unite Britain and Germany. According to the CIA World Factbook (it must be true then) Britain and Germany are the two biggest EU countries with the two largest economies by purchasing power parity. Germany is Europe’s economic leader whilst Britain remains (just) Europe’s military leader. The two countries also share a surprisingly close strategic relationship on a whole raft of issues not least the two most pressing: the lack of fiscal resources and the need for Europe to become competitive.

Germany: The Abstention Champion

Security Council Summit on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament
Security Council Summit on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Photo: United Nations Photo/flickr.

The UN General Assembly has recently approved a motion to grant a non-member observing state status to Palestine. Exactly 138 states have approved this motion, 9 rejected, 41 abstained. As predicted, Germany was one of these abstaining countries, again.

The expiring membership of the UN Security Council by the end of this year provides an ideal opportunity to evaluate German foreign policy after this two year period – also regarding next year’s elections. If you summarize this period, the pure absence of foreign policy positioning cannot be ignored. In fact, there was no German foreign policy.

Hitherto, German foreign and security policy was marked either by a close transatlantic cooperation, or by a counter balance towards a stronger European position. In the past four years, German foreign policy was lost in crisis management, completely dominated by the Euro Crisis resulting in a priority shift towards monetary crisis remedies, leaving foreign policy fields on the side-line. Particularly, security policy was marked by self-limiting abstention in the UN Security Council during the 2011 Libyan War. The Syrian Civil War caused a direct follow-up to these developments; a reluctance to provide Patriot Missiles for Turkey for border protection is another dead-give-away for Germany’s confusing foreign and security policy strategy.

Pirating Lessons

A pirate flag
Full speed ahead. Photo: Scott Vandehey/flickr.

Nomen est omen; the pirates have taken Berlin by storm. Although SPD’s Klaus Wowereit was comfortably re-elected as Berlin’s mayor, the strong showing of Germany’s newest addition to a state parliament has taken many by surprise. The pirate party, dedicated to free information and privacy protection, has won 8.9% of the votes. By comparison, the FDP – a junior partner in Angela Merkel’s government – has been completely kicked out.

Though concerned about the results, most established parties shrug the events off as a form of political protest, and describe the party as anything from ‘non-serious’ to ‘meaningless’. Unfortunately, they’re missing what Berlin’s youth has been trying to say.

Freedom of information and privacy issues on the net affect many voters directly. For a long time, Germany’s elite has been ignoring the important role of the internet in many of its citizens’ lives. When they finally touched upon the issue, it made ‘Generation Net’ worry even more. To internet activists, the prospects of telecommunications data retention felt like a 2.0 version of 1984.

Of course some of the party’s demands seem extreme, and their leaders still have to prove that they are committed to playing a constructive role in day-to-day politics. But whatever the future holds: instead of belittling the pirates, the bigger parties had better work out their own positions on a complex issue that concerns far more than 8.9% of the electorate.

The Death of “Multikulti”?

Is it really ‘us’ versus ‘them’? photo: Alejandro Angel Velásquez/flickr

When the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, spoke on Saturday about the “utter failure” of German attempts to foster a multicultural society, the move was widely seen as an attempt to bolster her position in a coalition increasingly focused on the issue of immigration.

In the aftermath of Thilo Sarrazin’s controversial book that accused Muslim migrants in particular of sapping the country of its intellectual vigor, her comments to young Christian Democratic Union (CDU) members seem particularly opportunistic.

Meanwhile, prominent members of Merkel’s coalition, chief among them the premier of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, have called for a halt to migration from other cultural spheres. Claiming to reflect the popular will, Seehofer has chosen to frame a thorny, complex and multifaceted issue in starkly populist terms.

While clearly immigration is a problematic issue in many European countries that struggle with economic uncertainty and immigrant populations of varying degrees of integration (and facing a variety of challenges from entrenched unemployment, language barriers and discrimination), the increasing acceptability of xenophobic rhetoric is a deeply worrying phenomenon that is taking root beyond the geographical margins of Europe. In addition to the well-documented cases in Holland, Switzerland and most recently Sweden, German politics seem to be lurching in a similar direction.

Instead of debating the issue constructively, and engaging positively with those immigrants (whether Muslim or not) that seek to integrate- the public debate across Europe seems to be moving towards the blanket-stigmatization of immigrants. A sense of xenophobic dread and a wish to turn back the time on increasingly diverse and ethnically, socially and religiously diverse societies seems to underlie this trend.

Coming Out or Staying In? Depends Where You’re Going.

Stonewall placard, courtesy of Helen Rickard/flickr

Last week, Germany’s Guido Westerwelle, Europe’s first openly gay foreign minister, said he would not take his partner along on official trips to countries where homosexuality is a prosecutable crime. Westerwelle, who is also Germany’s vice-chancellor, told the magazine Bunte that it is important that he and his partner “live according to our own measures of tolerance and that we do not adopt the sometimes less tolerant measures of others.” At the same time, he and his partner wish to “promote the concept of tolerance in the world … but do not want to achieve the opposite by behaving imprudently.” This strategy of problem avoidance became apparent when Mr Westerwelle made official visits to Yemen and Saudi Arabia and left his partner back in Berlin.

It is understandable that Mr Westerwelle does not wish to be reduced to his sexuality. As the German foreign minister, he cannot allow his sexuality to stand in the way of healthy foreign relations for his country.  However, traveling without his partner, and thus shunning the subject altogether, will not make him any more nor less gay. Nor will it change the way his host countries will perceive – or treat – him. So while the German Republic places the promotion of human rights at the core of its foreign policy, the foreign minister himself is exhibiting a strange tolerance towards the intolerant of this world.