Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Merkel's European and Foreign Policy Legacy on the Eve of the German Elections: European Hegemon or Global Player?1

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Merkel's European and Foreign Policy Legacy on the Eve of the German Elections: European Hegemon or Global Player?1

Article excerpt

Introductory Remarks and Basic Questions

It is not easy to judge German Chancellor Angela Merkel's European and foreign policy, as the picture is varied after nearly eight years in power. Outside of Germany, Merkel has been consistently and repeatedly blamed for a "too little too late" attitude during the euro crisis and for her tough course of austerity, especially by the Anglo-Saxon press and in Southern European countries. In Germany, however, a large number of people, 70%, approve of her crisis management and admire her for guiding Germany with a tranquil hand quite well through the crisis.2 Interestingly enough, in eight of all European countries, Merkel ranks first in popularity.3 Among many European leaders and countries, on the other hand, she is both feared and disliked. Merkel herself is (still) a mystery to many. German European and foreign policy is another mystery. "Is there any?" could be the first question. If there is one, it is one of the chancellery and not of the foreign ministry which has not been in the driving seat for German European policy in recent years.4

One of the most often heard criticisms is that Merkel is a pragmatic person driven only and exclusively by the desire to maintain her power. In May 2010 she postponed a safety-package for Greece-risking the unravelling of the euro -because of elections in the Federal State of North-Rhine-Westphalia. Only a year later, this time because of elections in the Federal State of Baden-Württemberg, she made Germany abstain from joining the West when it came time to vote in the United Nations Security Council on Resolution 1973 on Libya. This decision is probably the German foreign policy choice in recent years that has triggered the most possible astonishment, if not even anger in the Western world, especially the U.S.5 Germany had become unreliable and was in a normative way sort of no longer part of the West. Germany as a BRIC was the question of the moment.6 New German provincialism was another way to look at it.7 Whereas in the whole Cold War era, foreign policy was basically structuring German domestic policy, German domestic policy has-since re-unification in 1989-been structuring German foreign policy. This is in total contrast to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s, when questions related to The Stalin Note, Westbindung (anchorage to the West), Elysée-Treaty, the Basic Treaty from 1972, Pershing missile deployment, etc., structured and dominated not only elections, but made chancellors fall or retire (remember the defeat of Helmut Schmidt in his own party, when defending the U.S. Pershing missile deployment in 1982?). Today the whole of Europe lives in the rhythm of German regional elections and priorities and all eyes will be turned to Germany in September 2013 for its general elections-but Germany seems no longer that much disturbed by what is happening in the outside world. In short, Germany feels empty of European or global strategy and thus, has in a way not only an unambitious foreign policy but also no clear strategy or global German narrative or story detectable nor does its citizens. What today's Germany stands for in the world is less clear today than during the Cold War and before 1989. Obviously, this impression is reinvigorated by the global trend of institutional breakdown or meltdown touching all international institutions, from NATO to WTO, that leaves a huge normative political vacuum in foreign policy and international relations, and which is an expression for the current global shift from geo-strategy to geo-economic and the loss of primacy of politics and strategy in foreign relations.

As a consequence, Germany visibly seems to have, to a large extent, replaced foreign policy with trade policy, if not trade alone (without policy). The relationship goes where German exports goes (especially to China), whereas before 1989 one paradigm of German foreign policy was that the most important trade partners should also be the best strategic allies and vice-versa. …

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