Who is Frances closest ally at the moment?

Germany's foreign policy : The unreliable Germans

Germany's international influence is threatened by two developments. On central political issues, the Federal Republic of Germany is at odds with its closest allies: with France in defense and currency policy, with Poland in Russia policy and questions of democracy and the rule of law, with almost all EU partners in migration policy, with the USA in trade, energy and NATO issues. This reduces the cohesion of the West. Second, the liberal world order is losing its assertiveness. This has consequences for the survival of the German model of success. They are hardly discussed.

Germany is not a world power. Its influence as the most populous country in the EU and the fourth largest economy in the world will only take effect when it forms coalitions to assert common interests. It owes its rise to the status of export champion, which forms the basis of its prosperity and social system, to the liberal trade order and free trade routes. If the community of interests with neighbors, EU partners and NATO allies as well as the liberal order wavers, Germany's future is at risk.

Why is France disappointed?

The most common complaint in discussions with French ministers, presidential advisers, planning staff and political experts is: Germany is leaving us hanging. The international situation is serious, Europe must move vigorously. France has chosen Emmanuel Macron, who wants to reform the country and the EU. He does not shy away from the political risks associated with labor market reform and the amalgamation of European defense industries; he wants to create a European defense union. But the federal government is in no hurry. You miss the "sense of urgency" that can be felt in all meetings in Paris.

The second most frequent complaint: Germany should take security and defense more seriously and practice joint strategic thinking with France; it should no longer use its history as an excuse to avoid military operations or to offer only auxiliary services that are not associated with fighting. With the intervention against terrorist militias in Mali, France not only protected itself, but also Germany from attacks. One expects the Bundeswehr to fight next time. For the increased European military cooperation (Pesco) Germany must approve the promised funds. In the talks in Paris, security issues rank ahead of wishes for the development of the euro zone.

Why is Poland disappointed?

Polish ministers and parliamentarians lament the German tendency to preach to others what they should do and to listen too little to the wishes of their partners. The German-Russian pipeline Nord Stream 2 violates the existential interests of the Poles and the Baltic states. The EU Commission says the project is in contradiction to European energy policy. Such objections would be ignored in Berlin. In the conflict over the interference of the ruling party PiS in the media and the judicial system, the German willingness to look at the situation with Polish eyes is low. The German endeavors to fix wages and working conditions in EU directives for truck transports and other cross-border services are perceived in Poland as protectionism with the aim of robbing the cheaper Central Europeans of their competitive advantages.

What are the EU partners disappointed with?

In the European Parliament and the EU Commission, the general attitude of Germans towards Europe is viewed positively. In practice, however, there is a lack of it. It is said that the Germans are not the model Europeans they consider themselves to be. You have violated European agreements, from the debt criteria to the migration policy. Germans viewed suggestions that differed from what they were used to at home with suspicion. There is little curiosity about alternatives that work elsewhere. The insight that Europe must become more capable of acting, the less one can rely on Trump's USA, reaches its limits when national German interests are affected or the question arises of the costs of further integration. Questions of internal and external security are becoming more and more central. That is what you have to concentrate on. Many in Brussels view China with suspicion and call for a more self-confident approach to Beijing. Berlin must give the common China policy priority over national economic interests.

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Why is the US upset?

Trump is not alone with his calls for higher German defense spending, fairer trading conditions and criticism of German energy deals with Russia. The experts in the democratic camp also demand that Germany assume global responsibility as it corresponds to its economic and political weight. The Germans are seen as "free riders" who use the advantages of the international order but do not share the burden adequately. General Ben Hodges, until recently the commander of the US land forces in Europe, finds it difficult to understand that such a technically efficient society can put up with the fact that most of its military jets, helicopters, tanks and ships are not operational. And that it neglects its infrastructure so much that NATO's defense capability is in question. In the event of an emergency, it relies on rapid reinforcement of the troops, but the load capacity of the bridges on central German connections is not sufficient.

What can Germany do?

Above all: listen more, preach less. The central goal must be international coalitions to defend the liberal order. Europe must become more capable of acting. To achieve this, Germans have to understand the interests and perspectives of their partners and incorporate them into their own politics. Their most frequent complaints concern the obvious deficiencies of the Bundeswehr and the German unwillingness to discuss strategic challenges as openly as is taken for granted in Paris, Brussels, Warsaw and Washington. President Macron deserves more support for his reform plans. Berlin must step up the dialogue with Poland, even if it is arduous, and respond to legitimate Polish objections. Many EU partners also wish that Germany should not react so emotionally to President Trump, but soberly in terms of politics. Without the USA, Europe could not guarantee its security and counter-terrorism today. China and Russia are no alternatives if the USA no longer guarantees the liberal order to the same extent as before. The EU will have to do more itself. To this end, Germany, as the largest member, has to review national peculiarities that make joint action difficult, for example parliamentary scrutiny for missions abroad.

The book “We no longer understand the world. Germany's alienation from its friends ”, Herder Verlag 2018, 256 pages, 22 euros is available in the Tagesspiegel shop, Askanischer Platz 3, 10963 Berlin. Also signed on request. To order online, please click here. Telephone order hotline: (030) 29021 520.

Christoph von Marschall presented the book on Tuesday in a discussion with the former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and the chairman of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, in Berlin.

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