What Angela Merkel should tell London

Dear Brits, Please Be Upfront!

On Thursday 27 February 2014 German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be in London, meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth II. She will also address the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Expectations are running high: Germany is supposed to pave the way for a renegotiated British EU membership. How should Merkel respond? Here are some suggestions.

Over the past few months the British government has been tirelessly charming Angela Merkel, sending the signal to both Britain and the rest of the EU that London and Berlin are together on EU reform. The German Chancellor is expected to help Prime Minister David Cameron with his claim of renegotiating the conditions of Britain’s EU membership. It is assumed that Berlin is ready to make concessions to London since Germany has a strong interest in keeping Britain “in.”

True, Germany would rather not lose Britain as a fellow EU member, even though it has often been an inconvenient partner. London brings a worldly attitude to the table, is in favor of the common market and global trade, and is a much needed partner for European security. Thus the possible exit of the third-largest EU member would not only send shockwaves through the rest of the EU; in the medium term, the negotiations to organize the British exit would also absorb significant resources in Berlin, and in the long term would shift power within the Union – perhaps not to Germany’s advantage.

The Federal Government has made it clear that Germany would want Britain rather in than out. However, as is often the case on potentially controversial EU issues, the German Chancellor has so far avoided addressing the messy bits on Britain’s EU future. To what extent is Berlin willing to make concessions to help keep Britain in? In Westminster, Merkel will be tempted to once again deliver one of her speeches that go down well but don’t hurt anyone. Instead, she should clarify things now.

This is what the Chancellor should say:

To start with, please do not overestimate your influence, or that of Germany. If you don’t work to convince all other Europeans that your efforts at reform are to create a better EU, and are not about mere self-interest, then you will soon find your efforts will go nowhere. The EU only works in a cooperative manner; this is what Berlin has learned the hard way over the past few years. We were surprised to see how easily the “German question” returned to the negotiating table. If you only roll out the reddest of carpets for Berlin, this will not lead you anywhere – nor will it for us.

Secondly, don’t place all your eggs in one basket, especially on an issue that is not even on the table. The ways and means of treaty reform have changed. This was a difficult learning process for us too. The centrifugal forces in the EU have become too strong; we just don’t have the time for fundamental reform, and the risk of a painstaking compromise failing in the ratification processes is simply too high. You forced us to think more imaginatively about treaty reform (or, more precisely, eurozone reform) and to engineer it in a more targeted and precise way. This after all has not been such a bad experience. Legal experts are now working at developing much needed reform that holds in both our parliaments and in our constitutional court in Karlsruhe. Dear Brits – very sorry, but you live in the past.

Surely you also understand that even with a dose of goodwill, the Federal Government will not be able to give time and resources to your debate. Berlin places its energy on a sustainable future for the eurozone. One might deem that absurd, but my government, in direct contrast with the British government, has identified “more Europe” as the way to go. For good reasons I have been rather opaque about what this actually means, but this is not a debate to have here in London. There are two games under the EU umbrella now: one is the eurozone, the other one a (non- or not-yet-) eurozone game. Fundamentally we do not like this, not even for a transition period, but my government has started to embrace this reality more openly. Our strategy aims to make the eurozone grow in number, in particular we want to see Poland join. There might be an occasional overlap with British interests here and there, but it would not be enough to create a special relationship between Berlin and London.

So please do not distract us with your balance of competences review. We are a federal state, and Berlin, Munich, Düsseldorf, or Stuttgart would also have a lot to say on the issue. Instead, why don’t you come up with an evidence-based strategic assessment on how a deepened eurozone can be reconciled with the needs of the wider single market? What measures are needed, which boundaries must not be crossed to avoid different speeds suddenly turning into different directions? With such a contribution you could demonstrate that you are thinking in both national and European terms, in an inclusive rather than divisive manner. This will be acknowledged elsewhere in Europe too. And why are you obsessing about the balance of competences between the UK and the EU when your own union is under strain? Surely the time has come for Britain to review the distribution of powers within the United Kingdom and move towards a federal system.

And since I have already raised the issue: Our competencies debate is not framed along “renegotiations.” We prefer to speak of subsidiarity, as the Dutch recently reminded us. Subsidiarity, then, is not a one-way street. It can go both ways: more or less Europe.

Don’t be misguided by the critics of my so-called “austerity dictate.” I am not an Iron Lady. In Germany, we adhere to the notion of a social market economy. My new coalition government will make this clear again towards the rest of the EU.

Finally, we have come to cherish flexibility and pragmatism with regard to EU affairs. However, there are limits, especially for a country like Germany. Nobody seriously expects a commitment to deeper integration from London. We understand that you do not intend to join either the Euro or Schengen, and that you have a declining faith in binding rules and institutional arrangements under the roof of the EU. What the British government really wants though is not clear to us. The EU as a network? Since the beginning of European integration we have done well with the choice of taming German power through jointly-agreed rules and jointly-governed institutions. We do not want to see this system watered down.

But especially in areas where we Europeans choose to work together in looser forms of cooperation, we need a sense of mutual trust. What then does Britain contribute? At the moment many of the signals we receive from your country are toxic, sowing the seeds of distrust among Europeans – your debate on the free movement of people in the single market being a prime example.

Dear Brits, please be a bit more upfront and explain what you are really up to rather than trying to use us for your own agenda. We really want you in the Union, but be aware the price might just turn out to be too high.


This piece was originally published with the IP Journal, the English online magazine of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP e.V.).

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berlinbrief hibernating

Due to my work at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in Berlin the berlinbrief is currently hibernating.

In the meantime follow my commentary at the “Eye on Europe” blog of IP Journal, the English foreign policy journal of the DGAP.

Almut Möller also contributed to the “Eurozone 2013: Prospects and Challenges” blog of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Brussels.

 

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Herman Van Rompuy at Pergamon Museum

Herman van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, has delivered the first “The State of Europe” speech in Berlin on 9 November 2010.

The President that took office a year ago came to Berlin at a time when the European Union still struggles to get the euro currency back on track. Continue reading

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Foreign Ministry Involved in Nazi Crimes

Then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer commissioned a study in 2005 on the role of the Auswärtiges Amt during National Socialism.

An independent commission of four renowned historians has now published a substantial report concluding that the wartime foreign ministry played an important role in the Nazi crimes and that the post WWII ministry continued to employ diplomats that were involved in them. “Das Amt und die Vergangenheit: Deutsche Diplomaten im Dritten Reich und in der Bundesrepublik” is the first comprehensive analysis of the role of the Foreign Office under the Nazi regime based on the foreign office’s archives.

The findings that were presented at two events in Berlin last week – by the current Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in the Auswärtiges Amt as well as by his predecessors Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Joschka Foscher in a separate event –  have received wide attention in Berlin’s political elites as well as among the German public.

The book was released a week ago and is being reprinted already.

Here is the official position of the Federal Foreign Office acknowledging that “the Foreign Office was deeply involved in the crimes of the Third Reich”.

Also, take a look at Foreign Minister Westerwelle’s speech on the topic and at the head of the independent commission explaining his findings to Spiegel Online:

“Hitler’s Diplomats: Historian calls wartime ministry a ‘criminal organization'” (Interview with historian Eckart Conze, Spiegel Online International, 27 October 2010).

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The Franco-German Tandem is Back

The European Union is still struggling to protect the euro currency against new turbulences. Member states agree that the current Stability and Growth Pact needs to be reformed to give the sanctions regime a stronger clout, and that the Union needs an ordered insolvency law. However the devil is in the detail and it has been difficult to conclude a deal among the 16 euro zone and 27 European Union members.

Like in the old days of the Franco-German motor, Germany and France came up with a proposal prior to the EU summit on 28/29 October, agreed during a beach walk at the French-German-Russian summit in Deauville on 18 October 2010. The deal provoked an outcry across the Union. Continue reading

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Bundeswehr Reform Proposals Released

Shortly after Minister of Defence Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg announced the end of conscription earlier this fall, an independent commission set up to review the practice of the Ministry of Defence suggested to cut the ministry’s staff by half.

The cross-party commission presided by Frank-Jürgen Weise, the head of the Federal Agency for Employment, presented its report on 26 October 2010, as governments across Europe are announcing cuts in defence spending.

If taken on, the reform proposal would mean another shake up of Germany’s defence establishment. Minister zu Guttenberg announced that he would carefully review the proposals. The spending policies of the Ministry of Finance already played in his hands when abolishing conscription. Looks like a few more sacred cows are being slaugthered in Berlin over the next months.

There is a debate going on in Berlin at the moment about whether the reforms of the armed forces and the MOD will eventually lead to a more efficient Bundeswehr able to deal with future threats.

Take a look at:

“German Committee Recommends Cutbacks in Defense Spending” (Judy Dempsey in the International Herald Tribune, 24 October 2010).

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Germany Elected to UN Security Council

The German campaign for a seat among the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council succeeded on 12 October 2010.

128 of the 192 UN member states voted for Germany to take a seat in the Security Council for two years, starting in 2011.

Peter Wittig, the German UN Ambassador, played a key role in the campaign. He is said to have spoken to almost all UN members before the vote.

Take a look at reactions in the German media:

“Germany Joins ‘Vehement Supporters of Reform’ on Security Council” (Spiegel Online International, The World from Berlin, 13 October 2010)

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Germany and Counterinsurgency

The berlinbrief is drawing your attention to a recent paper by Benjamin Schreer, deputy director of the Aspen Institute in Berlin, on Germany and Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.

The piece has been published in the Australian journal “Security Challenges”.

Here is the paper’s abstract:

“This article examines the challenges for the German armed forces, the Bundeswehr, to adapt to the counterinsurgency (COIN) challenge in the context of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. It argues that prevailing German strategic thought makes it very hard for the Bundeswehr to adjust for COIN in a comprehensive way. While adjustments have been made, these are largely on the operational and tactical level. The political and the strategic level of the armed forces are far from embracing COIN as a strategy and as a major task for the Bundeswehr. Germany’s allies and partners like Australia need to recognise the structural factors putting brakes to a rapid transformation of the Bundeswehr for COIN.”

Read the full text here.

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German Islamists Attacked in Pakistan

Spiegel Online International reported on 11 October that the victims of a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan earlier this month have been identified.

The group of men targeted by U.S. forces included German citizens that were believed to have ties with the Hamburg cell of the 9/11 hijackers.

The incident coincided with a travel alert issued by the U.S., warning its citizens of the risk of terrorist attacks in Europe carried out by militant Islamists.

The German government reacted cautiously to the alert. Continue reading

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Heard about Resolution 1325?

It has been ten years this month that the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 in which it calls for an increase in the participation of women at decision-making levels in conflict resolution and peace processes.

Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, the foundation affiliated with the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the German chapter of Women in International Security (WIIS.de) jointly hosted a workshop and a public event on the issue in Berlin on 5 October 2010.

“Decision-Making in Security and Defence Policy: Men without Women?” included participants from both Europe and the United States working on foreign and security issues. Speakers at the public event moderated by Constanze Stelzenmüller, WIIS.de’s president, included Kathleen Hicks, U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Forces, Stefanie Babst, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Strategy as well as Major Paula D. Broadwell, a defense analyst and a member of the executive board of WIIS in the United States.

A decade on, there is still little knowledge about Resolution 1325 – many believe it is essentially about the protection of women and children in armed combat – and women are only slowly making it into senior positions in security and defense institutions. However, structural impediments are increasingly lifted so trends point toward a greater involvement of women.

In the workshop session that took place prior to the public event, 30 women discussed strategies to strengthen 1325.

IHT’s staff Katrin Bennhold wrote about the conference in a piece published 2 November 2010: “Waging War and Peace With Women.”

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