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German Foreign Policy in Transition

Volatile Conditions, New Momentum

SWP Research Paper 2021/RP 10, 13.12.2021, 125 Seiten


  • In the coming legislative period, the Federal Government and the Bundes­tag will need to redefine the scope of Germany’s responsibility in world politics. The potential for action of German foreign policy cannot be prop­erly assessed without taking into consideration the new international constellations and the required changes.

  • Shifts in international power, the loss of influence of Western positions, growing authoritarianism, the weakening of multilateral institutions, urgent global problems such as climate change – all of these challenges call for a realignment of German foreign policy. In doing so, it is impor­tant to adequately assess the limits of its capabilities but also the existing room for manoeuvre. This should guide its goals and priorities.

  • German foreign policy is faced with increasingly intense competition for international influence and the authority to interpret norms and values. This competition takes different forms in the individual fields of foreign affairs. For this reason, Germany’s presence in international politics can only be influential if the ministries involved pool their efforts and resources.

  • More room needs to be made available for forward-looking and medium-term approaches in foreign policy decision-making. In this way, it may be possible to overcome the tendency towards ad hoc decisions and to avoid predominantly reactive patterns of behaviour.

  • Germany’s foreign relations must be guided by reliable partnerships and new forms of responsibility-sharing in various policy areas. How conflicting objectives are to be negotiated can only be determined through open and transparent dialogue.

Table of contents

1 Introduction. German Foreign Policy in Transition: Volatile Conditions, New Momentum

Günther Maihold, Stefan Mair, Melanie Müller, Judith Vorrath, and Christian Wagner

1.1 Recognising change and promoting change

1.2 Categories of change

1.3 What change? An attempt to determine where we stand


2 Time for Diplomacy: The Model of a New Concert of Powers As a Cue for Germany

Barbara Lippert

2.1 The new concert of powers – a blueprint

2.2 Selective added value for German and European foreign policy

2.3 Impetus for Europe’s strategic autonomy

2.4 Outlook

3 Germany Matters: Berlin Must Take the Lead in Creating a Europe of Global Stature

Eckhard Lübkemeier

3.1 The leadership dilemma can be attenuated

3.2 Germany’s interests and EU integration are intertwined

3.3 No hierarchy between values and interests

4 German Global Health Policy. For a More Sustainable Orientation

Susan Bergner and Maike Voss

4.1 Germany’s new indecision

4.2 A changing international landscape

4.3 Future topics

4.4 Multilateral systemic approaches

4.5 Institutional conditions

4.6 Scientific and political monitoring in Germany

4.7 Coordination within the Federal Government

4.8 Windows of opportunity and setting the course

5 The EU on the Way to a Fiscal Union?

Peter Becker

5.1 What is being discussed?

5.2 What has already been achieved?

5.2.1 A possible differentiation between the euro zone and the EU-27

5.2.2 The problem of joint and several liability

5.2.3 Democratic legitimacy of new fiscal instruments

5.3 What issues remain to be resolved?

5.3.1 Is a permanent stabilisation or transfer mechanism possible?

5.3.2 Financing the mechanism through common debt instruments or an EU tax?

5.3.3 What conditionalities and limits should be introduced?

5.4 Tasks for the next Federal Government

6 Advancing the EU Security Union vs Protecting the Community of Law

Raphael Bossong

6.1 The development of the Security Union to date

6.2 Greater need for European crisis management and solidarity

6.3 A deepened Community of Law as a prerequisite for the Security Union

6.4 Mutual trust and the national rule of law

6.5 Priorities and recommendations for Germany

7 The Need for New Concepts to Address Conflicts in Europe’s Broader Southern Neighbourhood

Hürcan Aslı Aksoy, Muriel Asseburg, and Wolfram Lacher

7.1 Policy option 1: Diplomatic ad hoc mechanisms

7.2 Policy option 2: Military coalitions of the willing

7.3 Policy option 3: Universal criminal jurisdiction

8 The Key Elements Paper on the Bundeswehr of the Future: Necessary Adaptations to Security Policy Challenges

Florian Schöne

8.1 Basic features of the “old” Bundeswehr

8.2 “Key Elements” for the future?

8.3 Dimensions

8.4 National command and planning

8.5 Strategic thinking

8.6 Conclusion

9 Maritime Choice: Indo-Pacific versus Arctic–North Atlantic Priorities

Michael Paul and Göran Swistek

9.1 The situation in the Arctic and North Atlantic regions

9.2 The Arctic–North Atlantic region from a German perspective

9.3 Consequences for German policy

10 Difficult Relations with Moscow. German Policy towards Russia Must Be More Carefully Calibrated

Sabine Fischer

10.1 Russian realities

10.2 Germany’s Russia policy: Partly missing the facts

10.3 Next German government: (Even) more realism needed

10.4 Costs and benefits

11 A Different Kind of “One China” Policy

Hanns Günther Hilpert and Angela Stanzel

11.1 A defensively oriented, value-driven foreign economic policy

11.2 Strengthen and expand international cooperation with regard to China

12 Putting Words into Action: Foreign Policy towards Africa and Latin America

Denis M. Tull and Claudia Zilla

12.1 Migration policy in Africa

12.2 LAC in the context of the Covid‑19 vaccine policy

12.3 Policy changes and confidence-building

Identity-related Change

13 Multilateralism and Partnership in German Foreign and Security Policy

Hanns W. Maull

13.1 Multilateralism

13.2 Sustainable partnership

13.3 Conclusions and recommendations for action

14 Foreign Sustainability Policy

Marianne Beisheim and Felicitas Fritzsche

14.1 Starting point: The German Sustainable Development Strategy 2021

14.2 Change

14.3 Recommendations

15 Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Six Practical Proposals

Volker Stanzel

15.1 National foreign policy dialogue platforms

15.2 European early warning networks

15.3 National Security Council in the German Bundestag

15.4 Institutional framework of the Alliance for Multilateralism

15.5 Review conference for the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations

15.6 Institutionalised EU capacity-building on Asia

16 Hybrid Threats and the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy

Annegret Bendiek and Raphael Bossong

16.1 Resilience and Security Union

16.2 The weaknesses of the Common Foreign and Security Policy

16.3 The necessary reorganisation of the EEAS as a strategic intelligence unit

16.4 Germany’s contribution to the restructuring of the EEAS

17 Towards an International Policy of Democratic Resilience

Günther Maihold

17.1 Is Germany a democracy that is willing to defend itself and its principles also to the outside world?

17.2 Looking at variants of authoritarianism and autocracies

17.3 From external democracy promotion to an international policy of democratic resilience

18 Thinking Build Back Better on a Global Level: Strengthening Strategies from the Global South

Christina Saulich and Svenja Schöneich

18.1 Understanding regional recovery strategies

18.2 European priorities

18.3 Build Back Better in Africa

18.4 Latin American strategies

18.5 The need for compatible regional strategies

18.5.1 Establishing B3W as an attractive cooperation offer: Taking advantage of the German G7 presidency

18.5.2 Designing nearshoring fairly: Strengthening local supply chains through EU trade policy

18.5.3 Thinking globally about the energy transition: Implementing measures for a just transition

Formative Change

19 Integrating Climate Ambition and Energy Diplomacy in Foreign Policy

Susanne Dröge and Kirsten Westphal

19.1 Climate ambitions and a changing energy sector

19.1.1 A coal phase-out as the prevailing global climate solution

19.1.2 Expansion of renewable energies and the importance of Europe

19.2 External relations in climate and energy: Interfaces, divergences, and partners

19.3 Options for a proactive German diplomacy

20 German and European Asylum and Migration Policy: Why a More Forward‑looking Approach Is Needed

Steffen Angenendt, Nadine Biehler, Nadine Knapp, Anne Koch, and Amrei Meier

20.1 Problems, challenges, and opportunities

20.2 Conflicting objectives and target-setting

20.3 Elements of a strategically oriented asylum and migration policy

20.4 Outlook

21 Between War and Peace: How to Raise Germany’s Profile in Crisis Prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa

Melanie Müller and Judith Vorrath

21.1 Early prevention instead of wait and see

21.2 Acting at critical junctures

21.3 Considering “atypical” courses of conflict

21.4 Formative change needs leadership

22 Disarmament, Non-proliferation and Nuclear Sharing. Germany’s European and Global Responsibility

Wolfgang Richter

22.1 Balancing act between normative non-proliferation policy and nuclear sharing

22.2 The credibility dilemma of nuclear first‑use

22.3 Political stability considerations and conclusions

23 A Club of Democratic Market Economies in Response to China’s Mercantilism?

Heribert Dieter

23.1 Preference for economic autonomy

23.2 Consequences for Germany and the global economy

23.3 Change through trade?

23.4 New directions in trade policy?

24 Readjusting and Refocusing Germany’s European Policy

Sabine Riedel

24.1 Courage to change shape in European policy despite pressure to adapt

24.2 The EU is not Europe – EU enlargement does not happen on its own

24.3 Strengthening intergovernmental cooperation within the EU‑27

24.4 Reshaping EU relations with EFTA and the United Kingdom

24.5 Dealing with the EU neighbourhood (Western Balkans, Eastern Europe)

25 Rethinking and Redirecting: Germany’s Security Policy Needs Mental and Material Empowerment

Eckhard Lübkemeier and Oliver Thränert

25.1 Why German security policy needs to be enhanced

25.2 An 11-point agenda to enhance German security policy

Partner-related Change

26 The European Security Order in a Geopolitical World

Markus Kaim and Ronja Kempin

26.1 Dwindling influence in a changed geopolitical environment

26.2 What power politics, with what partners?

26.3 Flexibilisation internally, readjustment externally

27 German Policy Towards the United States: More Self-Confidence and More Independence Needed

Johannnes Thimm

27.1 No return to the status quo ante

27.2 More initiative and self-confidence in cooperation

27.3 Cooperation where possible, independence where necessary

27.4 Reduce political, military, and economic dependencies

28 Partners or Rivals? Dealing with Authoritarian Powers

Stefan Mair

28.1 What makes states partners, what makes them rivals?

28.2 Dealing with rivals

29 Don’t Drop the Ball: German Indo‑Pacific Policy

Alexandra Sakaki, Gudrun Wacker, and Christian Wagner

29.1 European coordination and cooperation

29.2 Partners in the Indo-Pacific

29.3 Issue priorities

29.4 Priority-setting, conflicting goals, tough decisions

30 Appendix

30.1 Abbreviations

30.2 The Authors

Introduction. German Foreign Policy in Transition: Volatile Conditions, New Momentum

Günther Maihold, Stefan Mair, Melanie Müller, Judith Vorrath, and Christian Wagner

The hasty withdrawal of Western troops from Af­ghani­stan and the rapid takeover by the Taliban in Kabul have placed some fundamental questions about German foreign policy on the agenda with renewed urgency. In what form – and with what goals – should “the West” become involved in such contexts in the future? What degree of responsibility does the German government want to assume? How will Germany prepare itself for military operations abroad in the future? Last but not least, it is also a question of how preventive action can identify escalating crises at an earlier stage and help avoid violent conflicts or tackle them more effectively.

Beyond these currently debated aspects, the devel­opments in Afghanistan and the discussions on the lessons learnt from this international engagement illustrate just how vital questions about global and regional regulatory frameworks are for Germany. The newly elected Federal Government and Bundestag will have to produce quick and far-reaching answers to a large number of future issues.

Frameworks and contexts are never static, but recent changes seem to be more profound and accel­erated, not least due to the impacts of the Corona pandemic. In the last decade, volatility has affected many formats of foreign policy action that were pre­viously considered stable. This applies – even after the end of the Trump presidency – to the willingness to act multilaterally, to the commitment to global public goods, as well as to the relationship between preventive action and the recovery from damages resulting from crises and conflicts. It can thus be assumed that the West will lose recognition and that the influence of its values and normative ideas will (further) wane. This affects not only the leading power – the United States (US) – but also the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alliance, the Euro­pean Union (EU), and Germany.

Just how far-reaching the resulting shifts at the global level will be is difficult to assess at present. How­ever, Germany must prepare itself for the pos­si­bility of considerable upheavals in international politics that will affect both partners and competitors. At the same time, these developments imply the need, but also the opportunity, to create new momen­tum in the European and international frameworks.

The main coordinates of Germany’s engagement in world politics have to be examined and possibly redefined if the country wishes to position itself for the future. Many international parameters are chang­ing, indicating the need for a new perspective and a reorientation of Germany’s own policies. Under these conditions, the elections of 2021 have ushered in a new phase of German foreign policy, but not only from Berlin’s perspective.1 With the end of the “Merkel era”, international expectations of Germany’s leader­ship role will also be reordered.

The traditional pillars of German foreign policy are its integration into European affairs and the trans­atlantic partnership. These basic elements have been subjected to discernible stress tests in recent years, as more populist governments have come to power and domestic political polarisation has increased in many European states as well. In various regions of the world, an erosion of democratic processes and grow­ing authoritarianism – in part transnationally linked – can be observed. At the international level, the stra­tegic, increasingly systemic rivalry between China and the US is undermining multilateral relations. At the same time, new actors seeking regional spheres of influence are emerging in the Global South. Western states can no longer easily assume that they are cen­tral players in other world regions or multilateral fora. The EU is confronted with the task of dealing with intensifying rivalries between great and regional powers, therefore it is obliged to define its own stra­tegic position and, in the process, forge alliances with new partners.2 Human rights violations and breaches of international agreements are putting an increased strain on the multilateral system, to which German and European leaders are committed.

These upheavals in the international system are happening in addition to global challenges such as man-made climate change and digitalisation, but also hybrid threats from cyberspace and the growing com­petition for resources. Transnational migration move­ments and disruptions in international trade require strategic decisions to be taken within national and Euro­pean frameworks. With the erosion of old region­al orders and the emergence of new actors seek­ing to establish their own concepts of “order”, the task of regulating conflicts in a sustainable manner is becoming even more complex. Asia’s economic dyna­mism and the rise of China have set new refer­ence points for foreign policy. Moreover, the Corona pandemic is accelerating many developments – not only because it increases social tensions and inequality within and between regions, but also because it draws political attention away from other issues.

Changes in domestic political preferences and inter­ests can also be observed. Thus, the German elec­tions of 2021 provide an opportunity to set priority issues and meet the challenges of the international environment through an assessment of the current situation while questioning the underlying identity of foreign policy and developing options for action. This is the approach of this collaborative volume, which revolves around the central question: What reorien­tation and what course should the future German gov­ernment set in order to shape the central chal­lenges of its foreign relations, exploit existing oppor­tunities, and generate new momentum from internal shifts around the elections?3

The contributions of this volume deal with policy fields, issue areas, and actors for which a change of perspective is necessary or desirable in order to reposition Germany in the international arena as well as in its domestic and foreign policy realm. To start with, the focus is on change in the international en­vironment and the resulting challenges. But it is also about the question of how to classify various topics and fields of action whose priorities have shifted. Finally, the normative debates on German foreign policy positions that follow from new conceptual approaches and party-political preferences are being taken up while their contexts of justification are also evaluated. This process includes, in particular, defin­ing the principles, values, and rules of multilateral­ism for the future.

Recognising change and promoting change

The following considerations focus on change, which does not necessarily devaluate previous approaches, in­struments, and concepts. Rather, the aim is to sharp­en the focus on those policy areas where changes and shifts in priorities can add value for Ger­many in international politics. The growing pressure to act in certain areas has to be considered, but options for shaping policy to create new opportunities pro-active­ly are equally important. The con­tributions explore rele­vant changes, room for manoeuvre, and entry points for German foreign policy. In doing so, the authors at times adopt controversial perspectives – also among themselves. We deliberately avoid comprehensively outlining the problems and look beyond the usual categories of foreign policy issues and points of refer­ence. The focus is on those options where Germany can change its position by taking active steps to utilise existing opportunities or create new ones.

This also requires a review of the country’s own instruments of action, from diplomacy and the Bun­des­wehr to development cooperation and stabilisation engagement. The organisation of the foreign policy decision-making process, which suffers from the fact that participation formats fray and the com­petencies of various departments and agencies over­lap, is also reviewed. The claim that Germany’s for­eign policy should be characterised by consistency in different arenas and vis-à-vis partners that can also act as competitors (keyword: coherence) represents an ongoing challenge. In this respect, converging indi­vidual fields of action and achieving compatibility are key for an effective foreign policy presence, not least in international “club governance” formats such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the G7, and the G20.

The focus on a foreign policy “in transition” is not intended to underestimate the importance of con­tinuity and stable guidelines for action. Especially in moments of crisis, demands for a change in course or strategy are part of the standard repertoire of political debates. In this volume, a change in foreign policy behaviour is understood as a change in the realm of possi­bilities for foreign policy.4 This is associated with the notion of unused or new options for action that can be implemented, provided that the relevant competencies and the necessary sources of power are avail­able. The scope and size of this realm of possibilities are determined by external factors, the country’s own formative power, and the will to use it. In addition, it varies according to subject area and policy field; how it is shaped depends on foreign policy style, which can range from a willingness for pro-active engagement to reactive behaviour and negligence. The very fact that the boundaries between domestic and for­eign policy are blurring shifts the content and organi­sational allocation of foreign policy measures. At the same time, strategic considerations from the field of domestic policy – for example on energy or migra­tion issues – are spilling over into foreign policy positions.

In any case, change should be understood as a gradual process. It refers to a spectrum of possible transitions of German foreign policy, ranging from selec­tive course corrections to a change of track or direc­tion. In other words, it is not always a matter of a fundamental departure from established positions, but in part about other priorities or adjustments that are applied to foreign policy from outside or inside and can be grasped in different dimensions in terms of their scope and depth.

Categories of change

The contributions to this volume are structured along four categories of change that determine for­eign policy action and at the same time offer starting points for future course-setting.

Adaptation: Upheavals, geopolitical rivalries, and shifts in power that take place in the international sphere can expand or restrict a country’s scope for action. In any case, this sphere exerts pressure on nation­al actors to adapt. The strength and speed of such changes create new conditions for foreign policy that are often underestimated. This concerns the rise of China as well as the geopolitical ambitions of other states to control strategic resources.

Identity-related change: If the national self-image, the negotiation of domestic political interests and con­sen­sus, or social power configurations change, this can influence concepts of foreign policy roles and lead to the repositioning of a country in international politics. This also includes adjustments in the prioritisation of policy areas, new bases of legitimacy for foreign policy action (e.g. through movements such as “Fridays for Future”), and obligations under international agree­ments (e.g. the United Nations sustainability agenda) – factors, in other words, that have an impact on estab­lished orders of preference or patterns of action and that close, or can close, credibility gaps.

Formative change: Foreign policy action can be trans­formed by a change in the ability and willingness to shape international affairs. If nothing else, routine pat­terns are then overcome. A new interest in an international presence, the proactive pursuit of op­portunities to exert influence, the desire to gain status or avoid losing it – such factors can inspire more active participation in shaping international policy, as can be seen in the cases of South Korea and Turkey and their regional and global ambitions. This can also be reflected in the preference for certain for­eign policy patterns, for example in terms of policy style.

Partner-related change: The scope and impact of for­eign policy change are strongly conditioned by the selection of partners and support groups. It is true that alliance-building, integration processes, and social­isation effects in international organisations can initiate and deepen convergence processes in inter­governmental behaviour. But such developments are difficult to assess if, for example, China appears to Germany simultaneously as a partner, a competitor, and a rival.5 Similar unpredictability arises in regard to relations with the US. Partner constellations shape the normative and operative articulation of interests and the order of preferences for foreign policy action. They can strengthen or weaken the changes in for­eign policy behaviour bilaterally and in a group con­text as well as specifically in certain policy fields.

These four categories overlap and can be found as part of different configurations in almost all policy fields. The way in which the following contributions are assigned follows the authors’ assessments of which forms of change are paramount in their topic in each case – without, however, neglecting the other dimensions.

What change? An attempt to determine where we stand

With its 28 contributions, this volume covers a broad spectrum of the fields of action that illustrate the wide scope of changes that have been identified or are considered necessary. Within the framework of this assessment of the current situation, medium- and long-term perspectives are identified that can affect the basic approach to foreign policy action or also make visible the short-term necessities for a change in course.6 Understood as a stocktaking, the aim is to question assumptions, analyses, and approaches in rele­vant areas in order to identify warning signs as well as shifts in the framework for action and to point out the potential for change in German foreign policy going forward.

With this aim in mind, the contributions each derive conclusions and recommendations that set their own subject-related emphases. Nevertheless, some basic principles for Germany’s foreign policy under a new Federal Government can be outlined below:

  • The architecture of foreign policy action must be changed in order to better accommodate medium- and long-term perspectives. Particularly in view of fundamental technological dynamics and massive power shifts in the international arena, foreign policy should be positioned more strongly beyond the public’s attention threshold and crisis-driven logics. In this context, it is necessary to view foreign policy as a long-term task, to pursue it with foresight, and to provide the necessary latitude and resources for this kind of understanding of the policy process. This may require a change in foreign policy style.

  • Such an arrangement should allow thematic and geographical priorities to be set in view of limited resources for action. It is important to realistically assess one’s own capabilities in day-to-day activities and to avoid the claim of “universal responsibility”. German’s and Europe’s unilateral efforts are less and less successful – even taking a pioneering role does not usually lead to enthusiastic followers. The focus should therefore be on the goal of creat­ing medium-term convergences of interest in cer­tain thematic areas with various partners, thus enabl­ing a new strategic orientation. However, this presupposes that one’s own position is clearly ar­ticu­lated and convincingly represented.

  • There needs to be a new pace in German foreign policy in some areas. This means overcoming exist­ing path dependencies, taking a fresh look at rele­vant groups of actors – such as those from the “Global South”, the “NGO world”, and the growing number of diaspora groups – and freeing foreign policy from its previous restrictiveness, for example an overly limited focus of migration policy. The demands for recognition and the participatory in­ter­ests of other states must also be taken up out­side the European context if lasting partnerships are to be forged. New configurations, such as in Russian-Chinese relations, must be given greater attention. Dealing with major powers is a contested issue in German domestic politics, as it is linked to legitimising interests for the positioning of parties and politicians.

  • Germany must clearly decide in which thematic areas and with which partners it wishes to vigor­ous­ly deploy its political capital. In the interest of greater effectiveness, it is crucial that resources for action are consolidated. Consistent interaction and the pooling of efforts and resources between the various ministries are critical factors.

  • Without a reorientation of foreign policy roles, it will not be possible to implement change. The out­lined categories for change and the focal points set by the following contributions provide guidance on this. Existing conflicts of goals should be discussed publicly, the costs and benefits of certain decisions made visible, and the corresponding trade-offs made transparent. At the same time, this allows for the balancing of different policy fields and the creation of a broader foundation for the necessary decisions. Such orientation of action is also advisable when dealing with partners.

  • Existing framework conditions must always be made clear, such as the requirement for compliance with the goals of the sustainability agenda, which calls for a clear orientation towards a global policy of public goods, and thus sets milestones that form a fundamental guideline for Germany’s international presence. The interlinking of climate protection, energy, technology, and industrial pol­i­cy is just one example of how the various policy fields must be considered together and integrated into a common concept for action. The importance of the sustainability framework has so far been barely visible in foreign policy; it should be more firmly anchored in political practice.

  • The partnerships that are essential to German for­eign policy carry with them opportunities but also dependencies. Therefore, comprehensive expec­tation management, both internally and externally, is imperative. Particularly in the NATO alliance as well as in the European context, this is of central importance. The orientation towards the important Franco-German partnership must not lead to feel­ings of exclusion among other EU members. “Neigh­bourhood” will no longer be a regional concept; Germany needs “global” neighbours in various regions of the world if it is to make its contribution towards solving the problems of the future. It will not only be a matter of achieving arrangements for burden-sharing, it will also be of great importance to develop a new set of instruments for sharing re­sponsibility and shaping the future together.

Foreign policy course corrections are not only neces­sary because domestic power relations are chang­ing; they are indispensable in view of shifts in world politics. In this context, it is important to pri­ori­tise what kind of change needs specific reactions, should be shaped, and/or actively promoted. The dimen­sions outlined in this volume make it clear that change can be encouraged, provoked, and generated in different ways. If German foreign policy is to be well positioned for the future, it must not only deal with this in a deliberate manner, but also create new momentum itself.


Time for Diplomacy: The Model of a New Concert of Powers As a Cue for Germany

Barbara Lippert

US policy advisors Richard N. Haass and Charles Kupchan argue for the creation of a “new concert of powers” as a counter-model to the liberal-democratic multilateralism to which the European Union (EU) and Germany continue to subscribe in international organisations and alliances.1 Because their potential to ensure security and prosperity as well as preserve the world’s natural resources is dwindling, according to the two authors, a global concert of powers “offers the best vehicle for managing a world no longer dominated by the United States and the West”.2 It would be short-sighted to immediately dismiss these considerations as a 19th century perspective. Al­though Germany should not endorse such a concert politically as an alternative model of order, it could find impetus for the revival of a rules-based inter­national order from the ideas being played out.

The new concert of powers – a blueprint

Disillusioned supporters of multilateralism will share the central premise of the “new concert of powers”: The international order is no longer underpinned by the Pax Americana. The latter is giving way to a multipolar order whose bipolar core consists of the rivals the United States (US) and China. These two – together with the EU, India, Japan, and Russia – are to form the propagated concert. These six powers account for about 70 per cent of global gross domestic product and military spending, and 65 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions.3 In the concert model, they maintain close, informal, and flexible cooperation with the goal and purpose of ensuring stability in terms of the territorial status quo. “The Six” mutually exclude interference in internal affairs and respect any form of government for the sake of political inclu­sion. The concert sees itself as the control centre of international politics and is in fact superordinate to the United Nations (UN) and groups such as the G7. The corresponding authority and legitimacy are derived from the ability of the Six to find common answers to global challenges. These include the pro­lif­eration of weapons of mass destruction, the threat of terrorist networks, concerns about global health, and the impacts of climate change. Top diplomats do the groundwork; they hold the fort at a headquarters, such as in Geneva or Singapore, where a secretariat is installed. Close communication between them, aimed at consensus, is intended to prevent one member from surprising the others with unilateral actions. Where agreement cannot be reached, however, even the concert of powers remains powerless. Its members can even act unilaterally if they see that their vital national interests are being threatened. A member is only expelled if it repeatedly violates the interests of another in an aggressive manner.

Selective added value for German and European foreign policy

The UN Security Council comes closest to the concert of powers in that both are ideologically diverse, as are the five permanent members of the Council. What could be the incentive for the latter – especially Rus­sia, China, and the US – to engage in a superordinate concert? From Washington’s perspective, the format could help contain the aggressively revisionist powers of China and Russia, and especially counter Beijing’s hegemonic claims. Unlike the Congress of Vienna4 in 1815 and the victorious Allies of 1945, however, the new concert of powers cannot establish a post-war Euro­pean or global order. It must take the inter­nation­al scene as it is – and moreover, as it is to remain – in territorial terms. The concert is also un­likely to give Russia, for instance, a free hand in its neighbourhood. Rather, it would pragmatically seek to prevent military conflict resolution as well as uni­lateral interventions that would affect the territorial status quo. Early warning and diplomatic defusing would therefore be called for. From Beijing’s and Moscow’s points of view, the rejection of regime-change strategies would appear particularly attrac­tive. Being able to rely on each other would be the core promise of solidarity among the Six.

Membership in the concert of powers would mean an upgraded status for the EU, but it would not neces­sarily enable it to pursue its foreign policy interests more effectively. In terms of dealing with the Eastern neighbourhood, for example, the model would not offer any discernible advantages. Rather, with the Paris Charter and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the EU has more tan­gible levers at its disposal to support its neighbours in their right to freely choose alliances and political orders. Russia, however, regards the former Soviet republics as its exclusive sphere of influence, whereas Ukraine and Georgia are turning politically and eco­nomically more towards the West. The EU (like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – NATO) would therefore not have to defer its offers of politi­cal asso­ciation and economic integration as well as military cooperation with post-Soviet countries, but it would have to actively defend them at the level of the concert of powers. The latter would probably pay relatively little attention to the European security order on its own. Issues of nuclear strategic stability would be negotiated directly between the US and Russia and, if possible, China. Through the NATO-Russia Council, the Europeans have a channel for dialogue on matters of security policy that is cur­rently on hold. The EU has postponed the resumption of meetings with Russia at the highest level. But sooner or later it will have to return to these ex­changes and coordinate bilaterally with the US on security cooperation with countries in the Eastern Partnership and on a possible enlargement of NATO. The concert of powers would only provide added value if the US and the EU were able to communicate these goals more transparently, and potentially in a more confidence-building manner vis-à-vis Moscow than through previous bilateral channels.

From Germany’s point of view, such a superstruc­ture is not convincing for other reasons as well. For even if the concert of powers could agree on targets and measures in climate policy, for example, it would remain dependent on the established international and regional organisations to translate what has been agreed upon into rules and regulations and on the par­ticipating countries to implement them in prac­tice. Not only institutionally, but also in terms of international legal norms and concrete international agreements, the concert would be based on what already exists, without remedying its shortcomings. Ad hoc fora such as the Normandy and Astana for­mats would therefore continue to be necessary and permissible, especially since the concert would not strive for a strong profile in conflict management, particularly in view of the large number of internal conflicts and internationalised civil wars. Rather, the Six would likely see their task as developing a com­mon understanding of what constitutes politically unacceptable external interventions that must be avoided. Thus, at best, the concert of powers would intervene to de-escalate before a conflict erupts. Yet, it could turn out to be just as dysfunctional and inert as the Security Council is at present, thus reflecting the state of the UN’s collective security system.

The concert of powers would be more similar to the G7 than to the Security Council regarding its expected agenda. However, this is likely to be less progressive in terms of content if China, Russia, and India, for example, merely continue their previous positions in international fora and there is no wil­ling­ness to invest in public goods. With Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom (plus Presidents of the Council and the Commission of the EU), the Europeans already have an excellent platform for shaping international rules and regulations. The German gov­ernment should work to make the post-Trump G7 more ambitious in setting the pace for international policy and more effective in implementing its agenda. This is more modest than the ambition of a concert of powers acting as a global steering group. However, the G7 should not be reduced to a bulwark of democ­racy – in the spirit of the Summit for Democracy,5 a D‑10,6 or the New Atlantic Charter7 – and positioned accordingly. For a future German government should not cement blocs; rather, it should also be able to explicitly include in dialogue formats and problem-solving those countries that do not meet the criteria of liberal democracy.

Even if its summits are professionally prepared, the G7 has not gone the way of institutionalisation. In contrast, the concert of powers would create a new super-bureaucracy. As with the G7, however, the key to effectiveness would lie in an informal and personal exchange among leaders and also high-level officials who take time for reflection, consultation, and prob­lem-solving. German foreign policy shares the interest in seeing trust and predictability of action emerge across power-political and ideological divides. This could be an added value of the concert model – espe­cially for issues that require a global accord across major powers.

Impetus for Europe’s strategic autonomy

The EU would be one of six powers playing in the con­cert. This would be in line with the new role of an EU that wants to “learn the language of power”8 and initiate a geopolitical turn so as not to become a pawn in power games.9 However, the EU is a Union of states that, unlike the five (semi-)presidential or dictatorial systems of government, can only arrive at collective positions through lengthy consultation procedures. According to current logic, the President of the European Council would have to represent the EU in the concert. Of course, Germany, especially after the Merkel era, could decide at the next oppor­tunity in May 2022 in favour of a strong President of the European Council who would not only have a representative effect, but could also seek personal union with the Commission President during the next treaty revision. What remains as an immediate lesson, though, is that the EU has considerable prob­lems in bringing its weight to bear in any format internationally. In addition to extending qualified majority voting to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the German government should advocate for greater continuity and centralisation of the decision-making apparatus. The proposal for an EU Security Council, in which permanent and rotating members would determine foreign policy, is a step in this direc­tion of making the EU more capable of taking deci­sions.10 At the same time, these innovations should provide institutional incentives for processes of political convergence in the EU.

From the EU’s point of view, the positive side of a concert of powers would be that it would enable (peace­ful) coexistence in the systemic conflict be­tween the US and the liberal-democratic West on the one side, and China on the other. Furthermore, a group of six countries could mitigate the emerging G2 structure of world politics and strive for a dynamic modus vivendi. But in its current stature, the EU – like Japan and India, and in the medium term Russia – would only be among the B players in the concert. In this respect, the model is perhaps a beneficial remind­er from the realm of realism, more consis­tently urging the pursuit of the project of strategic autonomy for the EU. The fact that the three empires of the US, China, and Russia – each in their own way – have considerable potential for domestic destabilisation, which threatens to spill over into the international order, is only one more argument for Europe’s self-assertion.

Indeed, the EU could also advocate a progressive agenda of global governance and cooperation in the concert of powers. But that would probably result in not more, but rather less leverage than within the established multilateral organisations. In these, it exerts its influence through cooperation with middle powers and regional organisations, as well as through one permanent and up to three elected seats on the UN Security Council. In addition, the Europeans would have to find greater elasticity, similar to the E3 (France, Germany, Italy) or other flexible formats of the willing, so that internal divergences can be bridged and external assertiveness can be increased. In a re­form­ist context, this could be called a “soft utopia”.11


The proposal for a new concert of powers is not least a plea for more and better diplomacy. This should be agile and realistic, focusing on achievable goals and relevant actors. Germany and Europe should use the momentum of the Biden administration to make the different approaches to multilateralism work effec­tively in the spirit of the rules-based international order from within a strong EU. The concert model provides a future German government with its cue to pursue this agenda while adhering to certain key guidelines: the intensification of dialogue at the highest level between the major global and regional powers in various formats; the strengthening of regional organisations with regard to shaping those policy regimes on which the survival of humankind depends; measures and offers for confidence-building; early warnings to avoid military conflicts as well as their internationalisation and expansion through the interference of external actors. The UN, the EU, and NATO remain fundamental as a framework for action for Germany. However, the German government should give priority to making the G7 more effective and make greater use of the OSCE again for Euro-Atlantic security.

Germany Matters: Berlin Must Take the Lead in Creating a Europe of Global Stature

Eckhard Lübkemeier

Foreign policy is the attempt of a state to influence its external environment so as to create conditions con­ducive to furthering its interests and values. To do this, a state needs power – defined as the ability to achieve one’s own objectives.1 Interests, values, and power are constitutive of foreign policy. In post-war Germany, politicians, the media, and academics have struggled to embrace this triad in its entirety. The nor­mative consensus has been that foreign policy had to be values-based. However, while in practice national interests have been guiding German foreign policy from the beginning, rhetorically this was rarely acknowledged and instead camouflaged as “responsibility policy”.2

This has changed. In German political and public discourse, national interests are now regarded as a legitimate guiding principle. The term “power”, however, continues to be used hesitantly. The main reason has to do with history: Germany’s thirst for power was a key trigger of the First World War and led Nazi Germany to provoke the Second World War.

In essence, power is a means to an end, which in foreign policy consists of interests and values. The greater the means and the more skilfully they are employed, the greater the chance of asserting one’s own interests and values. This leads to a fourth cat­egory relevant to German foreign policy: leadership.

Leadership implies being able and willing to in­spire others to contribute to achieving collective goals. Only those who have the requisite power can lead. Exercising leadership is not something that can happen – and does not have to happen – in an exclu­sively cooperative manner, that is, based on the willing consent of all. Leadership is called for precise­ly when divergent interests have to be brought towards a common denominator, which may require the robust use of power.

Leadership is essential to enable a group of actors with heterogeneous interests to act together. Still, it has been a term that is shunned by German policymakers.

But whether one likes it or not, Germany is a lead­ing power in the European Union (EU) – nothing less, but also nothing more. Germany cannot be Europe’s hegemon: Its sources of power are insufficient for such a role; Germany is bound by a web of interdependencies to its EU partners, and it is part of an EU construction that curtails national power through supranational competences (trade, compe­tition, currency, borders).3

Nevertheless, within the EU’s power hierarchy, Germany occupies a top position. Such an edge counts because, despite its partially supranational structure, the EU remains a union of nation-states. Accordingly, power differentials carry weight, making Germany an EU heavyweight. This entails a leadership role. Germany cannot be Europe’s sole leader because, unlike the United States (US), it does not have superior power, and the notion of German lead­ership is historically contaminated. Yet, what it can and must do is to be a co-leader within and for Europe.4

This role should be embraced unabashedly. Germany’s responsibility to provide leadership for the European project is widely accepted, and there is no doubt that exercising it can be a burden. However, leadership also opens up opportunities because the more powerful can influence their environment more than others.

The leadership dilemma can be attenuated

In any case, Germany cannot make itself smaller than it is, nor how others see it. This creates a dilemma: Germany is called upon to lead, but it is supposed to perform this role in a way that suits its partners. How­ever, making everyone happy each and every time is an art no one can master – even more so when it includes Germany. German policy cannot be guided purely by altruism. The country has interests of its own that do not need to coincide with those of its European partners; if the government were to ignore them, it would risk being voted out of office.

Smart leadership can mitigate this dilemma in a way that is compatible with sustaining the coopera­tion of Germany’s partners. Any such effort has to start with not being oblivious to history. Human memory fades slowly (if at all), and how history is interpreted and instrumentalised by others is beyond Germany’s control. German foreign policy would do well to continue taking this into account.5

Secondly, it is essential not to define one’s own inter­ests in a narrow and selfish manner. Leadership is not based solely on the ability to persuade others to behave in a certain way by employing greater power in a gratifying or sanctioning way. It is easier to lead when those involved trust each other. Hence, it is crucial that leadership be used for the common good. Surely, there will often be disputes about what is in the best interests of all and who should contribute how much. But leading powers need to care for the common good more than others: They possess greater resources, and only with these can they lead on the basis of trust.

Germany has shown wise leadership by agreeing to cushion the pandemic-related economic slump with additional EU funding of €750 billion. To this end, a large amount of EU – that is, jointly funded – debt will be incurred, which is something all German gov­ern­ments had rejected hitherto.

Germany did not abandon its long-standing oppo­sition because it benefits most from the EU. This fre­quent­ly employed argument in Germany and else­where is mistaken. The EU is of immense value, eco­nomically and politically, to all member states alike.

The preamble to Germany’s constitution states that EU membership is part of its foreign policy canon (“inspired by the determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe”), and Germany’s firm integration into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EU has not under­mined but, instead, enhanced its sovereignty.

Yet, above all else, what binds the most powerful country in the centre of Europe to the EU are its values and interests.

Germany’s interests and EU integration are intertwined

Germany’s core foreign policy interests are peace, secu­rity, welfare, and participation. Peace is a state of affairs among nations in which there is no risk of war because conflicts are settled exclusively and reliably for all involved without the use or threat of force. If such a risk exists, there is a security problem. There­fore, security policy aims at providing protection against threatened or applied violence, if necessary by em­ploying violent means. Welfare is a form of prosperity that is sustainable because it is climate- and resource-friendly. Participation means having a say by being able to influence one’s environment in such a way that it offers favourable conditions for peace, security, and welfare.

Germany’s core interests are linked to European integration. The EU is a community of peace: If it existed in isolation from the rest of the world, EU mem­bers could abolish their armed forces because they trust the EU to settle their conflicts without resorting to violence. Strong security as a safeguard against violent aggressors still requires US backing through NATO. But Europe as a whole and European NATO allies will have to lessen their dependence on US protection: Doubts about Washington’s reliability that were fomented by the Trump administration persist. The Biden administration is also calling for more European self-reliance. Fundamentally, Euro­pean sovereignty will remain precarious unless it is underpinned by defence self-sufficiency.

A high and sustainable level of welfare is closely linked to the EU: The single market becomes even more important in the face of transatlantic disagreements and increased tensions with China; climate and resource protection require a green transformation of the European economy, and only the single market confers sufficient regulatory power to set and enforce competition and tax as well as social and environ­mental standards.

Europe’s regulatory clout points to participation, which is the fourth element of core national interest. Germany is a heavyweight in Europe, but not in the world. It can only achieve parity with the US and China or with non-state actors such as Google, Ama­zon, and Facebook together with its European part­ners. Europe’s collective power offers opportunities for global self-assertion that Germany would not have on its own.

This is not just about self-assertion vis-à-vis other global players or in the midst of an American-Chinese rivalry. A powerful Europe can also act as a “force for good”: promoting just and sustainable development, climate and resource protection, as well as human rights and a rules-based international order.

Only a strong and stable EU can be a global power. This requires that its democratic nature remain intact. Consequently, the next German government should work to stop the erosion of the rule of law in EU member states, including sanctioning persistent violations by resorting to the new conditionality clause agreed for the EU budget and the pandemic recovery funds. The monetary union lacks a fully-fledged banking and capital market union that would allow the euro to become a veritable alternative to the US dollar. As with the euro, the objective should not be autarky but an interdependence that is based on overall parity, that is, a relationship in which de­pendencies and vulnerabilities are balanced in a way that provides power parity. This implies that 5G net­works must be equipped with European technology and that Europe should become autonomous in areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum and cloud computing, semiconductors, and batteries. More than elsewhere, Germany will have to bite the bullet regard­ing security and defence policy. Germany’s advocacy for a European defence union as well as its NATO obligations require an increase in defence spending. Equally important is that political leaders will have to convince a leery German elec­torate of the continued need for nuclear deterrence and, more gen­erally, a foreign policy fortified by military means.

No hierarchy between values and interests

In foreign policy, too, interests and values do not have to be conflicting precepts. Standing up for values can be smart interest-based policy because vio­lence, dis­enfranchisement, and injustice can lead to wars and conflicts, cause economic hardship, and result in the depletion of natural resources – with repercussions such as mass migration that can endanger Germany’s security and welfare.

Yet, values and principles can be neither a clear nor a sole guide. The Corona pandemic hits poor coun­tries disproportionately harder than rich ones such as Germany. Is it selfish or legitimate for coun­tries that invented the vaccines to give priority to vaccinating their own people? Climate protection requires the cooperation of China, the world’s largest CO2 emitter. However, both as a market and a global supplier, China has turned itself into a pillar of the world economy, and it has become a global power in geopolitical terms. How far can Beijing’s dictatorial leadership be sanctioned for political repression with­out risking its willingness to cooperate, which is essen­tial for climate protection, the world economy, and international order? Condemned by Germany, Putin’s Russia is threatening Ukraine and occupying parts of the country. To shore up Ukraine’s defence capabilities, the US has provided military equipment. Since such supplies help deter Moscow, would it not be appropriate for Germany to participate in reinforc­ing Kiev’s military capabilities? What should or must Germany and Europe do to protect themselves from unchecked migration? To this end, they concluded an agreement with an Erdoğan-led regime that harasses its internal opponents. Migration control may require cooperation with unscrupulous forces in transit and origin regions. In such cases – as Wolfgang Schäuble, President of the German Parliament, has ad­mitted – there is “no morally clean way out”.6

But even if there were, values cannot be the sole compass for foreign policy. Interests count just as much. In foreign policy, the electoral mandate is to advance a country’s core interests of peace, security, and welfare by cooperating with others and, when necessary, asserting them against others. No democratically constituted government can ignore the imperative of national interests. Especially since there is no hierarchy between values and interests. Is peace a value or “merely” an interest? As Federal Chancel­lor, Helmut Schmidt elevated the cold peace of non-war between the nuclear-armed East-West antagonists to a “fundamental value”.7

Schmidt’s speech offers a paradigmatic discourse on how to deal with conflicting objectives. To this end, he employs the example of the “Polish crisis”, that is, the imposition of martial law in Poland in Decem­ber 1981 by a communist regime shaken by an independent trade union movement called Solidarność. Schmidt’s government had been accused of not reacting forcefully to the quashing of Solidarność. In response, Schmidt argued that values cannot be the sole guideline of government policy, but that “rational deliberation can lead to very different goals and paths”.8

More than before, Germany – as it is being called upon to play a leading role in Europe – will have to face up to moral dilemmas and trade-offs of interests. It will have to do so keeping in mind the lingering effects of history while also remaining aware that, as a democratic anchor of stability in the centre of Europe, the Federal Republic of Germany has become a trusted European neighbour. Today’s Germany should be confident that it has drawn the right les­sons of history, in particular that peace, security, and welfare are collective goods shared with neighbours and partners. That Germany matters is all at once: an obligation, a privilege, and a call to action.

German Global Health Policy. For a More Sustainable Orientation

Susan Bergner and Maike Voss

The Covid-19 pandemic has put Germany’s global health policy to the test. As a major player in this field, the new German government must prove itself in a changed landscape of actors. In times of crisis, it can no longer rely unconditionally on traditional partners such as the United States (US), but at the same time it should build on the achievements made under Angela Merkel’s chancellorship. Germany’s existing instruments and international cooperation mechanisms are not sufficient to cope with future health crises. Global health needs to be prioritised in German foreign policy with strategic foresight. As a contribution to a sustainably shaped health policy, key long-term issues must be addressed and blockades within Germany’s own ranks dismantled.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that all areas of life and politics are dependent on the proper func­tioning of health systems and on evidence-based political decisions. It has also become clear that inter­national cooperation in global health policy to date is not sufficiently prepared for crises of this dimension. Existing instruments such as international health regu­lations are neither being sufficiently implemented nor complied with. There is also a lack of funding as well as internationally coordinated strategic foresight, which should already be initiated at the Federal Gov­ern­ment level. After all, the weaker the coordination for the joint management of a pandemic, the longer the pandemic will last.

Germany’s new indecision

The high level of international recognition that Ger­many enjoys in the field of global health is largely due to Angela Merkel’s successful agenda-setting. At the same time, Germany and the European Union (EU) face growing competition in this field from China and, in some cases, conflicting interests from its ally the US. But the future German government – with its G7 presidency in 2022 and discussions about a possible European Health Union – has an opportunity to take up Germany’s international respon­sibility and initiate the necessary changes.

First, however, Germany’s indecisiveness should be recognised and addressed. For example, the German government has been instrumental in strengthening the World Health Organization (WHO) and new in­stru­ments for pandemic response. At the same time, however, it is blocking proposals in the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive patents on vac­cines and other health goods, threatening to further delay the response to and management of Covid-19. Moreover, such blockades weaken multilateralism – which is an inherent concern of German foreign policy.

A changing international landscape

The EU has become a central channel for German global health policy and should remain so. While cooperation with France, among others, has been strengthened in this framework – as a Franco-German non-paper1 on the WHO reform process shows – the US has proven to be a difficult partner. Although the Biden administration is bringing new momentum to global health, the American claim to leadership is colliding with Europe’s increased com­mit­ment. This is exemplified by discussions on a new pandemic treaty – an idea put forward by Chile that is highly supported by EU Council President Charles Michel and WHO Director General Dr Tedros, but which has so far been delayed by Washington and Beijing.

China and the African Union (AU) are other health actors that have expanded their activities in the course of the pandemic. China’s bilateral cooperation, espe­cially on the African continent, is particularly inter­esting when viewed against the backdrop of geo­political competition. The AU, in turn, is increasingly focused on achieving more strategic autonomy for Africa, including in its own health economy.

Thus, Germany must balance different roles in the field of global health. The German government finds itself in the position to form alliances as a partner – as with the AU – and represent common interests. But it also aims at setting its own agenda as a coun­ter­weight to countries such as China and the US, via the EU.

Future topics

For a more sustainable German global health policy engagement, key issues need to be addressed stra­tegically. One of these is “deep prevention”2 or, thinking even more broadly, “deep transformation”, an ap­proach aimed at comprehensive and equitable pre­pared­ness for health crises of all kinds – not just infectious outbreaks. This also includes climate change impacts on health. Critical building blocks for future action are the strengthening of resilient health systems and value-led policies that promote universal health coverage for all people in all places.

Similarly, it is important to consider and expand the financing of global health and new models for health financing in development cooperation in order to create starting points for a robust global health policy. This also serves the purpose of strengthening trust in existing institutions such as WHO.

In the future, greater attention should be paid to the interconnections between global health and other policy issues such as climate, security, and geopoli­tics. However, Germany currently lacks the proactive inter-ministerial mechanisms that could highlight interlinkages of policy areas and connect global health with national health policies.

Multilateral systemic approaches

There are several options for advancing systemic approaches in the multilateral arena. First, components to strengthen health systems should be added to existing health initiatives and included in new initiatives from the outset. As an international response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ACT-A (Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator) multi-actor platform emerged, with the purpose of developing and dis­tri­buting diagnostics, vaccines, and therapeutics. Later in the process, a pillar for strengthening health sys­tems was also created. The aim here must not be merely to distribute medical goods from the Global North to the Global South and then to the local level; rather, what is needed is a comprehensive and sys­temic development that includes local institutions which are capable of acting in the health sector and producing medical goods on their own.

Second, the ongoing reform processes in WHO could be used to design a financing instrument for health systems instead of focusing only on the con­tainment of selected infectious diseases. So far, there is no international instrument with robust financing that aims to build strong public health structures in the long term. One of the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic is that this needs to be improved.

Third, an international pandemic treaty is being discussed within WHO, following the aforementioned initiative of the European Council. It remains to be clarified where the added value for crisis management lies, whether a new legal instrument solves fun­damental problems of global health governance, and who benefits in detail from a new treaty. At the same time, a binding international pandemic treaty could also have the potential to create synergies, link actors, and enable regional policies to be coordinated with the global level in health crises. Moreover, it could give WHO a central role in managing future pandemics.

Institutional conditions

Global health starts at home. In order to live up to this motto, the first step should be to implement the sustainable development agenda in Germany’s own health system and to link national and global health policy. In this way, a new “Strategy for Public Health in Germany”3 could have a positive impact on the ability to act and the legitimacy of German global health policy in Europe as well as on the international stage. The second step is to create robust institutional structures for global health in Germany that draw on expertise from the German public health sector.

Germany has been reactive in its national and global health policies in the face of the challenges posed by the pandemic and has only implemented institutional changes peu à peu. At the same time, however, Berlin showed itself as being willing to assume more responsibility for global cooperation and reform processes. This broadened self-perception was reflected above all in the German government’s newly formulated strategy for global health.4

Global health has been institutionally strength­ened in the Federal Ministry for Economic Coopera­tion and Development (BMZ), which established a subdivision for Global Health, Pandemic Prevention and One Health. The Federal Foreign Office is be­com­ing increasingly involved at the interface of global health and geopolitics; it is now increasingly con­cerned about the impact of health crises on multi­lateralism. The Federal Ministry of Health, in turn, is establishing a Global Hub for Pandemic and Epi­demic Intelligence5 in Berlin together with WHO.

Although these structural changes are welcome, more coordinated action is needed to enable Ger­many to prove itself in a changed landscape of actors.

Scientific and political monitoring in Germany

A Federal Government Advisory Council on Global Health would strengthen Germany’s evidence-led policy. Global health could also be given even greater consideration in the revision and implementation of Germany’s sustainability strategy.6 The Subcommittee on Global Health in the German Parliament has be­come increasingly important during the pandemic. It should therefore be retained in the new legislative period, strengthened in terms of personnel, and ex­panded in its range of tasks. In this way, the subcom­mittee could also support the government by using its control function in measuring the progress of the global health strategy7 and assist in their implementation. This requires a more concrete action plan by Germany’s state actors, including a review mechanism for implementing and monitoring the progress of the strategy.

In addition, existing structures can be used. The German Alliance for Global Health Research, which was established in 2020,8 could play a stronger advisory role in the political arena and be requested by the latter. In addition, greater use could be made of scientific expertise from other policy areas. For example, the next report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) will deal with planetary health, that is, the link between the en­viron­ment, animal health, and human health.

At the same time, there is a need to expand education and training in order to promote young talents for global health in Germany and internationally. Germany could try to strategically send more per­sonnel to international health organisations and sup­port German scientists in WHO working groups and collaboration centres in Germany.

Coordination within the Federal Government

Finally, the new Federal Government must try to ensure that international processes in this policy field are coordinated more effectively by the ministries and agencies, because the responsibilities for relevant health organisations are fragmented between indivi­dual ministries. One remedy could be to expand exist­ing formats, such as departmental exchanges or jour fixe meetings of state secretaries. On the other hand, new structures should be established to ensure inter­sectoral communication and cooperation, irrespective of the commitment of individual persons. Possible approaches would also be to set up a rotation system for staff between ministries based on the Japanese example, to appoint a Minister of State for Global Health in the Chancellery, or to entrust State Secre­taries with inter-ministerial tasks. Inter-ministerial training and simulations can also promote a com­prehensive and strategic orientation of global health policy.

Windows of opportunity and setting the course

Germany has the opportunity to contribute towards shaping the processes and structures of global health policy at the European and global levels. This would ensure that the world community is better prepared for health crises in the future and can respond to them in a more coordinated manner while counteracting inequalities. Germany can draw on the impor­tant work carried out under Chancellor Merkel, but at the same time it must reduce the degree of indecision in its own policies.

In the short term, the most urgent issue is the equi­table distribution of vaccines, therapeutics, and diag­nostics worldwide, also in view of the geopolitical impli­cations involved. Germany must acknowledge the criticisms from the Global South that it has touted Covid-19 vaccines as a global public good9 but ulti­mately failed to share them globally.

In the long term, key challenges need to be ad­dressed. Production capacities for vaccines and medi­cal products must be increased worldwide and distributed in a less centralised manner; in addition, systemic approaches are needed to implement com­prehensive pandemic prevention and reduce global inequalities.

At the European level, discussions on a European Health Union are underway. At the same time, the debates on WHO reform processes and a pandemic treaty will remain on the agenda at the international level. This will enable Germany to take advantage of opportunities that arise in the short term in order to set a sustainable long-term course in global health.

The EU on the Way to a Fiscal Union?

Peter Becker

The agreement on the Multiannual Financial Frame­work 2021–2027 and on an additional European stimulus budget under the heading “NextGener­ationEU” (NGEU) was certainly a milestone in the European response to the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. The most important innovation was that it is now possible for the European Union (EU) itself to borrow on the financial markets on an un­precedented scale in order to finance the stimulus budget. These are far-reaching measures that would have been almost impossible, indeed unthinkable, to imple­ment before the pandemic crisis.

This agreement undoubtedly also marked a significant change in German European policy – although the German government had insisted on setting some restrictive key points regarding the form and scope of the stimulus budget as well as its one-off nature. The fiscal package was not to become a permanent fiscal policy instrument of European policy, but was to be a one-time solution and used only to finance the NGEU.

Now, however – irrespective of whether the new instrument have yet to be successfully implemented – a debate has begun on whether the NGEU should be transformed and developed into a permanent Euro­pean fiscal equalisation system in a European fiscal union. In such a scenario, it would no longer be a question of whether the EU should be allowed to go into common debt, but only of when and under what conditions this debt option could be used.

The response of the next German government will be decisive in determining whether and how the efforts to achieve lasting fiscal stabilisation in the EU are implemented and in which direction the Euro­pean integration process will develop in the medium term. Berlin will have to broker a compromise solu­tion within the EU. On the one hand, there are the hard-line positions of the austerity-minded and frugal northern Europeans (especially the Netherlands), who are committed to credibly and effectively strengthening fiscal discipline in all member states. On the other hand, there are calls from the southern European crisis and debtor states (especially Italy) for more soli­darity and risk-sharing among EU members. However, one point seems to be clear: A return to the status quo ante of the pre-Corona era will not be an option.

What is being discussed?

The EU – not least in response to the debt crisis in the euro zone a decade ago – has created both new crisis and emergency instruments and elements of prevention, which now need to be further expanded and supplemented.

A European crisis fund was created with the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in order to be able to step in when individual member states face liquidity problems, and the European Central Bank has widely expanded its monetary policy instruments. Additional and important elements of a comprehensive solution are still in difficult negotiations or implementation processes, such as the European Banking Union and the Capital Markets Union. With the programme “Sup­port to mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE)”, the European Union created an instrument to support the member states’ unemploy­ment systems, and thus to cushion the unemployment effects of the pandemic crisis.

What are needed now and currently being discussed under the heading of a European fiscal union are instruments for fiscal stabilisation and balancing the economic cycles in European economies. The aim should be to cushion the pro-cyclical effects of mone­tary policy without having a permanent redistribution mechanism with large financial resources and without further worsening the debt sustainability of the already heavily indebted member states. In addi­tion, binding conditionalities and limits for such stabili­sation instruments are being discussed, as is the question of how they could be given greater demo­cratic legitimacy.

What has already been achieved?

The compromise on the NGEU answered some fun­damental questions that had dominated the debates for a decade on a fiscal capacity or a specific budget for the euro zone. The following issues were settled.

1. A possible differentiation between the euro zone and the EU-27

The NGEU as a temporary stimulus budget has been linked to the European budget; financing and dis­bursement will thus take place within the framework of the EU-27. Therefore, it will no longer be necessary to consider creating separate budgets or financial instruments for the benefit of the euro zone only or outside the European treaties. The new instruments are signs and symbols of European solidarity that should apply to the entire EU and not be limited to the euro zone.

2. The problem of joint and several liability

The debates on the necessity and limits of European solidarity have so far been linked to German fears of “joint and several liability” in connection with euro or Corona bonds. In a negative scenario of default or refusal to pay by individual debtor states, Germany feared that it would have to stand in for their debt instruments. Linking the common debts to the Euro­pean budget, and thus to the EU, has largely elimi­nated this concern: The EU uses its own triple-A rating for low-interest debt.1

3. Democratic legitimacy of new fiscal instruments

Transfers between member states, even if they are only of a temporary nature, always have distributive effects and are therefore among the most politically sensitive and conflict-prone issues in the EU. For this same reason they require a high degree of democratic legitimacy. An important preliminary decision on this issue was taken with the procedure for adopting the NGEU: All member states jointly agreed on the new instrument, which was confirmed by the European Parliament with an absolute majority of its members, and likewise by the national parliaments.

This form of democratic legitimacy involving both parliamentary levels will certainly be the yardstick when a decision has to be taken on a further instru­ment to cushion symmetrical shocks. A decision in which the national parliaments are left out will no longer be possible.

What issues remain to be resolved?

Developing these instruments further, additional preconditions must be created in order to be able to stabilise the EU and the European economies fiscally. Three fundamental questions remain to be clarified.

1. Is a permanent stabilisation or transfer mechanism possible?

It is true that economic convergence is one of the EU’s explicit goals, and it already has instruments of redistribution at its disposal. Nevertheless, there are major reservations about any form of permanent and unconditional redistribution. Experience with Ger­many’s regional fiscal equalization system (Länderfinanz­ausgleich) has shown that, even within rela­tively homogeneous nation-states, such transfer mechanisms are at best grudgingly accepted. In the case of permanent cross-border transfers within the EU, much greater resistance would have to be expected. Unlimited and uncommitted financial transfers are therefore inconceivable in the EU.

In order to avoid harmful redistribution conflicts as far as possible, the decision-making procedure and the trigger criteria should be laid down in advance for a European stabilisation mechanism to be created, that is, independently of the individual case or crisis in question. The procedure and criteria should be trans­parent and clear enough that they can also be democratically legitimised ex ante. It should be speci­fied in advance as to which indicators (such as an eco­nomic slump of several percentage points or rapidly rising unemployment as a result of a natural disaster, pandemic, or global crisis) are to be used by which EU institution (probably the European Commission) and according to which procedure (ideally after consulting the European Parliament and after a unanimous deci­sion by the Council). At the same time, key points for the settlement of Community debt should be defined. This concerns, for example, a separate source of financ­ing for the EU budget that would have to be used for this purpose, or a commitment to a repayment schedule.

2. Financing the mechanism through common debt instruments or an EU tax?

In the event of a symmetric shock – that is if, as during the Corona pandemic, all member states slide into the crisis together – a central stabilisation mecha­nism can be counterproductive. This is the case if the need for financial support is so great that it can­not be met by the common monetary policy alone. In such a scenario, the receipt of transfers may have a stabilising effect in the case of a member state that is hit harder than average; but in the case of the mem­ber state that is only relatively better off and may also be in a severe recession in absolute terms, the trans­fers may have procyclical, that is, crisis-exacerbating, consequences. Such a mechanism could therefore have a stabilising effect on the one hand, but a de­stabilising effect on the other.

What is needed hence is a central mechanism with a stabilising effect across economic cycles or crises and compensation over time. The transfer payments should not only take the form of (low-interest) loans, which would further increase the indebtedness of the affected member states and put their debt sustain­ability to a further test. Instead, non-repayable grants should also be possible in principle. The relationship between loans and grants would have to be renegoti­ated separately for each individual crisis and for each member state concerned.

However, such a mechanism would require the pos­sibility of central borrowing. This would mean either a facility outside the treaties, as in the case of the ESM, which would be endowed with capital from the member states, or the issue of common debt in­stru­ments – the much-discussed Eurobonds – or community debt of the EU, as in the case of the NGEU. The redemption of the common or community debt instruments would then take place through long-term payments by the member states or via the common budget.

An alternative would be to give the EU its own right to tax. In this way, it could generate its own rev­enues – independently of the transfers from the mem­ber states – which could be used to slowly reduce the community debt. In the long term, this source of own resources could be used to finance an EU stabilisation fund for a European economic policy – a kind of Euro­pean cyclical compensation reserve for a counter-cyclical economic policy of the EU.

3. What conditionalities and limits should be introduced?

If unconditional financial transfers are not conceiv­able in the EU, the basic conditions for a disbursement of European funds must be agreed in advance in a binding and transparent manner. This applies to, among other things, the transfer volume and a pos­sible time limit on payment flows. It would be possible to set a legal upper limit on the volume, for example, of 0.5 per cent of the member states’ gross national income. Equally necessary would be binding specifications on the tasks and objectives to be served by the payments. European transfers should not be used to pay off old debts; rather, as with the NGEU, they should be used for the benefit of common Euro­pean goals – in other words, they should create European added value. They should also be linked to the common economic and employment objectives to which all member states have committed themselves within the framework of the European Semester. This would undoubtedly include the implementation of medium- and long-term structural reforms to increase their competitiveness. Such reforms would also limit the volume of European transfers required. Finally, clear ultimate ratio rules should be agreed in advance, that is, stipulations on which cases and under which conditions European solidarity and stabilisation aid may no longer be granted. This would lead to the possi­bility of a sovereign insolvency mechanism or a European procedure for an orderly debt restructuring.

Tasks for the next Federal Government

The next Federal Government and the parties sup­port­ing it must find their own answers and compro­mises on these issues and then define initial posi­tions. The interests of the new Federal Government should be formulated openly and transparently. It will then be necessary to campaign for corresponding definitions, both in German domestic politics and in the EU, and to seek partners, especially for the conditionalities to be agreed. This is because further deepening of European integration will make it nec­es­sary to adapt the European treaties, which will require a consensus in the EU and broad support in German politics. Actual negotiations at the European level should, however, only begin once a comprehensive analysis of the NGEU that has just been created is available. Only then will it be possible to see to what extent the EU can make effective and sustainable use of the new instruments.

Whether this is ultimately referred to as a Euro­pean fiscal union, an economic union, a stability union, or a stabilising economic instrument may be important for political symbolism and may also be a sign of party-political assertiveness. For the further development of the EU, however, the choice of term is secondary.

Advancing the EU Security Union vs Protecting the Community of Law

Raphael Bossong

The European Union (EU) is ever more important for addressing a broad range of internal security chal­lenges such as border management, the fight against terrorism and crime, cybersecurity, and aspects of civil protection. Although the primary responsibility for internal security remains at the national level, member states rely on close cross-border cooperation and support from the EU level.

Germany in particular – as the largest central Euro­pean state with the greatest number of internal borders and widely integrated value chains – has an essential interest in maintaining the Schengen zone and safeguarding the internal market. Germany’s exposed position underpins its demand to better con­trol “secondary migration” from countries at the EU’s external borders; likewise Germany’s political lead­er­ship and operational contribution are crucial in the field of police cooperation and for the steady expan­sion of Europol.

In view of the experiences of the last five years, the EU Security Union should be strengthened such that swift and authoritative decisions can be taken, more resources can be mobilised, and reliable solidarity can be provided in crises. One building block for such an improved European capacity to act are genuine EU forces for providing internal security tasks. At the same time, the controversy surrounding the operation­al deployment of the Frontex border guards high­lights that the EU has to improve its mechanisms for safeguarding fundamental rights. It is even more pressing to preserve mutual trust in national criminal justice systems, as some member states have eroded the separation of powers. Consequently, Germany must weigh two things against each other: on the one hand, deepening cooperation on security issues, and on the other, defending the community of law.

The development of the Security Union to date

Until 2015, the EU’s internal security policy was pri­marily concerned with facilitating the mutual recog­nition of asylum, migration, and criminal law as well as policing instruments. Today, the focus is placed on addressing technological and societal dynamics that are inadequately regulated or not regulated at all in many member states. Current examples are new legal obligations to delete suspected terrorist content on­line1 or complex negotiations on how electronic evi­dence should be collected and shared across borders.2 The EU can add particular value when new security policy issues interact with its core competences in the internal market, for example in the fight against money laundering.

The second pillar of EU internal security coopera­tion is the exchange and analysis of information. To this end, EU member states and EU internal security agencies operate a large number of joint databases for (border) police purposes as3 well as networks for the horizontal exchange of information. In the next two years,4 comprehensive reforms should be implemented to ensure seamless biometric checks on persons and the networking of all EU data sets.5

Thus, the EU has already made considerable progress towards a “Security Union”. The goal is an increasingly broad and more operationally oriented EU security policy that addresses citizens’ expectations.

Greater need for European crisis management and solidarity

The smouldering refugee crisis and the Corona pan­demic have shown, however, that the EU lacks resilience, solidarity, and the capacity to act together. Improvised crisis management measures have re­peat­edly led to subsequent integration. The most recent example is the stepwise creation of a new Health Union. But the lesson that Europe often only ad­vances through crises is not a historical law. The still missing “European solution” for the distribution of asylum seekers underlines this critical point.

European solidarity should be thought of in a the­matically open way, since new kinds of crises can arise at any time. However, the solidarity clause in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU)6 has only been used cautiously. According to this clause, “all [...] available means” could be mobil­ised for mutual assistance in emergencies. So far, the procedure for implementing this clause is the “Inte­grated EU Mechanism for Political Response to Crises”,7 a political coordination process led by national ambassadors in Brussels. This mechanism has gained considerable substance during the pan­demic and has been complemented recently by an expansion of the EU civil protection mechanism.8 Compared to the EU’s financial efforts to deal with the pandemic, however, it is clear that far greater reforms are conceivable and may become necessary.

A fundamental question for the future of the Secu­rity Union is the development of independent EU security forces. These could cushion crises, demonstrate Europe’s ability to act, and underpin trust between the member states. The tip of the spear is Frontex, which should recruit 3,000 new EU border guards – with executive powers and weapons – by 2027.9 These new forces should be deployed, among other places, at pressure points of the EU’s external borders. National border guards that are seconded from the member states to the EU will continue to form the clear majority of Frontex forces;10 at the same time, the member state where joint Frontex operations take place always retains ultimate com­mand and legal responsibility on the ground.

Despite these limitations, the recruitment of EU border guards raises fundamental questions. Should the EU eventually take over elements of the state’s monopoly on the use of force? If the new Frontex border guards add substantial value over the coming years, they will serve as a precedent for other EU agencies and areas of responsibility – for example, for Europol, the EU Agency for Asylum, and joint civil protection operations.

A deepened Community of Law as a prerequisite for the Security Union

Such a paradigm shift would move the EU in the direc­tion of genuine statehood. Yet, this long-term de­velopment also brings the protection of fundamental rights to the fore. The relationship between free­dom and security, which must be constantly nego­tiated in all liberal democracies, has not yet been fully spelt out at the European level. The credible alle­gations that Frontex is covering up11 – or may even be in­volved in – the unlawful pushback of asylum seekers underlines the need for truly effective legal and po­liti­cal control over the emerging EU security executive.

The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights became binding with the Treaty of Lisbon and clearly points beyond a mere economic community. It commits the EU to a comprehensive liberal understanding of the rule of law. The practical consequences have only become apparent in recent years. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) – with reference to various European fundamental rights, especially data protection – now plays a central role in security issues, sometimes in sharp contrast with the political decisions being made at both the European and national levels.12 The ECJ now plays a central role in adjudicating the proportionality of security issues with regard to various Euro­pean fundamental rights. Especially in the field of data protection, the court has repeatedly clashed with European as well as national policymakers.

Another crucial step is pending. In the coming years, the ECJ will have to decide highly sensitive cases dealing with operational actions of EU internal security agencies and the direct accountability of the EU for human rights violations.13 This mainly revolves around the treatment of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in the Mediterranean and the European Neighbourhood. All EU institutions and agencies must comply with the Charter of Fundamen­tal Rights. The member states, for their part, are bound by it within the scope of EU law, and also by the European Convention on Human Rights. Failure to comply with these obligations – for example at the EU’s external borders – cannot be justified by simply referring to emergency situations and the primacy of member states’ competence for national security.

Basically, it needs to be clarified how EU law stands up in exceptional situations. The EU, like its members, must explain more clearly when and to what extent restrictions on fundamental rights are justified and proportionate. Legal responsibility must no longer be blurred between member states and EU actors.

Mutual trust and the national rule of law

Even more pressing is the dispute over the independ­ence of the judiciary in some member states. The ECJ and the EU Commission are criticising national judi­cial reforms and the erosion of the separation of powers in Poland and Hungary in increasingly harsh tones, while these two countries seem ready to openly reject the primacy of EU law.

Beyond the widespread discussion about restricting EU funding in light of deficits in the rule of law, this dispute has potentially serious implications for Euro­pean cooperation on internal security and migration matters. National judges in several north-western Euro­pean states are increasingly making cross-border cooperation in these fields conditional.14 Already since the early 2010s, there have been systematic prob­lems with transferring irregular migrants and asylum seekers to other member states that cannot or will not provide adequate accommodation and humane treat­ment. The fundamental rejection or disregard of Euro­pean asylum law in some Central European coun­tries deepens this dilemma.

Meanwhile, disputes over Polish judicial reforms are undermining the European Arrest Warrant – and the related principle of mutual trust between EU mem­ber states in their respective national criminal justice systems. So far, the ECJ has ruled that refusing the extradition of a wanted person or a prisoner to another member state can only be justified after a thorough examination of the individual case, for in­stance if there are reasonable doubts about a fair trial. If the member states drift further apart in terms of the rule of law, such selective reservations could become systemic. Poland and Hungary could be de­coupled from cross-border cooperation in other areas of internal security. The recent scandal surrounding the alleged use of the aggressive surveillance software program Pegasus against Hungarian journalists15 can be seen as a serious violation of European fundamental and data protection law.

Priorities and recommendations for Germany

Germany faces contradictory demands: On the one hand, it should strengthen the crisis response capa­bilities and operational dimensions of the Security Union, and on the other hand, it should preserve the EU legal community and mutual trust in the rule of law. In case of doubt, in order to protect the national constitutional order as well as the existing level of Euro­pean integration, priority should be given to re­specting fundamental rights and the principles of the rule of law.

Nevertheless, Germany should advance the Secu­rity Union in some fields. The next political milestone is the French EU presidency in spring 2022, during which a reform of the Schengen regime could be agreed. Strengthened mutual supervisory mechanisms to build trust between the member states, new legal provisions for health-related checks, and im­proved technical measures for effective border management should allow a return to complete freedom of move­ment for individuals. Germany should take the first step, if necessary, and lift all remaining internal bor­der controls. Negotiations on the European Migration and Asylum Package16 should be considered as a sepa­rate process. Finally, Germany should actively work towards implementing the latest reform of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism – both at the level of Com­munity resources and at the domestic level – to ensure closer European connectivity.

The Need for New Concepts to Address Conflicts in Europe’s Broader Southern Neighbourhood

Hürcan Aslı Aksoy, Muriel Asseburg, and Wolfram Lacher

The current conflicts in Europe’s broader Southern neighbourhood reveal a deep crisis of regional orders amid an emerging multipolarity. Russia and a grow­ing number of regional powers are increasingly will­ing to intervene in conflict hotspots from Syria to Libya, from the Caucasus to the Horn of Africa and the Central African Republic (CAR). They are respond­ing to the partial retreat of the American hegemon while also actively pushing back on the influence of the United States (US) and Europe. The US and Euro­pean countries are often drawn into the competitions between regional powers or into local struggles and thereby become conflict actors themselves. In the United Nations (UN) Security Council and at the Euro­pean Union (EU) level, the new multipolarity has led to decision-making blockages.

Conventional German approaches to conflict manage­ment are no longer able to cope with the ero­sion of the old orders. German participation in UN and EU missions, for example, dates back to a time when the US and Europe still exercised far greater influence in Europe’s broader neighbourhood and the UN Security Council was less polarised. In the new disorder, UN peacekeeping or peace enforcement mis­sions are increasingly out of the question, and this even applies to fact-finding missions. Where the Secu­rity Council continues to deploy such missions, their effectiveness in increasingly complex conflicts is often even more limited than in the past – the UN mission in CAR, for example, hardly ensures the protection of civilians while maintaining problematic relations with Russian private military companies. EU missions are increasingly being designed in a non-political manner due to the conflicting interests of member states and are failing to meet the new, more antago­nistic conditions. This applies, for example, to the EU naval mission Operation IRINI, which has not even begun to fulfil its mandate of enforcing the UN arms embargo imposed on Libya.

In conflict mediation, traditional formats that bring together local parties are often no longer appro­priate. Russia and regional powers such as Turkey, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates play increasingly dominant roles in these conflicts, often covertly and with recourse to mercenaries and local militias. The ineffectiveness of established forums for conflict management has been prompting local parties and regional powers to use ad hoc formats. Although these contain the conflicts, they can also stand in the way of lasting resolutions. For example, the Geneva Syria talks, under the aegis of the UN Special Envoy, have been undermined by the Astana format initiated by Russia (in cooperation with Turkey and Iran). Finally, interventions by regional powers that are not guided by principles of international law, as well as polarisation in the UN Security Council, today place much tighter constraints on international criminal justice than was the case in the 2000s.

Effective conflict transformation in the broader Southern neighbourhood is in Germany’s own inter­est in order to avert negative repercussions and pro­vide a convincing alternative to the offers of illiberal actors. Mediation, peacekeeping, and ceasefire moni­toring can only be ensured by impartial and credible actors. A more consistent approach is also needed to address the issue of impunity of the conflict actors, which is an obstacle to lasting peace. The new chal­lenges of complex conflicts require policy changes. Three approaches to diplomacy, defence, and crimi­nal justice could help promote German interests in this policy area. However, they also entail dilemmas and costs.

Policy option 1: Diplomatic ad hoc mechanisms

With the transition to a multipolar order, the need for diplomatic approaches to conflict resolution is growing. Given the ineffectiveness of established multilateral formats, regional cooperation forums and ad hoc diplomatic mechanisms have been gain­ing in prominence.

Recent German experience provides insights into the costs and benefits of such mechanisms. In 2020, for example, Germany established the so-called Munich format with France, Jordan, and Egypt, which advocated a two-state solution for Israel/Palestine. Even if this quartet was not the decisive actor, it con­tributed to pushing Israel to abandon its annexation plans, which were encouraged by the Trump ad­min­istration. Once those plans were off the table in the autumn of 2020, however, the forum was unable to generate momentum, not least because there was no consensus among the four on how to proceed. In the Libyan conflict, the German government has been supporting UN mediation efforts through the Berlin Process. However, the understandable intention to limit the group of participants to the most important external actors in Libya has led to tensions in Ger­many’s relations with Greece and Morocco. This is a fundamental problem with ad hoc diplomatic for­mats. Most importantly, the Berlin Process on Libya shows that such formats depend on the willingness of leading states to invest political capital. In the Berlin Process, Germany counted on states’ commitments to respect the UN arms embargo on Libya and withdraw from the country. Neither Germany nor its partners seriously attempted to apply pressure through public blaming and shaming or sanctions to ensure com­pliance with these commitments. The result was that, despite the Berlin conferences on Libya, the level of intervention increased and there was no withdrawal.

Cooperation forums can also exacerbate conflicts. In the East Mediterranean Gas Forum, for example, Egypt, Greece, the Republic of Cyprus, Israel, and other Mediterranean countries cooperate on energy policy with the support of the US and the EU, but they de facto exclude Turkey. This has exacerbated the degree of polarisation in the eastern Mediterra­nean region instead of reducing it.

Ad hoc formats have the advantage that they can act relatively quickly. In this respect, they are well suited for dealing with acute crises. To be successful, however, these formats need clear goals, an inclusive group of participants, and the will of the actors to invest political capital with the aim of enforcing agree­ments – which also entails costs, such as creat­ing tensions in relations with uncooperative states. More­over, ad hoc formats can contribute to the ero­sion of multilateral institutions. They should there­fore in­volve regional organisations such as the Afri­can Union or seek the support of the UN General Assembly and/or the Security Council. In this way, they could be gradually embedded in a multilateral framework.

Policy option 2: Military coalitions of the willing

In view of decision-making blockages and disagree­ments in the UN Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the EU, Germany’s close allies have increasingly turned to coalitions of the willing in recent years. Their goals are diverse: The anti-IS coalition fights the so-called Islamic State (IS) and trains local security forces; the European-led mari­time surveillance mission in the Strait of Hor­muz serves to protect civilian shipping; the French-led Takuba mission trains and mentors special forces in the Sahel to fight jihadists. Germany is generally sceptical of coalitions of the willing and, when asked, usually refers allies to a provision in Article 24 of its constitution, according to which foreign deployments of the Bundeswehr are only permissible within the framework of a system of mutual collective security. However, participation in the anti-IS coalition shows that there is political leeway in the interpretation of constitutional norms.

Coalitions of the willing tend to intervene in par­ticularly difficult conflict contexts. This is because missions that are internationally uncontroversial and low-risk are likely to continue within the established multilateral framework. Under current circumstances, coalitions of individual states could also be more effec­tive than UN or EU missions in peacekeeping or peace enforcement. At the same time, the troops involved would be exposed to greater dangers. Coali­tions of the willing are also better suited for projecting the power of individual states against competing regional and middle powers. However, they thereby risk contributing to the further decline of the rules-based international order. A minimum requirement for any German participation should therefore be that such interventions are firmly anchored in inter­national law, for example by being based on the prin­ciple of the responsibility to protect.

Any German government is likely to consider par­ticipating in coalitions of the willing only in excep­tional cases. For such missions undoubtedly harbour greater potential for domestic political controversy than the deployment of soldiers in UN and EU mis­sions. But this, in turn, also provides an opportunity for more purposeful action. While the Bundestag usually approves and prolongs missions within the UN and EU frameworks without intensive debate, a more in-depth discussion of the goals and benefits of the mission would be necessary for participation in coalitions of the willing. Such an approach could also enable Germany to exert more influence on objectives, strategies, and the selection of partners. How­ever, because they are exceptional in nature for Ger­man policy, coalitions of the willing are ultimately not a sufficient approach for future conflict management.

Policy option 3: Universal criminal jurisdiction

Civil wars in the broader Southern neighbourhood are unlikely to give way to lasting peace if human rights violations and war crimes are not dealt with by the actors involved. There is a need to deter potential criminals, provide victims of violence and their fami­lies with a minimum of justice and recognition, and create a basis for societal reconciliation. In most cases, however, transitional justice measures com­parable to the truth commissions of South Africa, Peru, and Morocco are unlikely because the dominant parties in a conflict have no interest in coming to terms with the past. In such cases, the international community can contribute to investigation of and accountability for crimes. One feature of internationalised conflicts, however, is that prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) or international special tribunals is often impossible because per­manent members of the UN Security Council are involved. Therefore, the only option is for national courts to deal with the situation in accordance with the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Germany could take a pioneering role in several respects: first, by consistently supporting the pros­ecution of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC wherever it has the mandate; second, by encouraging trials under the principle of universal jurisdiction in national courts (in Germany and other EU member states where this is possible); third, by supporting court-proof documentation of war crimes by civil society and international organi­sations and by expanding the capacities of its own law enforcement agencies; and fourth, by promoting non-judicial approaches to transitional justice, such as truth commissions or the facilitation of local rec­onciliation processes, which can also contribute to peaceful coexistence, even in authoritarian contexts.

Such a pioneering role would correspond both to Germany’s interest for lasting stability in its broader neighbourhood and its interest in strengthening a rules-based multilateral order. It would entail a great­er emphasis on criminal justice, and thus a re­allo­cation of resources. Criminal prosecutions, especially in com­plex conflicts, are anything but “low-hanging fruit” that can be readily reaped. Rather, they involve a host of dilemmas. These include the fact that, in the short term, prosecutions can put a strain on cooperation with conflict actors, and that they are usually lim­ited to the crimes of local actors, whereas the crimes of international actors go unpunished.

Germany can only credibly act as a pioneer if it consistently fulfils this role. This implies that crimi­nal prosecutions do not stop with the nationals of friendly states (see, for example, the ICC investigation into suspected war crimes in the Palestinian terri­tories), nor should they be discontinued for reasons of cost or limited to direct perpetrators for reasons of political expediency or due to threats, while those politically responsible are not prosecuted (see, for example, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon).

If negative repercussions from conflicts in the broader Southern neighbourhood are to be avoided, Germany must, in its own interest, contribute more effectively than in the past to dealing with these con­flicts. To this end, it should adapt its toolbox to in­creas­ingly complex challenges. Ad hoc diplomatic mecha­nisms, military coalitions of the willing, and criminal justice can help make conflict management more effective in the short, medium, and long term – but only if the unintended side effects are taken into account and mitigated from the outset.

The Key Elements Paper on the Bundeswehr of the Future: Necessary Adaptations to Security Policy Challenges

Florian Schöne

Violence and the threat of violence to enforce inter­ests is once again a political reality in Europe. The annexation of Crimea, the Russian military’s deploy­ment near the border with Ukraine, and propaganda videos of new weapons systems provide evidence of this development. In Syria, with Russia’s help, a brutal war is being waged against the population, also with the calculation of using the refugee movement migrating towards Europe to destabilise the European Union.1 Meanwhile, China’s influence is growing far beyond Asia. Russian and Chinese actions are similar, and cooperation between the two countries is becom­ing closer. Violent extremism is spreading in Africa. Under the impact of these events and trends, Germany is once again focusing more on national and collec­tive defence, but the boundaries with international crisis management are becoming increasingly blurred.

The Federal Republic can hardly solve these prob­lems on its own, but its restraint in threatening the use of force as well as the application of hard power does not appear to be expedient either. When it comes to settling conflicts, German foreign policy still relies too much on the United States (US) in particular. Washington’s focus on Asia makes it necessary for the Europeans to contain the violence in their own neighbourhood and areas of interest – be it Ukraine, Syria, Libya, or Mali. Former US President Donald Trump’s scepticism about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), displayed in word and deed, has shown Europe that US security guarantees should not be taken for granted. Germany must there­fore also become more capable of acting militarily and be able to lead the way in military conflict manage­ment more independently. This requires integrated armed forces with their own strategic and operational planning at the national level. It is in the interests of the Federal Republic to develop the Bundeswehr along these lines if it wants to strengthen and con­tinue to shape alliances such as NATO and, to some extent, the EU. Conducting its own strategic and opera­tional planning and integrating it into alliance systems strengthens its own position. Largely inde­pend­ent forces should therefore be the goal of adap­tation efforts, as they would strengthen the alliances and can also be deployed in ad hoc coalitions.

In May 2021, the Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg) published a Key Elements paper on this subject.2 This paper takes the first steps in this direction. How­ever, in order to be able to continue on this path, some well-trodden paths will have to be left behind.

Basic features of the “old” Bundeswehr

Since its founding, the Bundeswehr has been in an unusual situation. As militarily necessary as the Ger­man armed forces were in the early phases of the Cold War, their creation was controversial and sub­ject to compromise. They were hemmed in – from outside as well as from within.3 Strategic and opera­tional control was ceded to NATO. In short, there was no institutionalised, autonomous strategic thinking in the German armed forces, and it had no strategic means (of deployment) of its own. Even after its reorientation in 2010/2011 and the subsequent focus on crisis management – meaning deployments abroad – the Bundeswehr remained true to this tra­dition. The operational army was also dependent on the alliance structure. Inter-army cooperation was promoted and enormously improved by the establishment of the Joint Support and Enabling Service (Streitkräftebasis) and the Joint Forces Operations Com­mand (Einsatzführungskommando). However, all of these changes did not translate into a comprehensive national command-and-control capability. The capacities for actual operational action and strategy formation were not significantly expanded; the focus was – and still is – primarily on tactical challenges. Autonomy remained limited.

“Key Elements” for the future?

Conflicts today are cross-dimensional and require flex­ibility – that is, more autonomy – at the national level without, however, neglecting alliance structures. Conflicts are becoming more complex, more long-term, and more wide-ranging, and there­fore they place greater demands on strategic capa­bilities. Today, the Bundeswehr has to travel great distances to reach a potential theatre of operations, be it Lithuania or Mali. It is by no means certain that a deployment on the eastern flank will take place under NATO Article 5 conditions. The chances of a deployment being accompanied by a declaration of a state of defence in Germany seem even smaller. Opponents such as Russia deliberately exploit legal and social vulnerabilities and keep disputes below the threshold of war. This does not mean, however, that armed conflicts with German participation should remain out of the question.


In 2018, the US Army summarised its concept of “multi-domain warfare” in a doctrine.4 It focuses on overwhelming an (equal) opponent with attacks from all dimensions (land, sea, air, cyber, space), thus limit­ing the opponent’s ability to act until their will to fight is broken.5 This type of battle management requires forces that can exchange data without delay. An Air Force jet must be able to send coordinates to Army artillery. The jet pilot must know when its own cyber forces have jammed the enemy’s air defences so they can fly into enemy territory. The frigate offshore needs to know when the jet is approaching in order to pause firing. Satellites monitoring the battlefield must be able to provide this and additional informa­tion to all forces.

In order to ensure the functionality of this concert, central control of all systems involved in the fight is needed, that is, operational integration. To achieve this, structural measures must be implemented, but the processes must also be practiced. Although this could initially be done on a multinational scale, it would involve considerable effort. The more nations that are involved, the more difficult it becomes; this is in part due to language barriers, especially in emer­gency or high-pressure situations. The coordination of dimension-specific capabilities is conceivable at the corps level, and with the establishment of so-called Component Commands, such a level is now to be mapped out by the commands of the different branches of the Bundeswehr, according to the Key Elements paper. This measure is suitable for deepening the understanding of the cross-dimensional approach. It will also improve the level of training of person­nel, and thus ultimately the performance capacity of alliance structures. However, the envisaged corps struc­tures also ensure a more rapid availability of forces, which can increase national flexibility and accommodate partner forces, including in ad hoc coali­tions. They should therefore also be tested in future exercises to prove the usefulness of national planning and capabilities.

National command and planning

The Territorial Command (Territoriales Führungs­kommando), which the BMVg outlines in its Key Elements paper, will improve the ability to conduct operations within the territory of the Federal Repub­lic by combining the agencies that are currently responsible. Less interfacing and a stronger substructure are a gain not only for Germany’s own security provision – within the framework of so-called admin­istrative assistance – but also for the NATO alliance, which must be able to rely on “hub Ger­many”, for example in alliance defence. Together with the Joint Forces Operations Command, which is responsible for Germany’s share of missions abroad, the Territorial Command will make it possible to create a clear situational awareness of all missions in and outside of Germany, thus enabling the political leadership to make informed decisions.

The changes in the Ministry of Defence serve to enable “the Federal Minister of Defence to command and control the Bundeswehr in the complex crises of our times”.6 They create the prerequisite for com­mand and control of the armed forces from a single source. They give German foreign and security policy more flexible options and are thus expedient in view of hybrid threats and under the aforementioned legal conditions. Until now, command and control of the armed forces has not been a task of the Ministry of Defence. A joint command-and-control facility for the armed forces that combines a future Territorial Com­mand with the Joint Forces Operations Command outside the ministry and is available to the political leadership as a central command-and-control point would make further interfaces obsolete and avoid the duplication of command cells.

Joint command and control requires joint force planning. This must be designed in such a way that there are not only ensured exchange relationships between weapons systems and units, but also that their capabilities complement each other. Uncoordinated independence of the individual branches of the armed forces could run counter to this goal. In order to prevent this from happening, a top-down approach with common guidelines is indispensable. Such a coordinating body has already been created in the form of the Bundeswehr Office for Defence Planning (Pla­nungsamt der Bundeswehr). This office should be fur­ther strengthened, for example by placing the doc­trine centre described in the Key Elements paper under its authority, irrespective of where it is located. A doctrine, in the sense of operational-strategic guide­lines, links visions of the future (conflict scenarios) with current challenges and is an integral part of force planning. Such a doctrine is therefore suited to bridge the gap between the capability profile and tactical implementation. Such a centre will further strengthen the understanding of doctrine develop­ment, which will increase Germany’s weight in alli­ance processes such as the NATO Defence Planning Process.

Strategic thinking

The ability to think strategically is an essential ele­ment for government action. The military provides options to the government, but to do so it must think through strategic processes itself. It is not an easy undertaking to strengthen strategic thinking, as this requires the development of a strategic culture.

Strategic thinking is a prerequisite to “improve stra­tegic coordination”,7 as envisaged in the Key Elements paper. This goal cannot be achieved with accompanying measures alone, such as the establishment of a “Federal Security Advisory Council”8 or the holding of a “security week” in the Bundestag.9 A Federal Security Advisory Council would also depend on the ability of senior officers to assess what is mili­tarily necessary as part of the comprehensive ap­proach as well as what is politically feasible, and to work out the (long-term) consequences and options based on this assessment. Strategic thinking is complex and there­fore requires targeted training. Without adept teaching, it is difficult to develop a strategic culture. This way of thinking should be encouraged at the very least among prospective staff officers and sub­sequently further consolidated and enhanced. The staff officer course and the general staff course would have to be adapted accordingly.

Strategic capability requires internal and external discourse. In order to stimulate this discourse, the Ger­man Institute for Defence and Strategic Studies (GIDS) was founded in Hamburg in 2018. Its purpose is, among other things, to make the military per­spec­tive accessible to the public. However, there is a lack of internal publication formats that could lower the inhibition threshold for participation, especially of younger soldiers. Both internally and externally, it is up to military superiors to set a good example and initiate discussions. A starting point would be an obligation to provide an opinion paper on military strategy topics every year, from the first rank of general upwards. Secondly, it is up to politicians to encourage this kind of debate and the military’s con­tribution to it. One step in this direction would be to place the GIDS directly under the Ministry of Defence. This could improve relations and have a positive effect on the acceptance of this think tank.


Those who want to protect themselves or others from violence must have the credible power (the skills and the will) to use counter-violence. The new conflicts are being fought in all dimensions and with all means. These strategic and operational framework conditions require armed forces that are nationally capable of command and control and integrated across all branches of the armed forces, just as they must be capable of international integration.

The Ministry of Defence’s Key Elements paper points in the right direction, but this must now be pursued systematically. The Bundeswehr must go beyond the tactical level in training and planning and become capable of developing military strategies and con­duct­ing them operationally; it must also continue to make contributions to the public discourse. End-to-end lead­er­ship capability right up to the Ministry of De­fence, the establishment of a doctrine centre to devel­op its own operational guidelines, and the founding of a think tank as a clear sign of the will to engage in military strategy discourse are not – in view of the Bundeswehr’s history – measures that can be taken for granted. All of these steps are suit­able for adapt­ing the armed forces to the above-mentioned security policy framework conditions, that is, for enabling them to become more independent and to assume more responsibility. These measures would enable the Bundeswehr to act in concert with like-minded partners and to possibly even lead the way, should alliance structures not be effective. The result would be forces that – not unlike the French and British armed forces – are integrated into alliance structures and yet can be deployed flexibly; forces that would improve Germany’s ad hoc ability to act. The new Ger­man government should pursue this path.

Maritime Choice: Indo-Pacific versus Arctic–North Atlantic Priorities

Michael Paul and Göran Swistek

By publishing its “Policy Guidelines for the Indo-Pacific”, the German government has made it clear that it currently regards this region as the most strategically important area and will henceforth give it priority in foreign policy. The general assessment is that Ger­many’s security is also at risk in the Indo-Pacific. It is therefore important to protect the international order there. Hence, the German government also intends to contribute military resources to this task. In his first keynote speech at the end of June 2021, the newly assigned Chief of German Navy stressed that his inten­tion is to consolidate the commitment to the region, which started with the deployment of the frigate BAYERN. He also said that he would like to see an intensification of cooperation with the major naval powers in this region, even if this can only be achieved by relieving them of their obligations to provide naval units in the Standing NATO Maritime Groups.

At the same time, however, the alliance is facing a dynamically escalating conflict with Russia in the High North. Never since the end of the Cold War has the relationship of the North Atlantic Treaty Orga­ni­zation (NATO) with Moscow been at such a low point. For the alliance, a geographic balancing act in which it pays equal attention to both the Arctic–North Atlan­tic and Indo-Pacific regions would be almost impossible to achieve. In its final report, the group of experts of the “NATO 2030” reflection process recently outlined the increase in Russian military activities in the High North, which can be assessed as aggressive. As a consequence, it recommends that NATO should strengthen its pillar of military deter­rence and defence within the North Atlantic and European areas. The final communiqué of the June 2021 NATO Summit is also exceptionally clear about the potential threat posed by Russia. At the same time, however, the heads of governments in the alli­ance are also addressing China’s increasing advances in the North Atlantic region and hold out the pros­pect of a stronger engagement with partners in the Indo-Pacific. In its 2016 White Paper, the German gov­ernment already defined the horizon of German security policy as being global. However, due to the risks and threats in the North Atlantic and Eastern European regions, Berlin has placed its security policy focus in recent years on strengthening national and alliance defence capabilities. In view of its limited resources and the existing operational obligations of its armed forces, it is hardly feasible for Germany to operate in both geographical and predominantly maritime zones. The danger here is that essential capa­bilities would become overstretched and that the duplication of efforts with partners and allies would create open “flanks” elsewhere.

The situation in the Arctic and North Atlantic regions

Since the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, which was followed by the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the security situa­tions in Europe and from the North Atlantic to the Arctic have changed. Russia is currently using a broad repertoire of covert and overt means to destabilise the West, ranging from military build-ups and deliberate provocations to interference in the domestic politics and elections of European countries as well as con­stant attacks in the cyber and information space to advance its interests in Europe and the North Atlan­tic. As a result of these acts, European countries are in a permanent state of conflict. However, Russia refuses any blame, and these acts of aggression currently remain below the threshold of any physical violence.

Moscow’s policy in the High North and the Arctic is directly linked to its interests in Europe. In geostra­te­gic terms, the European continent appears from the Russian perspective as a peninsular extension of the Eurasian landmass. Europe possesses the mostly freely accessible coastline and ports to the Atlantic, which the Russian Federation lacks. Russia’s access to the Atlantic is via the Baltic Sea or the Arctic, where Moscow has deployed considerable maritime and mili­tary capabilities and forces, which are restricted in their freedom of movement, however. From Rus­sia’s point of view, the sea lanes in the Arctic–North Atlantic region are not only essential for supplying its own ports, but also seen as the potential traffic and transport routes of a future maritime Silk Road. In the context of the planned intensification of coopera­tion between the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, Russia sees an oppor­tunity to shift geo-strategically from the periph­ery of Europe and Asia to a trade and economic hub at the centre of Eurasia, thus enhancing its role as a global political actor. Geo-economically, these aspi­rations manifest themselves in the land and sea cross­ings of the Silk Road to Central Europe and in Rus­sian oil and gas pipelines to Europe. Strategically, this area, Central Europe, belongs to the immediate sphere of interest of Russian foreign and security policy. It is the landmass that connects the High North and the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, respectively. Moscow’s North Atlan­tic and Arctic policy is thus – economically and in terms of security policy – also a vehicle for its strategy towards Europe.

The Arctic–North Atlantic region from a German perspective

Germany is not an Arctic state, but its role in the inter­national community and its interests mean that it is heavily involved in issues concerning the Arctic. Geo-strategically, Germany is in a very special posi­tion: As part of the Baltic Sea region, it lies at the interfaces with the High North – the Atlantic and the Baltic Sea. Linked to this are vital sea and land lines of communication that either run through or past Ger­many. The German public views the Arctic and the adjacent subarctic region primarily from eco­logic­al, economic, and political perspectives. As a member of the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the European Union, and NATO, and as an observer in the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Coun­cil, the Ger­man government has numerous issues on its agenda that directly or indirectly affect the Arctic. These issues and related interests were bundled in Ger­many’s “Arctic Policy Guidelines” in August 2019.

As a medium-sized political power, Germany is particularly interested in a reliable international secu­rity architecture that contributes to collective crisis management and crisis prevention. As a nation that depends on foreign trade and raw materials, and as a continental middle power and part of the Euro­pean peninsula, Germany depends heavily on free sea routes. All of these essential framework conditions are being called into question by the growing com­petition between great powers, which is also curtail­ing Germany’s room for manoeuvre. Therefore, in accordance with its “Arctic Policy Guidelines”, it is in Ger­many’s interest “to counter existing geopolitical ten­sions in the region and to prevent conflicts (of inter­est) and potential crises in the Arctic”. The Federal Government is committed to maintaining the Arctic as a low-conflict region, utilising it in a peace­ful man­ner, and preserving the freedom of navigation there – after all, almost 60 per cent of German foreign trade by value is carried by sea.

Furthermore, it is the aim of Germany’s Arctic policy to ensure that existing international obligations and norms in the region continue to be re­spect­ed. At the same time, Berlin is aware of the devel­oping security policy dynamics in the High North. In view of a potential arms race and escalation cycle that may arise there, it is committed to its obli­ga­tions to NATO. Germany and its Armed Forces must strengthen their military capabilities together with their northern Euro­pean partners. They must also make substantially greater contributions towards the effectiveness of Euro­pean diplomacy and the alliance’s defence capa­bilities in the sub-Arctic region. Any military activ­ities in the region are to be of a defensive nature. Never­theless, the participation of German Armed Forces in drills and exercises in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions is to indicate an expres­sion of reassurance to the alliance and serve as a signal of deterrence. As far as exercises on land are concerned, refer­ence should be made above all to the participation of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, which is predominantly supplied and led by Germany, in the major NATO exercise Trident Juncture 2018 in north­ern Norway. Soldiers from the Navy’s sea battalion have also occasionally participated in Arctic training with Dutch Marines in preparation for the jointly deployed Amphibious Task Group. The German Navy is also regularly present with its units in exercises in the sub-Arctic region. Whether as part of the Stand­ing NATO Maritime Groups, within the framework of bilateral cooperation, especially with Norway, or during other maritime exercises: The subarctic area of the North Atlantic and the northern Baltic Sea is one of the sea areas in which the German Navy routinely operates.

Due to Germany’s dependence on free and open sea lanes, the Armed Forces have “a special respon­sibility” to protect its own coastal waters as well as adjacent sea areas and international sea lanes, as stated in the “Konzeption der Bundeswehr 2018”. In the case of the Baltic and North Seas, this responsibility is relatively clear. But NATO’s northern flank consists not only of the sea between Denmark and the Baltic, it also extends across the European North Sea into the High North up to the North Pole. Germany and its Euro­pean partners, like the United States (US), are seeking to enhance the security and resilience of the countries in this area. This requires special military capabilities in the maritime regions of the High North, both above and below the sea, as well as in airspace. The submarines and submarine hunting units also make an important contribution to situa­tional awareness and knowledge about maritime spaces (Maritime Domain Awareness). The US is the largest provider of such capabilities in NATO. How­ever, against the backdrop of Chinese power politics in the Indo-Pacific region, the US is increasingly being called upon to operate beyond Europe and its periph­ery. Accordingly, many of the US Navy’s specialised capabilities will be prioritised for deploy­ment where confrontation with China can no longer be ruled out. In his remarks on the US defence budget for 2022, Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark A. Milley said that the Arctic may well obtain a signifi­cant geostrategic role for the US in the future. But for now, he said, there are other priorities in terms of capabilities and their funding. The escalation dynamic in the Indo-Pacific is seen as more pressing. It is also in Germany’s interest – and in line with the declared policy of the US – if the US has more capacity freed up to face the security challenges there. However, Washington associates this with the expectation that the immediate problems for Europe’s security – also in the High North – can be addressed more autono­mously and with more credibility by its allies and part­ners on the European continent. Beyond com­mand and control roles or coordination tasks, which Germany is keen to assume, this requires a strengthen­ing of military resources, the closing of specific capa­bility gaps, and an increase in military readiness.

Consequences for German policy

In both geographical areas, there are signs of growing cooperation between China and Russia. The basis for this is an overlap or compatibility of interests and goals. Western democracies face the problem that, both in the Arctic and in the Indo-Pacific, overlapping systemic conflicts are accompanied by security policy challenges. Germany is a global player in terms of its economic policy, but a middle power with limited resources and capabilities in terms of foreign and secu­rity policy. Since the latter is unlikely to change and the German defence budget is also expected to stagnate or decline in the coming years, it is foresee­able that the German Armed Forces as an instrument of foreign and security policy cannot be deployed simul­taneously in these two maritime and geopolitically important spaces.

In view of these premises, Germany would do well to concentrate its military capabilities in the medium term on a security policy approach that is regionally limited. In the Indo-Pacific region, diplomatic and foreign economic instruments are sufficient to assure partners in the region of Germany’s sustained inter­est. In the North Atlantic and the High North, on the other hand, diplomatic engagement should be inten­sified. At the same time, security policy and military enablement activities, within the framework of NATO, should be stepped up in order to stabilise this region.

For Germany and Europe, Russia’s actions currently pose the most immediate and direct threat – both in terms of freedom of navigation and the potential for escalation based on Russian behaviour towards Nordic states and the ongoing militarisation of the Arctic–North Atlantic region. At present, Europe and Germany cannot counter these threats alone. For the foreseeable future, it will still require the capabilities and presence of US forces. However, the US is increas­ingly focusing its activities on the systemic conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific. If Germany were to assume more responsibility in the North Atlantic, and thus relieve the Americans there, this would provide the US with the necessary leeway. At the same time, Germany would make a noticeable con­tribution towards strengthening the deterrence and defence capa­bilities within NATO and stabilising the secu­rity situation in the High North.

Difficult Relations with Moscow. German Policy towards Russia Must Be More Carefully Calibrated

Sabine Fischer

Relations with Russia will continue to be one of the greatest foreign policy challenges for the next Federal Government. They are among the most controversial matters facing the European Union (EU) and are of fundamental importance for European security. They also have an important transatlantic dimension. Because of China’s increasing importance for Russia, these relations are closely linked to the question of the future world order. Germany does not need a fun­damentally new Russia policy. However, it needs to take better account of the realities of Russian domes­tic and foreign policy.

Russian realities

Three trends are shaping the development of Russian politics:

1. The Russian state has steadily grown more authori­tarian over the past two decades. The auto­cratisation of the political system goes hand in hand with the increasingly explicit rejection of liberal democ­racy and the existing international order. According to official Russian discourse, both are merely underpinnings of a unilateral Western claim to international dominance. Since Beijing also shares this view, Russia and China are increasingly closing ranks in the international arena.

2. Russia sees itself as an international great power and claims a decisive role in shaping regional orders (in its neighbourhood, in the Middle East). This aspi­ration results from the idea of a multipolar world, in which Russia acts on equal footing with great powers such as the United States (US) and China.

3. Russia is exploiting the weaknesses of Western democracies. Moscow sees this as a justified response to Western interference in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. China and Russia share many goals and methods in this area. Western democracies should therefore understand these closely intertwined trends within the context of intensifying systemic compe­tition at the global level.

Autocratisation at home increases Russia’s need to repel Western influence and undermine Western sys­tems. In turn, the geopolitical confrontation with the West also serves to strengthen domestic legitimacy. All three trends are very likely to continue over the next five to ten years. Democratic transition, on the other hand, seems unlikely. Despite growing chal­lenges to its legitimacy, the Russian political system exhibits a relatively high degree of stability. The inter­national context (the increasing influence of China, the weakening of Western democracies) will also be favourable rather than destabilising and enable Russia to remain on its course.

Germany’s Russia policy: Partly missing the facts

The trends described above define the scope for Ger­man and EU policy, whose influence on domestic developments in Russia has noticeably shrunk. The con­frontation with Moscow in the Eastern neighbour­hood is putting a strain on the European security sys­tem. At the same time, Russia’s political and military involvement in the Middle East is impacting flight and migration to Germany and the EU. In the global systemic rivalry with China (and Russia), Germany has yet to take a clear position between growing threat perceptions and trade and economic interests.

In recent years, Berlin has adjusted its policy to the changing conditions in the region and embedded it in the European context. Today, the German govern­ment attaches more importance to the states in its Eastern neighbourhood than it did in the 2000s. Ger­many has played an important role in upholding the EU consensus on sanctions against Russia since 2014. In view of the political conflict with Moscow, Berlin has also made it a priority to promote engagement with Russian society.

But at the same time, German policy continues to be guided by assumptions that are increasingly diffi­cult to reconcile with the reality of relations with Russia. For example, there is still a widespread belief that economic integration will, in the long term, bring about positive change in Russia’s economic and political systems, and thus also in its attitude towards Germany and the EU. The same applies to the hope that dialogue could prompt Moscow to adopt more con­ciliatory positions. For years, neither of these assump­tions has corresponded to the self-image of Russia’s political leadership. Such misconceptions can be found at various levels of German politics. The result is national unilateralism, especially where economic interests are at stake. The most prominent example is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Moreover, individual Ger­man states and other actors tend to engage in shadow foreign policies vis-à-vis Russia – as for in­stance with the possible procurement of the Russian Corona vac­cine Sputnik V. All of this leads to con­flicts with Euro­pean partners as well as Washington.

Next German government: (Even) more realism needed

The next German government should do more to adapt its Russia policy to reality and abandon out­dated assumptions. At the global level, Berlin must factor in the dynamics of Russian-Chinese relations. The relationship between the two countries will con­tinue to evolve, but it will also become more asym­metrical, to Russia’s disadvantage. However, Moscow is unlikely to oppose this – unless there is a reorien­tation of Russian foreign policy, which in turn would require domestic changes. Instead, Moscow and Beijing will continue to align themselves on issues in which they can weaken the positions of the US and other Western actors. French President Emmanuel Macron launched a diplomatic initiative directed at Moscow in 2019 in the belief that the EU could woo Russia away from its embrace with China. This quickly proved to be an illusion: The Russian political leadership did not trust Macron to take the lead in the EU, especially vis-à-vis Germany. By this point, Moscow had also lost interest in engaging with the EU. With the election of Joe Biden as US president, the opportunity has arisen to reactivate transatlantic relations (among other things) with regard to Russia/ East­ern Europe. The next German government should prioritise transatlantic consolidation when it comes to shaping the EU–US–Russia–China quadrangle. The time window for this will close with the start of the next US presidential election campaign at the end of 2023.

Germany needs to assume more responsibility for European security. Relations with Russia on this issue are extremely tense. In its extended neighbourhood (including the Arctic and the Middle East), Moscow is relying increasingly on military and hybrid means. International arms control regimes are eroding, and mutual trust has reached a low point. In this situa­tion, Western democracies need to shore up their defence capacities and resilience within the frameworks of the EU, NATO, and the Organization for Secu­rity and Co-operation in Europe. This also in­cludes examining financial flows as well as political and economic linkages to see where they affect politi­cal processes in Germany and other EU member states. Only when dealing with a consolidated and resilient counterpart will Moscow take seriously the offers to talk about arms control, conflict prevention, or “de-conflicting”.

Berlin should also review its assumptions about the Eastern neighbourhood. The region has grown extremely diverse. As a result, the EU’s Eastern Part­ner­ship, created in 2009, is breaking down into two parts: the implementation of the association agree­ments with Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia on the one hand, and relations with Armenia and Azerbaijan on the other. Belarusian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka has suspended his country’s participation in the East­ern Partnership. Reform processes in Ukraine, Mol­dova, and Georgia are the topmost priority. The asso­ciation agreements have been in place since 2014, but the track records of their implementation are mixed. All three countries are caught in a vicious circle of inter­nal resistance against reforms, regional instability, and meagre offers from the EU. All three insist on join­ing the EU. Germany, along with some other mem­ber states, has so far rejected this option – and the EU is certainly not in a position to engage in new enlargement processes at this time. However, the pros­perity and stability of these states are in Germany’s primary interest. Their reform efforts must be supported with all available means. Such steps are of great importance for the EU’s relations with Russia. They underline the EU’s claim of playing a decisive role in the region and contributing to the process of securing reforms in these states. At the same time, Germany and its EU partners must make efficient use of the limited room for manoeuvre available vis-à-vis Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

German reservations about more intensive security cooperation with Ukraine no longer do justice to the sad reality on the ground. In the past two to three years, the structure of the conflict in the Donbas has changed significantly. Large parts of the population in the disputed territories have received Russian pass­ports. This makes a military offensive by Moscow “to protect” these new citizens more likely. The Russian troop deployment along the Ukrainian border in the spring of 2021 exposed the dangerous dynamics of the conflict. Tensions are also growing around the Crimea and in the Sea of Azov. If Berlin is open to discussions about more security support for Kiev, clear conditions can be formulated for when such cooperation can take place. Conflict resolution needs to regain priority in Germany’s policy towards the Eastern neighbourhood.

The new German government would be well ad­vised to stop searching for perpetually new opportu­nities for “selective engagement” with Russia. All the issues that fall under the fourth of the five guiding principles for the EU’s policy towards Russia have been on the table for a long time. Their number is limited, which has to do with diverging interests, but also with Moscow’s diminishing will to engage. The rejection of all advances made by the EU to cooperate in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic is proof of this. Together with its EU partners, Germany should identify the few issues where engagement with Russia is either inevitable or promises progress due to over­lapping interests. The first category includes regional crises and conflicts – especially in the Eastern neigh­bourhood and the Middle East – arms control, cyber security, and the future of the Arctic. The choice is much more limited in the second category. At pres­ent, the fight against climate change is the most ob­vious issue. To be sure, Moscow’s climate policy has so far remained mainly at the rhetorical level. But as an oil and gas exporter, Russia will be massively affected by the implementation of the European Green Deal. This will open up opportunities for cooperation on the Russian side.

Engagement between societies must remain a priority of Germany’s Russia policy. Autocratisation and the pandemic have drastically shrunk the scope for this. Moscow is increasingly taking repressive action against German organisations. In response, the German side of the Petersburg Dialogue has suspended all activities until further notice. The new German gov­ernment should critically review this dialogue and the function it can have in the future. It should also support EU steps (even unilateral ones) that would make it easier for Russian citizens to enter the EU.

Such changes must also be reflected in the insti­tutional framework of Germany’s Russia and Eastern Europe policy. The post of Coordinator for Inter-Societal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Countries of the Eastern Partnership is no longer adequate. The tasks should be reorganised and divid­ed between different positions. The new Federal Gov­ern­ment should appoint a Coordinator for the Eastern Partnership, with a focus on the countries in the asso­ciation agreements. This would give them the weight they deserve. Another coordinator should handle the shrinking opportunities for engagement with Russian society. Both positions should be entrusted to people with political clout and extensive regional expertise. Civil society cooperation with the Central Asian states could be covered by another coordinator or a special ambassador with the Federal Foreign Office.

Costs and benefits

None of the above means that Germany should with­draw from any form of engagement with Moscow. But the next Federal Government must tailor its actions even more closely to the political reality in Russia. Co­ordination within the EU and with the Western alli­ance must also be a top priority. This has not always been the case, as the example of Nord Stream 2 shows. Such projects, which inevitably generate their own dynamics and path dependencies, must be avoided in the future. The approach suggested here for Berlin’s future Russia policy might cause further tensions in the short term – although relations already reached an unprecedented low with the Alexei Nawalny case in 2020. In the medium to long term, however, such an approach has the poten­tial to consolidate both the EU and the trans­atlantic relationship with respect to Russia policy. It could provide Germany and its EU part­ners with greater bargaining power in numerous disputes with Mos­cow. Finally, it would close many gaps that Russia could now exploit to further weaken the EU.

A Different Kind of “One China” Policy

Hanns Günther Hilpert and Angela Stanzel

Germany and Europe’s China policy has changed course in the past decade. In a strategy paper jointly published on 19 March 2019, the European Commission and the European Union (EU) High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy described China not only as a strategic partner, but also as a competitor and systemic rival. However, these multi­ple classifications have not had the effect of making European policy towards China less arbitrary or less contradictory. The various actors at the European, national, and subnational levels continue to pursue their own agendas, ignoring the spillover effects on other policy areas.

In this already problematic constellation, Germany should avoid the impression that it is behaving am­biva­lently. A policy is needed that primarily serves its own foreign economic interests and attempts to engage China in meaningful global cooperation, but disregards the dangers that arise from China’s totali­tarian governance and expansive power projection: for the multilateral liberal order, for peace and sta­bility in the Indo-Pacific region, for Europe’s self-assertion. Such a China policy from Europe’s eco­nomically and politically most important country is becoming increasingly untenable.

The guiding principle should instead be the fun­damental insight that the defence of the rules-based, liberal principles of order, the defence of human rights, and Europe’s political self-assertion are more important and higher-ranking goals than the eco­nomic returns that can be achieved by doing busi­ness with China. Moreover, a China policy is always also a European and alliance policy. If Brussels, Paris, or Washington expect Germany to adopt a clearer – and if necessary a more confrontational – stance towards China in a spirit of solidarity, this expectation is not synonymous with the demand for eco­nomic “decoupling” or the start of a new Cold War. Furthermore, concrete measures must be taken to ensure that Europe’s businesses, con­sumers, citizens, and government institutions are effectively protected against Chinese incursions; and such measures are only realistic in a European con­text. 

Shaping a unified approach Contrary to how things appear on the surface, the chances of a unified ap­proach towards China are not so bad. The opportunis­tic behaviour of EU member states should not obscure the fact that Europe’s capi­tals are increasingly united in their assessment of China, not least in light of China’s recent aggressive “wolf warrior diplomacy”, that is, its attempt to in­fluence the policies of others through threatening behav­iour. Notwithstanding the country’s undoubtedly fantastic development suc­cesses and a still discernible heterogeneity in the state and party leadership, Chi­na’s domestic and foreign policies show that it is a one-party regime run accord­ing to Leninist methods, which, if necessary, require brutal and resolute en­force­ment in order for China to retain power and manage its global political rise according to self-defined conditions. The EU member states also agree with the assess­ment that the West­ern policy of engag­ing China has failed. The hope that – in the course of modernisation and wealth creation – China would liberalise internally and integrate peacefully into the rules-based world order has proved to be a misjudge­ment.

The unity in this assessment should be followed by unity and consistency in action. This can only succeed if Europeans jointly define their position, ideally at the level of the EU heads of state and government. This position can only be based on European values, legal norms, and concepts of order, as well as on the core interests of the continent derived from these – in con­crete terms, maintaining a rules-based inter­national order and preserving freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and fair competition in Europe. There­fore, the EU should do three things: first, protect the EU’s in­ter­nal market and the regulatory sovereignty asso­ciated with it; second, guarantee the politi­cal auton­omy of action of the EU and EU member states, not least in the face of subversive or intimidat­ing meas­ures taken by China; third, defend the rule of law and com­mitment to com­mon rules at the inter­national level.

If Europe dissociates itself politically from China and puts compliance with international rules and its own strategic autonomy first, this should provide the orientation for its foreign policy – but also for other actors from politics, business, and civil society – and give its China policy the necessary consistency and integrity. Such an accentuated China policy would guide actions and decision-making in the individual areas of diplomacy, security, trade, business, tech­nology, culture, and human rights; it would also be relevant for the state and local levels. This harmony, which encompasses all essential policy fields, can be described as a new “One China” policy1 – a term borrowed from China’s doctrine for the political and territorial unity of the People’s Republic and Taiwan.

The EU’s strategy paper should be supplemented and concretised by such a new “One China” policy. As already mentioned, EU-China relations are character­ised by the attributes of partnership, competition, and systemic rivalry. This admittedly renders the bi­lateral relationship into an elegant triad. However, this “compartmentalisation” fosters the illusion that it would be possible to distinguish between econom­ics and politics, and between comfortable and un­comfortable areas – in cooperation with a China that instrumentalises economic exchanges for its political and military power projection and that disregards rules at home and abroad when it is deemed neces­sary and useful.2 The priority policy goal associated with the position statement – namely to get China to play by the rules in the future – puts an end to this illusion.

Consequently, the “One China” policy obliges us to react appropriately to violations of international rules, and to take decisive action against China’s attempts at corruption and its exertion of pressure on Europe. It signals to China what Europe’s core inter­ests are. However, it should not be misunderstood as an attempt to take sides in geopolitical terms against China’s rise in world politics, or even to pave the way for a change of system in the country. The starting point of the “One China” policy is China’s violations of the rules. Such a clarification is important for two reasons: Firstly, it makes the China policy compatible for the entire EU; secondly, it counteracts an un­wanted escalation – after all, both sides are interested in continuing the dialogue and cooperation, where­by political differences are (or must be) mutually recognised.

China also has an interest in prosperous political, economic, and cultural cooperation with Germany and Europe. It is in Europe’s interest to strengthen the influence of the group of “internationalists” and, if possible, to prevent Chinese policy from hardening further. Reducing global CO2 emissions, combating pandemics, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and maintaining security and stability in critical regions of the world are not the only issues that China and the West must work on – and are capable of working on – together constructively. Here it is important to welcome positive signals from China and to promote cooperation.

The “One China” policy makes Germany and Europe’s policy towards China more honest, rational, and predictable. It puts an end to ambivalence. How­ever, decision-makers in politics and business should also be aware of the consequences of such a “One China” policy – the positioning will have its price. China will initially classify Europe’s stance as antago­nistic or “insubordinate” and sanction it economically and/or politically. Lasting damage to German market positions – and indirectly to Germany’s political posi­tion vis-à-vis China – cannot be ruled out. How­ever, in a global economy based on the division of labour, China always harms itself through sanctions and boy­cotts; this is why solidarity within the EU is so impor­tant. The EU should respond to China’s puni­tive meas­ures, such as those against Sweden or the Czech Re­pub­lic, with united reactions. At the same time, this would be an appropriate signal to Beijing that “puni­tive measures” have consequences. The aim would be to find a circle of like-minded states beyond the EU that would act and react together vis-à-vis China.

A defensively oriented, value-driven foreign economic policy

German and European foreign trade policy towards China has so far focused primarily on offensive eco­nomic interests. Successes have been achieved in terms of market access, most recently within the frame­work of the Comprehensive Agreement on Invest­ment. However, China is further away than ever from alignment with the Western rules-based mar­ket economy system.

In any case, the critical problems from a European perspective no longer lie solely in the Chinese domes­tic market, but rather in the unfair trading practises of many Chinese actors on international markets and the threats they pose to free market competition and the multilateral trade order. Therefore, although Ger­many and the EU should continue to pursue the goal of non-discriminatory market access and fair com­petitive conditions in China proper, their foreign economic policy should be primarily defensive. While China’s economy, unfazed by Western criticism, is transforming towards national economic autonomy and increasingly being controlled by Communist Party cadres, the main concern from a European per­spective should be to protect European companies, consumers, and taxpayers from Chinese practices and incursions so as to preserve the EU internal market and the European economic and social model.

A number of demands3 have been made for a defen­sive foreign economic policy. Various sensible measures have already been implemented or ini­tiated, such as investment screening and the EU’s new “anti-coercion instrument”. However, the policy im­ple­mentation still needs a strategic compass to fill that void. The principles of reciprocity and value orientation are useful as a compass for a foreign eco­nomic policy that takes a defensive stance towards China. For example, Chinese companies should com­pete for public procurement contracts in the EU under the same conditions as European companies in China. And if goods and services are purchased from China, it must be ensured that their production or provision is sustainable and, above all, that human rights are respected along the supply chains. It is also important to reduce vulnerabilities in the areas of imports, exports, investment, and technology.

Many German companies that are successful in China now will not be able to avoid reducing their dependence on the Chinese sales market and manu­facturing locations. To achieve this, the Indo-Pacific region offers attractive alternatives. Here, the EU should be supportive by making active efforts towards dismantling market barriers.

Strengthen and expand international cooperation with regard to China

Europe will not be able to shoulder the task of com­mitting China to the rules of international law, multi­lateralism, and liberal governance by itself. Europe’s key partners for political coordination and cooperation are the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and like-minded states in the Indo-Pacific region. The transatlantic community of values and security pro­vides a good foundation for political and economic cooperation with regard to China, even though Asia is outside the purview of the North Atlantic Treaty Orga­nization. It is important to accompany the sys­temic and serious approach of the Biden administration in a constructive and cooperative manner or to accentuate it in European terms, for example in the areas of climate, health, and infrastructure develop­ment. Since the systemic competition with China will be fought and decided in the field of technology, joint export controls should be expanded, systematized, and above all, better co­ordinated internationally.

Moreover, the West should strengthen and expand the norms and practices enshrined in international jurisdiction, the United Nations, the World Trade Orga­nization, and the Bretton Woods institutions. When leadership positions are filled in international orga­nisations, Beijing must not be allowed to take the field, as China is increasingly attempting to instrumentalise international organisations in order to legiti­mise its own national values and interests.

Europe’s China strategy should take account of coun­tries in other regions. The German government’s Indo-Pacific Strategy provides an excellent basis for inten­sifying political and economic cooperation with coun­tries in that region.4 But the goal being pursued here – namely to strengthen democracy, the rule of law, and resilience – should also have appeal else­where, lead­ing to more resistance against Beijing’s po­litical and economic pressure. However, words must be followed by deeds. Germany and the EU can pres­ent alternative perspectives for countries in other regions through trade and sectoral agreements and offer co­opera­tion in the development of sustainable infra­structure.

The defeatist assessment that the liberal system, democracy, and the market economy cannot survive in competition with China’s authoritarian state capi­talism is misplaced.

Putting Words into Action: Foreign Policy towards Africa and Latin America

Denis M. Tull and Claudia Zilla

Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) occupy an ambiguous position in German and Euro­pean Union (EU) foreign policy. Both are regarded as politically and economically peripheral regions that yield only a weak influence on the international level. While the LAC states have concluded a par­ticularly active period (2000–2014) of regional and global engagement, Africa has been making increased efforts to build and project collective action for the past decade. This difference in ambitions is partly reflected in the respective regions’ loss or gain of relevance on the German and European agendas. Still, Berlin and Brussels find it difficult to articulate interests and goals in their relations with both regions that would justify sustained political atten­tion.

Nevertheless, for years German and European decision-makers – supported by a multitude of ini­tiatives – have been invoking the need for deeper cooperation or even “strategic partnerships” with their “natural allies” (LAC) and the “neighbouring con­tinent” (Africa). However, the rhetorical phrase of “partnership on an equal footing”, which is commonly used by decision-makers, gives an idea of how asym­metrical the relationships with the two regions actually are.

Meanwhile, global power shifts are manifesting them­selves in Africa and LAC. Non-Western states have become important partners for both regions in the areas of trade, infrastructure projects, credit, and investment. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, China added a developmental component to its now strong role in LAC as a trading partner (China accounts for 33.9 per cent of Chile’s total trade, 16.1 per cent of Brazil’s, and 14.3 per cent of Argentina’s)1 and creditor (from 2005 to 2019, China provided infrastructure loans worth $25 billion).2 Since the beginning of the Corona crisis, the People’s Republic has donated medical supplies worth $215 million.3 In Africa, the outlines of a “new race” to pursue stra­tegic interests between ambitious small states (e.g. the United Arab Emirates), emerging middle powers (in­cluding Turkey), and global superpowers (China, Russia) are discernible. Currently, 39 African and 13 LAC states are part of Beijing’s “New Silk Road Ini­tia­tive” (Belt and Road Initiative, BRI).

For both regions, the rise of China – and, more generally, the increasing plurality of actors – ini­tially meant a substantial expansion of their foreign policy options. The relevance and attractiveness of traditional partners and some of their customary policy instruments are fading. For instance, the share of development cooperation funds as a share of exter­nal financial flows to Africa fell from 60 per cent in 1990 to 29 per cent in 2018 (LAC: 3.2 per cent).4 How­ever, the notion that Germany and the EU are losing ground everywhere and inexorably is inaccurate. It is up to Berlin and Brussels to decide whether they will maintain their influence. However, it is questionable as to the means with which this should be done. It is a delusion to believe that Europe can compete with China with BRI-like programmes and loans or with “hard power”. Apart from their financial clout, the EU and its member states simply lack the instruments and the domestic backing to act as comprehensively, quickly, and boldly as China’s (para‑)statal organisations.

Influence and credibility, moreover, are not solely dependent on economic potency and hard power cur­rency. No other actor besides Europe has anywhere near the same historical depth and density of rela­tions with Africa and LAC. These “soft power” factors represent a comparative advantage, but one that is becoming increasingly fragile. This is not only due to the activism of international competitors. Contradic­tions between the rhetoric of partnership and effec­tive action in the context of bilateral, bi-regional, and global challenges as well as foreign policy inconsist­encies have shaken the confidence of many states of the Global South in German and European contributions to multilateralism and a more equitable global order. This problem is particularly acute in two policy areas: migration policy and the handling of Covid-19 vaccines.

Migration policy in Africa

Few issues have put more strain on European-African relations than migration. Since 2015, the EU has char­acterised migratory movements emanating from Africa as the central challenge in dealing with the con­tinent. Stemming this migration became an “integral part” of German and European Africa policy, an objec­tive to which entire policy areas were largely sub­ordinated, as in the case of development policy.5 The building blocks of this policy were the relocation of Europe’s external borders to North Africa and the Sahel and a forced practice of returning illegal migrants to their countries of origin. Given the diverg­ing interests between Africa and the EU in the matter, the latter tried to exploit the asymmetry of relations to impose its migration policies.6 That is to say, in order to meet the rhetorically dressed up “com­mon challenge” of migration, the EU was pre­pared “to create and apply the necessary leverage, by using all relevant EU policies, instruments and tools” at its disposal, including development policy conditionalities, market access, and visa restrictions in order to impose its will.7 De facto, “cooperation” with Africa became a question of compliance with European-defined targets, which were to be ensured via negative or positive incentives (aid packages). African preferences, such as more opportunities for regular mobility and migration to Europe and more intra-regional freedom of movement in West Africa (curtailed by EU support for strengthening controls by border police in the region), were hardly taken into account.

Unsurprisingly, the success of this policy has been limited and is probably short-term, as it has been linked to the expectation that African governments would implement policies that hinder the free move­ment of people in their own societies, thereby endan­gering their own power. The EU has paid a high price for its partial successes. The focus on migration pre­vention and the subordination of other goals has weakened its political credibility in Africa overall, not only in the policy areas concerned.8

When it comes to shaping migration policy, the perpetuation of asymmetrical power relations that the EU always claims to want to overcome is put in sharp relief. In the short and medium terms, the Union’s actions are raising doubts about Europe’s suit­ability as a partner from the perspective of an increasingly self-confident continent. In the long term, migration policy also undermines the influence of the EU, which has so far been sustained through dense political and social networks, values, norms, and expertise.

LAC in the context of the Covid‑19 vaccine policy

LAC is the most pandemic-affected region in the world. With only about eight per cent of the world’s population, it accounts for about 21 per cent of Covid-19 infection cases and 32 per cent of deaths worldwide9 (as of 13 July 2021) – and containment of the coronavirus in the subcontinent is not yet in sight. Amid the emergency, LAC governments are seeking access to vaccines from around the world through participation in Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), that is, the initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO), and through negotia­tions with manufacturers. But multilateral and bilateral progress has been extremely slow: Only 15 per cent of Latin America’s population has received full vaccination coverage so far.10 Pharmaceutical companies prioritise richer countries in contracts for large shipments; through the COVAX mechanism, only a little more than half of the vaccine doses prom­ised by the end of June 2021 have gone to LAC. While citizens in the Global South rely heavily on Chinese (Sinovac, Sinopharm, CanSino), Russian (Sput­nik V), and Indian (Covishield) “second-class vaccines”, official voices in Germany and Europe denounce this as Chinese and Russian “vaccine diplomacy”.

EU member states have agreed on a common vac­cine strategy. Based on this, the EU has ordered twice as many vaccine doses as it needs to fully protect its population. Germany and the EU are also participat­ing in the COVAX mechanism, which has shrunk from a global redistribution initiative to a modest aid programme due to initial underfunding and weak bargaining power vis-à-vis vaccine manufacturers. The COVAX initiative has come to rely on those vaccines that wealthy states had previously secured for their own populations or for health diplomacy purposes, some of which are now being made avail­able. Rather than encouraging vaccine development and production in the Global South, COVAX pri­marily supplies vaccines from the Western world (the first Chinese vaccine was approved as recently as June 2021). In February 2021, WHO listed two versions of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from the Republic of Korea and India for emergency use and distributed them through COVAX. But vaccination using these Covid-19 vaccines is not recognised as vaccine pro­tection for entry by some of the EU member states that provide financial support to COVAX. The same is true throughout the EU for those vaccines that are not of European, UK, or US origin.11 While some health professionals point out that only free or com­pulsory licensing and technology transfer for vaccine production in poorer countries can ensure fair global vaccine access, the German government – in line with the pharmaceutical companies – opposes the release of patents. This posture is being noted in LAC and Africa.

Policy changes and confidence-building

Migration and Covid-19 vaccination policies exemplify global phenomena whose negative aspects particularly affect Africa and LAC. Structural disparities in the world system mean that vulnerabilities to inter­national challenges and the necessary levels of resili­ence are unevenly distributed across states and regions. In these policy areas, Germany and the EU are missing the opportunity not only to contribute to sustainable problem-solving, but also to breathe life into the rhetoric of “partnership on an equal footing” with Africa and LAC.

Apart from its limited effectiveness, Europe’s migra­tion policy towards Africa results in numerous conflicting goals. Short-term political goals counteract long-term European interests and coherence in and across policy fields. For the sake of both the effective­ness of migration policy and its own credibility, the EU should expand its toolbox to include positive incen­tives such as mobility partnerships for work and education. In these, African governments could recog­nise a willingness to compromise and make counter-offers, which would make it easier for them to pro­mote domestically controversial cooperation on migra­tion with Europe to their own populations.

The example of migration policy shows that the EU is less and less able to translate economic asym­metries and donor dominance into power, because pres­sure leads at best to partial cooperation. In Africa, Europe should not so much use the “language of power” (Ursula von der Leyen), but instead try to use its remaining comparative advantages with “soft power” by underpinning its rhetoric of partnership with concrete offers on issues that are of central con­cern to Africa. This includes support for the African Continental Free Trade Area. At the global level, it is important to identify common interests in the trans­formation of multilateral institutions (including the UN Security Council and international financial insti­tutions) in dialogues with African actors. The future legitimacy of these institutions will also depend on Africa no longer being merely an object, but also a subject of international politics.

With regard to the states of the Latin American and Caribbean region, partnership behaviour pre­sup­poses first and foremost that Germany and the EU acknowledge the contradictions and inconsistencies that make their own policies towards the region less and less attractive or credible – most recently in the context of the Corona pandemic. They should work bilaterally together with LAC as well as globally to reduce the asymmetries in a sustainable manner. In terms of global vaccine policy, this would mean first of all abandoning their resistance to vaccine patent waivers. In addition, Germany and the EU should promote the establishment of capacities for vaccine production in the developing world and of supra-regional production networks (as undertaken by AstraZeneca). With regard to vaccine distribution, it is necessary to strengthen the COVAX initiative, firstly financially and secondly by refraining from bilateral contracts with vaccine manufacturers and separate deliveries of vaccine doses to specific regions (such as the EU to the Western Balkans). In line with this, no booster doses should be purchased while large parts of the world’s population are still unvaccinated. Ger­many and the EU should also explore the certification of vaccines from the Global South and allow people with such vaccine protection to enter Europe. Finally, the charitable rhetoric of “donation” should be abandoned and, instead, a narrative of vaccines as “glo­bal public goods” should be accompanied by sub­stantial policy changes.

Identity-related Change

Multilateralism and Partnership in German Foreign and Security Policy

Hanns W. Maull

German foreign and security policy consistently relies on multilateralism and essentially derives its identity from it. This is historically consistent and politically unavoidable for a middle power such as Germany. But there is no such thing as “the” multilateralism: Each of the diverse formats and contexts of multilateral diplomacy is embedded in political contexts, on whose normative foundations national and inter­national political orders rest. The challenge for Ger­man foreign policy is therefore to advance specific liberal-democratic forms of multilateralism and to contain authoritarian or even neo-totalitarian alter­natives. This requires that the particular multilateral­ism that German foreign and security policy espouses retains international influence. The prerequisite for this are powerful coalitions of states that support each other in sustained partnerships and see this – more persistently than has been the case to date – as an important aspect of their foreign policy identities. Such a normatively well-grounded multilateralist policy must be designed and implemented concentrically, holistically, and strategically. To this end, it is essential to re-conceptualise and firmly anchor such a policy in domestic politics and society.


Not only Germany, but also many other states claim to pursue a multilateral foreign policy, above all China. After Donald Trump moved into the White House as president and began to base his policy on the principle of “America first”, Chinese President Xi Jinping presented China as the guarantor of an open multilateral world order. However, Chinese foreign policy is based on values that are rather different from those that inform German foreign policy. The Chinese leadership interprets the principles and norms of the international order and the rules and regulations of the United Nations (UN) in its own unique way. Wherever it can, it is increasing its in­fluence in terms of personnel and policies in existing international organisations and is also building new multilateral structures of its own that complement existing institutions but could also serve as alterna­tives to them. All this illustrates how widely divergent perceptions exist about what multilateralism is and how it should be practised. This cannot be surprising: Multilateral diplomacy is, first of all, simply an in­stru­ment to achieve national goals and interests. These, in turn, reflect the different normative foun­dations in which decision-makers’ actions are rooted.

When speaking of multilateralism, therefore, it is always necessary to clarify what is meant by it. Two aspects are particularly relevant here, namely on the one hand the specific principles and values associated with particular concepts of multilateralism, and on the other the formats in which it takes place. While the specific form of multilateralism usually follows historical and pragmatic – that is, factual – con­sid­erations, the different constellations of values that are incorporated into the practice of multilateral foreign policies are of fundamental importance. For the prin­ciples and norms to which governments feel com­mitted manifest the respective foreign policy identi­ties as well as (in the double sense of the term) the domestic political constitution of countries. In a White Paper published last May,1 the German gov­ern­ment committed itself to a “values-based multilateralism”. By this it means liberal democratic principles and norms as well as a pro-European orientation in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law.

The geopolitical shifts in power over the last two decades and the rise of right-wing populist forces in Western democracies have fuelled arguments about multilateralism in recent years. As a result, the com­mon ground in the international community about multilateralism is now largely limited to the Charter (open to interpretation, as shown) and institutions of the United Nations. This is better than nothing, but the progressive paralysis of the Security Council by the veto powers shows that these commonalities may be too limited to enable effective international cooperation.

Sustainable partnership

The term “partnership”, which Chinese foreign policy in particular cultivates, also implies cooperation on the basis of common ground. In this respect, it tends to obscure the view of possible antagonistic aspects in international relations. In this context, too, questions therefore arise about not only the partners’ defini­tions of interests, but also the values that shape them. For the definition of a country’s national interests is heavily influenced by the principles and values that the decision-makers hold. Partnerships can therefore be highly diverse, depending on the parties involved and their specific normative orientations.

Another important question in partnership co­opera­tion concerns the way both the costs of and possible gains from cooperation should be shared between the partners. This is a sensitive question, insofar as collective action implies both the opportunity (for the individual) and the problem (for the collective) of free-riding. In other words, partnerships as well as multilateralism require that those involved be willing to contribute their resources and adapt or change themselves in such a way that the desired goals can be achieved. Germany needs this willingness from its partners in order to achieve its goals and assert its interests. Its partners expect and need the same from Germany.

Germany’s most important partners are currently France and the United States, as well as the other mem­ber states of two of the prominent multilateral contexts of German foreign and security policy: the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Orga­nization (NATO). In a different way, however, and on the basis of fundamentally different principles and values, Russia and China should also be considered significant partners for Germany.2 The effectiveness and legitimacy of partnerships and multilateralism depend importantly on whether, and to what extent, it is possible to find domestic political support for com­mon concerns and mobilise resources through internal adjustments. An example of this would be the increase in national defence budgets in order to fulfil the commitments entered into within NATO. This applies to Germany’s partners, but also to Ger­many itself.

Certainly, multilateralism may achieve some desired results relatively easily. This may be the case, on the one hand, if results can be achieved with a rather low expenditure of resources and internal changes, and, on the other hand, if the costs can be charged to other participants in the cooperation, or to third parties. How­ever, there is much to suggest that, not least because of the ecological limits to growth, the possi­bilities of shifting the burden of national adaptation onto the international environment – and thus to international relations – have been largely exhausted. It seems instead that, for the sake of the future, a kind of reversal of thrust is necessary, namely from adaptation through externalising its costs to adapta­tion through internalising them.

Conclusions and recommendations for action

Germany’s future depends crucially on how European and international politics will develop in the coming years. In order to be able to influence the internation­al order in accordance with its principles, values, and in­terests, Germany needs a normatively firmly anchor­ed, effective multilateralism and, to this end, robust part­nerships. One prerequisite for this is public awareness that there is a close link between Germany’s foreign and security policy and its own prospects for the future. Another condition is the collective willingness to undertake greater efforts and invest more resources to advance liberal democratic multilateralism.

The international disputes about which principles, values, and rules should guide multilateralism in the future will intensify further in the coming years. The protagonists here are China and Russia on the one hand, and the United States and the EU and their allies on the other. This tug of war is not only about the future shape of the international order, but also about the future of liberal democracy. The tug of war has already begun; it will almost certainly continue throughout the coming legislative period and prob­ably well beyond.

Multilateralism takes place in many different con­stellations. The issues to be dealt with in each case often overlap and influence each other – for exam­ple, in the relationship between trade and climate policy. Moreover, decisions in the respective contexts are often not only about their specific issues of sub­stance, but also about the principles and values behind them. Multilateral foreign policy can there­fore not be pursued in a “compartmentalised” man­ner, that is, solely oriented towards the respective substantive issues, even if this is unavoidable to a certain extent. The practice of German multilateralism to date has fostered tendencies towards such compartmentalisation, however, in which linkages between the individual policy areas and the normative implications of policies are neglected. The new German government should therefore implement the multilateralism strand of German foreign policy concentrically, and as far as possible holistically, on the basis of an overall strategic concept.

Foreign policy coordination mechanisms should be further developed accordingly at the executive and parliamentary levels. To this end, the strategic orien­tations of German foreign and security policy should be explicitly formulated, for example in the form of a White Paper, and should be the subject of parliamen­tary discussions at regular intervals. In addition, the Federal Security Council should be upgraded and ex­panded in this sense.

The core of a “concentric multilateralism” is its basic normative orientation towards liberal demo­cratic principles and values. Institutionally, these are represented by the European Union, transatlantic relations, and relations with other liberal democracies. It is also part of this core area to uphold and further develop the principles and values mentioned within the Charter of the United Nations. The second circle of concentric multilateralism consists of sys­tematically aligned and coordinated multilateral action in the various formats. The third circle con­cerns the specific policies in their respective multi­lateral contexts.

Multilateral foreign and security policy is not only demanding in itself, it also puts a considerable bur­den on domestic politics. On the one hand, political support is needed at home to provide adequate material resources for foreign, security, and defence policy. On the other hand, politics, the economy, and society must be adequately protected against attempts to influence them from outside and risk precautions must be taken. This, too, requires resources and invest­ment. To provide a yardstick of what may be required: In 1990 a good fifth of the federal budget (21.5 per cent) was spent on foreign relations, in 2021 only just under one-eighth (12 per cent).3

Effective partnerships are the most important pre­requisite for an influential German foreign policy. They are made more difficult by the increasingly inward-looking orientation of the politics of foreign policy among Germany’s partners, but also in Ger­many itself. On the other hand, transnational civil society actors may serve as new partners that can provide important impetus and open up opportuni­ties for effective cooperation.

A successful German foreign policy needs not only substantive impetus, however, but also more domes­tic support and adaptation. Overall, foreign policy needs to be given more attention and more weight. Initiating and driving forward such a re-orientation is one of the most important political challenges for the coming legislative period. At the same time, Germany needs to encourage and promote similar changes among its partners. This is the only way to close the widening gap between what multilateralism must achieve and what it is currently capable of delivering. It is also the only way to protect the values of liberal democracy and to allow it to survive and flourish, in international politics but also in Europe itself.

Foreign Sustainability Policy

Marianne Beisheim and Felicitas Fritzsche

Starting point: The German Sustainable Development Strategy 2021

In 2020/2021, the Federal Government updated the “German Sustainable Development Strategy”.1 In­spired by the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR, written by an independent group of scientists for the United Nations (UN) Secretary General),2 the strategy identifies six areas of trans­formation in which five so-called levers are to be applied. One of the levers is “international respon­sibility and cooperation”.3 This continues the well-established approach that the strategy should not only be implemented in Germany, but also with and through Germany. The levers in the strategy, however, are neither particularly well-developed nor strategically thought through. For example, under the head­ing of “foreign sustainability policy”, only pre-existing activities have been listed so far. The basis for this is the 2020 departmental report of the Federal Foreign Office “Diplomatie für Nachhaltigkeit” (Diplomacy for Sustainability).4 In this report, the Federal Foreign Office reports on thematic activities such as sustain­ability dialogues or Germany’s efforts on “climate and security” in the UN Security Council.

In its 2021 Sustainable Development Strategy, the Federal Government announces under the heading “Next steps”: “Germany will continue to make stead­fast progress with its activities internationally. It will demonstrate that sustainability is intrinsic to both Ger­man foreign policy and multilateral cooperation”.5 The Federal Foreign Office had already asked in its departmental report: “How can we align even more areas of our foreign policy action with the 2030 Agenda? How can we integrate and achieve the long-term goals of the Agenda with ‘classical diplomacy’ [...]?” Answers to these questions “are to be found through a comprehensive and continuous debate in the Federal Foreign Office and in dialogue with the public.”6


In the past, all this rhetoric was rarely taken seriously beyond opening speeches. German politicians tended to reject far-reaching, transformative measures due to concerns about “yellow vest protests” on German streets. Already conceptually this is not convincing because the concept of sustainable development im­plies that three dimensions are to be considered – social and economic as well as ecological concerns.

Moreover, we are seeing changes in the German public debate. In April 2021, the Citizens’ Assembly on “Germany’s Role in the World” submitted a report to the German Bundestag.7 It states that “Germany should promote sustainability [...] as a global cross-sectional task [...] and place [it] at the centre of its political action”. In doing so, Germany should also “act in the interests of other countries”.8 At the end of March, the Federal Constitutional Court had ruled that the government not only has to improve its national climate protection law, but also intensify its international action on this.9 Increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as the recent heavy rainfall and flooding in Germany, also reinforce the social pressure that social movements such as “Fridays for Future” have already built up. Taken together, it looks like societal support for more deci­sive action is growing. In mid-June, the Committee of State Secretaries, with a view to the coming legis­lative period, stated: “Achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda is a task of highest priority.”10 The next Federal Government should consider the strategy again at an early stage and decide about the next steps in 2022.11

At the international level, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is promoting an “inclusive and net­worked multilateralism” to advance the implemen­tation of the 2030 Agenda and move closer to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – this is also part of his new report “Our Common Agenda”.12 According to the “White Paper on Multilateralism”, Germany also advocates for a value-based, inclusive, and effective multilateralism. In the Declaration on the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, Germany, together with the other UN member states, proclaimed the 2030 Agenda and the 17 SDGs as the “roadmap” for the next 10 years. To put this roadmap into prac­tice, Germany’s foreign policy would have to take the lever “international responsibility and cooperation” much more seriously and use it more strategically.


The new German government, and the Federal For­eign Office in particular, should assess and approach sustainable development issues more pro-actively, and also strategically, while placing them in a politi­cal and geopolitical context.13 Efforts should be focused on positively shaping the ongoing changes in the international order. The Federal Foreign Office could make greater use of its knowledge of the “politics”, both in the countries and regions and in the various multilateral contexts and negotiations, across departmental responsibilities, that is, even when it is not the leading department. Relevant knowledge includes – depending on the theoretical perspective – geopolitical power shifts and sovereignty concerns; interests and interdependencies; values and political narratives; or hegemonic blocs formed by elites in politics, business, the military, and society. Specialists who tend to think in sectoral or technical terms often lack this kind of knowledge. Yet, in multilateral but also plurilateral and bilateral contexts, this kind of expertise is extremely relevant for targeted negotiation strategies.

The consensual adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs by the UN member states is rightly seen in the “White Paper on Multilateralism” as proof that “the international community can agree shared objec­tives on a global scale, despite its differing interests”.14 This offers an opportunity to shape international cooperation strategically with a view to these com­mon goals. In 2016, the Federal Foreign Office had conducted a “mapping exercise”, via its missions abroad, to find out how governments of other states intend to implement the SDGs. The White Paper falls short on this kind of transfer to the classic arenas of diplomacy. The next German government could initiate a renewed proactive “outreach” to learn where Germany is in demand as an inspirational learn­ing partner – especially in the context of efforts for a “better and greener recovery” after the Covid-19 pandemic. Building on this, the 2030 Agenda could be placed more centrally in the Federal Foreign Office, both conceptually and institutionally, and should guide action in foreign relations, also in more promi­nent formats.

The results of such a process could then also in­spire the further activities of the Alliance for Multilater­alism. Its members could develop ideas for multilateral transformation partnerships – in other words, use the Alliance as a “partnership incubator”. In addition, a better interface with the UN needs to be considered so that these initiatives would not remain parallel events but promptly be associated with relevant multi­lateral processes. Multilateral partnerships, such as the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) ini­tiative, are an important test for an inclusive and networked multilateralism. Further initiatives should be developed together with – or at least in close con­sultation with – the UN. As the COVAX example shows,15 a unit would be useful that monitors, makes transparent, and addresses in a politically relevant way whether partners are honouring their commitments and where cooperation could be improved. Bilaterally, the Federal Foreign Office and other minis­tries are already working with climate and energy partnerships. The new German government could build on this and commit itself to broader transformation efforts.

The “White Paper on Multilateralism” states that Germany not only intends to oppose attempts to water down the 2030 Agenda, but that it is also com­mitted to its integrated implementation.16 However, this approach is not yet sufficiently prominent in the White Paper itself. As the GSDR points out, an inte­grated approach would help to realise important syn­ergies, and thus faster progress in achieving several goals simultaneously. Accordingly, a more consistent inter-ministerial cooperation would be an important starting point for a coherent foreign sustainability policy. The Sustainable Development Solutions Net­work (SDSN) Germany has taken up the proposal to create a transformation cabinet for international sustain­able development, analogous to the climate cabinet (in which the Federal Foreign Office is not represented).17 If it were possible here to establish domestic and foreign policy guard rails in the sense of the three dimensions of sustainable develop­ment, this would be a positive development for policy coherence. To this end, for example, it would be im­portant to better link climate policy (currently highly salient, internationally through the Biden adminis­tration, at the European level through the Green Deal, at the national level through the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court) with the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. This would be of mutual interest, because only together with other key transforma­tions, such as in the transport, construction, or agri­cultural and food sectors, will it be possible to achieve progress that is sufficiently fast and effective.

The UN and many member states are eager to learn about such coherent policy packages and good prac­tices.18 For example, in May 2021, after years of nego­tiations to address climate change, the G7 countries agreed to end subsidies for coal-fired power plants.19 This instrument was seen as “low-hanging fruit”, that is, a political measure which is easy to implement and promises quick success. However, social and eco­nomic concerns prevented an agreement for a long time. To promote a “just and fair transition”, we need to design subsidies in an environmentally, economi­cally, and socially compatible way.20 Such models or incentives could make it much more attractive for industrialising and developing countries to embark on transformative pathways.

As problems increase and pressure grows, not only innovative technologies but also transformation partnerships and integrated policy approaches “made in Germany” could become a foreign policy bestseller. This will only succeed if the next German government quickly begins to develop suitable foreign sus­tain­ability policy messages – in a more committed manner, communicating them also in a credible and convincing way, especially through its own imple­men­tation efforts.

Diplomacy for the 21st Century: Six Practical Proposals

Volker Stanzel

Changes in the foreign policy environment require not only substantive but also structural and institutional adjustments. However, their translation into practical diplomacy lags behind the needs of national and international publics, which are shaped by new sensibilities. This increasingly calls into question the state’s ability to steer policy, to the detriment of representative democracies. Six measures therefore seem advisable:

  1. National dialogue platforms on current foreign policy issues

  2. European early warning networks

  3. A National Security Council anchored in the Bun­des­tag

  4. Firm consultation mechanisms in the framework of the Alliance for Multilateralism

  5. An international review conference for the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations

  6. Institutionalised European Union (EU) capacity-building on Asia in accordance with the Indo-Pacif­ic guidelines

1. National foreign policy dialogue platforms

Foreign policy is of interest to citizens when it direct­ly affects them. That is not unusual. What is new, how­ever, is how quickly foreign policy issues can have an effect that is difficult to control, when citizens feel that their livelihoods are threatened, and that they are insufficiently informed in their search for solu­tions to problems – since elections are usually still far off. Dwindling levels of trust can even drastically alter the domestic political landscape in the short term, and thus significantly impair the functioning of democratic mechanisms. Examples include the global financial crisis, the refugee crisis, and the Corona pan­demic, all of which spawned populist movements. Brexit, the yellow vest movement in France, the par­tici­pation of populist parties in government, and the election of Donald Trump as US president show, how­ever, that such crises, which have an impact on for­eign policy but also on domestic politics, have so far resonated less loudly in Germany than elsewhere.

If a German government wants to ensure sufficient public consensus for its foreign policy actions in the future, ways must be found to respond more strongly to the desire for participation. Experiments are already underway in the form of various citizen plat­forms. However, the formats being used are not yet very popu­lar because their effect on government action is not transparent, making it neither more trans­parent nor more trustworthy. So a further step is needed here. It must, on the one hand, avoid the obvious “fig leaf” suspicion and, on the other, provide reliable accountability for the new approaches to foreign policy. Other forms of participation, such as the Citi­zens’ Council being considered by the German Bun­des­tag or the Citizens’ Dialogue of French Presi­dent Emmanuel Macron, can – if consolidated and ex­panded – serve to institutionalise national dialogue plat­forms on foreign policy issues. Such plat­forms will have to create their own legitimacy. It will depend on how successful they are in preserving or reinforcing a demo­cratic understanding of the state.

2. European early warning networks

The Corona pandemic has not only been a warning signal of how quickly citizens can feel insufficiently involved in politics. It has also highlighted the diplo­matic dysfunctionality in the face of the fragmentation of international publics, even in partner coun­tries that have close ties with Germany. Examples include the spontaneous closure of borders, even with­in the Schengen Area, disputes over the distribution of vaccines, and the successes of populist groups and personalities.

Obviously, it is no longer sufficient to observe the public affairs of other states in the traditional way in order to grasp crisis situations in depth and to work on them politically, together with partner govern­ments. This is particularly important in cases where a country’s own measures need to be coordinated with its partners. The above-mentioned crises also provide examples of this. Moreover, measures are more likely to be accepted if the acting governments can credibly demonstrate that they respect each other in their representation of national interests. Within the EU, platforms for intensive cross-border discussions could ensure that politically relevant movements are recog­nised by the public in a timely manner. An example of suitable structures is, for example, the Global Diplomacy Lab, which is already being pro­moted by the Federal Foreign Office on a small scale as an experi­ment. Such platforms could be linked at the European level and, as early-warning networks, could be indicators of politically relevant trends in public moods. They will be just as important as the national dialogue platforms because they will provide insights into the different national trends in public opinion and sen­timent, which can help to shape government policy and must be taken into account in foreign policy.

3. National Security Council in the German Bundestag

Not only foreign policy, but also domestic, economic, and socio-political interlinked security issues today affect more than the three traditionally responsible departments of the Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry of Defence, and the Federal Ministry for Eco­nomic Cooperation and Development. Aspects such as economic or financial sanctions – that is, new instru­ments of interstate conflict – or problems such as cyberhacking or climate and migration policy reveal how broad the spectrum is of foreign and security policy issues that democratic governance must address today.

That is why it makes sense to deal with these issues in their entirety when it comes to government deci­sions. In the United States (US), the National Security Council, which is based in the White House, exists for this purpose. In Germany, too, this model has been discussed time and again. It has never been realised because it would mean that responsibilities would be concentrated in the Chancellor’s Office. This would mean, however, that crucial competences would also be taken away from those departments that are led by members of other coalition partners, which would not accept this loss of power, even if it were only rela­tive. The solution would be to establish a German National Security Council without executive powers in the German Bundestag. Particularly in the case of developments that could lead to the participation of the Bundeswehr in foreign missions outside the domain of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or in the case of measures that could seriously damage German economic interests (as is often the case with sanctions), the parliament would at least participate in a consultative capacity, unlike the present Federal Security Council, which is a committee of the federal cabinet. A National Security Council in the German Bun­des­tag would ensure that all relevant ministries are in­volved and that parliament is consulted in good time. This would bring greater effectiveness, especially in matters that often have to be coordinated between the executive and the legislature under time pressure, such as decisions on military missions. The formal status of the National Security Council would have to correspond to that of parliamentary committees, as this would be important above all in light of the con­siderable confidentiality and security requirements.

4. Institutional framework of the Alliance for Multilateralism

The Alliance for Multilateralism, launched by the Ger­man government in 2019 and currently supported by around 70 states, is a reaction to the realisation that the international order is in danger. Liberal inter­nationalism took institutional shape with the United Nations and the entirety of the rules-based system that has been operating since 1945. Admittedly, the basic idea that all sovereign states solve their prob­lems through negotiation while renouncing the use of force was always a precarious one. Nevertheless, it was widely accepted as the way that states dealt with each other. This reasonably workable system is under threat from two directions in particular.

On the one hand, since the end of the Cold War, more and more spaces have emerged in which states are tempted to break away from the framework of rights and obligations of the international system. In doing so, they are shaking up its cohesion and the preconditions for networked international coopera­tion. Examples include the behaviour of Russia and Turkey and, under Donald Trump, also of the US.

On the other hand, the People’s Republic of China has entered the international arena as an actor that explicitly advocates a different system of international governance. Thus, Chinese leaders are openly calling for other forms of international relations than the existing ones, or pursuing other forms of international activities, such as with the New Silk Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The greater China’s international influence becomes, the more it is to be feared that the existing international order will be weakened in its effectiveness and, in the end, possibly its very existence will be threatened.

Now, major powers such as the US and China are less dependent on the rules-based liberal international order. Medium-sized powers such as the EU member states, on the other hand, are dependent on a func­tion­ing international system if they want to maintain their prosperity and security. In this respect, there was an urgent need to establish a platform such as the Alliance for Multilateralism for such states. So far, however, it has served little more purpose than to offer an exchange of ideas between Alliance foreign ministers on the margins of international confer­ences. This should be changed. To counter the process of diffusion of the global order, an effective institutional framework is needed, for example in the form of a secretariat for the Alliance for Multilateralism, sensibly located within the EU. Germany initiated the Alliance and is therefore the right actor to now also initiate the improvement of its capacity to act.

5. Review conference for the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations

Globalisation and digitalisation – both the economic and technological revolutions – are not just addi­tional forces contributing to the fragmentation of the global order. They are even dissolving traditional basic principles of diplomacy, such as the exchange of factual information as the basis of foreign policy communication and negotiation. The competition with social media infotainment based on “alternative facts” is influencing interstate dealings, as the Russia debate in the EU shows, for example. New diplomatic actors, such as international organisations, non-gov­ern­mental organisations, and transnational corporations, are part of a political, economic, social, and often violent network. It resembles, so to speak, a meta-universe of the international community that spreads uncontrollably without its finality being apparent. It is obvious, however, that the prior rules of diplomatic inter-state interaction no longer go as far in solving problems as is often assumed. Attempts at structural adjustments of various kinds in different nations do not go far enough, if only because they are each limited to one state, while the problems created by the new actors are a global phenomenon.

In response to the global fragmentation processes, the reform – that is, expansion – of the United Nations Security Council is often discussed. Since the first such proposals were made a quarter of a century ago, however, doubts have been growing that an enlarged body could more easily achieve unity among the participants than the existing one. It might there­fore be more promising to thoroughly review the actual toolbox of international interaction and com­munication. It consists essentially of the rules govern­ing diplomatic or consular relations between states, the functions of state representatives, and the prin­ciples for the peaceful settlement of disputes, as set out in the two Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations of 1961 and 1963. A review conference for the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations should be tasked with developing provisions for the rules-based integration of inter­national organisations, non-governmental organisations, and transnational corporations into inter-state relations and adapting the existing rules.

6. Institutionalised EU capacity-building on Asia

The Indo-Pacific guidelines, which the German gov­ern­ment adopted in September 2020, are intended to diversify Germany’s relations with the region geo­graphically and thematically. In doing so, they are intended to help advance normative and institutional exchanges in light of economic as well as security concerns. They follow a similar French strategy paper from 2018, but one in which France appears as the “Nation of the Indo-Pacific”. In late 2020, the Nether­lands also released its own guidance paper. With their documents, the three states aim to support efforts by the European Commission to develop a coherent EU strategy for the Indo-Pacific.

The increasing magnetic field-like radiance of China’s new power is leading Europe to neglect its in­terests in other parts of the region. The result is that Beijing is indirectly further strengthened. This must be balanced out. The abovementioned draft strategies are an expression of the desire to focus more strongly on countries in Asia, which, thanks to their own char­acters and policies, are and should remain important partners for Germany. According to the guidelines, in order to be successful, not only should the European perspective be broadened, but cooperation with the states in the region should also be meaningfully strengthened. This, in turn, presupposes the compre­hensive development of competences on a scale that corresponds to the great and growing importance of the Indo-Pacific region at the level of social, political, economic, and personal contacts. The model could be the earlier European development of competences in transatlantic affairs and relations with Russia. As in these two cases, the development of European knowl­edge on the Indo-Pacific should be conceived in a multi­faceted way. That is, it should take place in dedicated research institutes such as the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics), in universities, and in civil society institutions such as the Atlantic Bridge. This requires the EU to develop a competence initiative on the Indo-Pacific that should be initiated by the new German government.

Hybrid Threats and the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy

Annegret Bendiek and Raphael Bossong

The global security situation is increasingly characterised by so-called hybrid threats, which aim to disrupt the public order of targeted states. Hybrid threats are primarily created by proxy actors that are only indirectly or covertly supported by another state (see Matrix on p. 66).1 These include, for example, hacker or troll groups that are encouraged or merely toler­ated by state authorities, and that disrupt critical infra­structures or attempt to manipulate national elec­toral processes.

A few years ago, hybrid threats were characterised by the concurrence of armed conflict with the use of non-violent, covert instruments to exert influence.2 Today, by contrast, the variety of actors involved is at the forefront, as is the use of multiple interlocking civilian but illegitimate approaches to destabilisation,3 such as the targeted takeover of economic sec­tors or the systematic manipulation of the media or of diaspora groups.4 The “toolbox” of hybrid threats has become increasingly diverse and comprehensive, even if it has a predominantly non-military character. Particularly with regard to Russia and China, Euro­pean authorities assume that all available instruments are being brought to bear against them – below the threshold of armed conflict. Classic security policy, understood as border security or territorial defence, systematically falls short here. Hybrid threats endanger the internal cohesion of democratic societies, and thus the core of the European idea.

Resilience and Security Union

Adequate policy responses must mirror the variety of hybrid threats and involve a large number of sectors and actors. Since most attempts to disrupt public order are covert, the first priority is to strengthen the resilience of democratic society at large.5

The European Union (EU) has been committed to the concept of resilience for years and seeks to cover all critical aspects of the contemporary risk society. Among other instruments, numerous legal acts on investment protection, the energy industry, trans­national transport networks, communications and infrastructures, and the integrated (digital) single market all contribute towards European resilience. Compared to neighbouring states, the process of Euro­pean integration in its legal, economic, and social dimensions has increased the member states’ resist­ance to illegitimate outside interference.

More than at any time since the founding of the EU with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, individual mem­ber states are too small to be able to hold their own in the competition between China, the United States, and Russia and in the face of multiple hybrid threats. Since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the EU have been addressing such threats in a number of strategic docu­ments, working groups, and through a joint Centre of Excellence.6 The European External Action Service (EEAS), in particular, strives to uncover and counter disinformation campaigns.7 The further devel­opment of both the Security Union and the Defence Union8 should help to counter a growing spec­trum of hybrid threats – through higher security standards and improved EU coordination mechanisms.9

Matrix Structure of hybrid conflicts


Primarily governmental

Also private/proxy actor


Territorial control

Interstate military threat

Asymmetric wars

Public order

Government interference


The weaknesses of the Common Foreign and Security Policy

The EU’s central weakness remains the lack of focus­ed detection, joint threat assessments, and proactive, forward-looking foreign policy responses to hybrid threats. Attempts have been made – and are still being made, largely unsuccessfully – to achieve more effective decision-making in the Common For­eign and Security Policy (CFSP) by extending qualified majority voting in the Council. Perhaps the most im­por­tant reason for failure is that the member states’ threat analyses and security policy scenarios diverge greatly; often they do not allow for a common inter­pretation of the situation, and therefore also no uni­form formulation of security policy. Understandably, there are major differences in threat perceptions between Italy and Sweden or between Portugal and Estonia. If each member state understands the threat landscape only against its respective national back­ground, collectively they can only agree on a mini­malist CFSP and cannot develop a coordinated ap­proach to major power conflicts. This fundamental problem is not new, but it is exacerbated by hybrid threats.

The German Council Presidency made a renewed attempt in 2020 with the “Strategic Compass” to miti­gate the existing differences between EU member states.10 Yet, the Strategic Compass has two major short­comings. First, it seeks to develop a common European threat assessment only in selected fields and is not systematically connected to policymaking. It represents an ad hoc measure that does not trans­late the observed structural changes into an institutional reform which would go beyond another White Paper on defence. Its second shortcoming may be even more serious: The entire process is shaped by the defence ministries of EU countries, and thus it tends to be too narrow and technical when applied to diverse hybrid threats.

In order to do justice to the complexity of hybrid threats, European security policy must also protect the integrity of the democratic process (e.g. elections), further train the population in digital skills, consider and implement strategic connectivity or decoupling, analyse the vulnerabilities of supply chains (e.g. for important medicines and raw materials), and much more. It is a policy that needs to be thought through comprehensively, and it needs to be located in a place that is appropriately equipped for this purpose.

The necessary reorganisation of the EEAS as a strategic intelligence unit

The two shortcomings of the Strategic Compass can be corrected. This would require a systematic process of institutionalisation with the aim of attaining regu­lar and comprehensive threat assessments.11 The EEAS, in particular, should be empowered to orches­trate such a continuous and EU-wide process. It should be given the competence to request intelligence from the member states and EU delegations as well as from the Commission services, and to organise Europe’s secu­rity expertise to handle the new world of hybrid threats. It is by no means sufficient for the competent authorities of the member states to provide selective information to a Council working group set up to counter hybrid threats.12 In particular, the EU Intel­ligence Analysis Centre (EU INTCEN) and its military counterpart in the EU Military Staff (EUMS INT) need to be upgraded as key suppliers to the EEAS – and to Council decision-making, in turn. Although EU INTCEN and EUMS INT are formally separate struc­tures from the EEAS, they have been cooperating for a long time through the civil-military network of the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC) of the EEAS.13

In 2016, the Hybrid Fusion Cell (HFC) was launched within EU INTCEN. This unit represents the model for an institutionally and methodologically broad analysis of hybrid threats.14 However, the HFC has not yet been developed into a strategic analysis unit that com­bines sensitive intelligence of the member states (finished intelligence), the thematic expertise of the Commission and various international centres of excel­lence, as well as the growing volume of open source intelligence. National authorities need to pro­actively forward analyses to the SIAC (push principle), rather than respond to EU INTCEN on demand (pull principle). An upgraded HFC should result in the regu­lar submission of an agreed number of intelligence analyses that can serve as a valid basis for deci­sion-making in the CFSP or Common Security and Defence Policy matters. The competence of the EEAS should not be limited to the military dimension of security policy – as currently provided for in the Stra­tegic Compass – but should address all relevant policy fields in line with the aspirations of the Secu­rity Union.

Germany’s contribution to the restructuring of the EEAS

Germany should launch a political initiative to strength­en the EEAS with the aim of producing regu­lar joint intelligence-led threat assessments. This is neither about creating a European intelligence service nor about undermining national constitutional prin­ciples. It is simply about the basis on which any com­mon position in the Council must be based: a com­mon understanding of the most pressing risks and threats. Only then will it be possible to decide on appropriate countermeasures. Today, it is not only Europe’s (physi­cal) borders that are being challenged, but also its internal constitution. Even countries such as France that are sceptical about the challenges posed by hybrid threats on the EU’s eastern flank are likely to recognise the European added value. Communitarising the process of threat analysis may also pro­vide new insights to large states such as Germany and France about when patterns and risks emerge simul­taneously in several EU states. The thematic priorities for reporting should be decided on an ongoing basis, using the matrix outlined above (see p. 66). More generally, a shared intelligence matrix would allow all states to allocate their respective resources across regions and topics in a more complementary way.

The recipients of regular joint intelligence assessments on hybrid threats are not only the leaders of the EU institutions, the Political and Security Com­mittee, and the European Union Military Committee, but also selected committees of the European Parlia­ment as well as the decision-makers at the government and ministry levels in the major capitals. Last but not least, a firmly institutionalised, EU-wide coordination of threat analyses could promote sub­stantial reforms in Germany and improve the respec­tive role of the Federal Security Council.

Towards an International Policy of Democratic Resilience

Günther Maihold

Authoritarian regimes have become the norm in many parts of the world. Following the third wave of transition to democracy1 (1974–1990), we have been talking about the third wave of authoritarianism since 1995.2 Many countries that were on the road to democracy have become stuck in a “grey zone” between incomplete democratisation and autocratic tendencies, where the road often leads back to the past. The signs of a democratic awakening have been deceiving, not only with regard to the states of the post-socialist sphere; established democracies have also been caught up in the maelstrom of an increas­ing authoritarian imposition of political styles and methods.

Much of this is taking place behind a legal façade that is mostly controlled by “elected autocrats” who undermine and subvert democratic institutions and procedures as well as the rule of law in the name of a “new democracy”.3 Their actions against liberal democracy follow a pattern: They stir up resentment and deepen social divisions; they gain legitimacy for these policies through elections won by “popular” measures such as resistance to immigration or by touting economic success. Political polarisation and the collapse of party systems are seen as crucial fac­tors in the decline of democracies. Autonomous insti­tutions, free media, and an independent judiciary are becoming the targets of illiberal practices, in Europe as well as in other regions of the world.

In the meantime, it has become clear that this trend cannot be countered with ad hoc policies. Nor can this decline in democratic governance be stopped by purely reactive measures in the form of warnings, complaints, or sanctions. In its foreign policy, Ger­many, as a democracy-oriented polity, must always consider anew when deciding about these cases as to whether engagement is, or could be, necessary – or even if it is worthwhile. If Germany wants to play a more prominent role in efforts to prevent further “back­sliding” on democracy and human rights, it must first address the question of how a correspond­ing foreign policy can become more effective beyond symbolic actions and in view of the limited effectiveness of traditional travel diplomacy in its attempt to issue warnings to politicians around the world who are inclined to authoritarian rule. In concrete terms, it is necessary to clarify whether our country has a genuine opportunity to exert influence or is prepared to permanently assume the costs of resolving a crisis or overcoming the problems that triggered it.

Is Germany a democracy that is willing to defend itself and its principles also to the outside world?

It is part of the DNA of the Federal Republic of Ger­many to see itself as a contentious, defensible democ­racy at home. Articles 1 and 20 of the constitution (Grundgesetz) enshrine this status, in conjunction with Article 79.3. The defence of democracy and human rights has thus become the basis for the actions of all constitutional bodies and part of Germany’s foreign policy identity. Should this democratic policy man­date in foreign policy refer only to international rela­tions or also to the domestic politics of other states? A distinction must be made here: First, the validity of our understanding of democracy extends into foreign policy in cases where the legal order in Germany is endangered or called into question in an international environment, for example due to terrorist attacks or cyberattacks on essential institutions of the demo­cratic infrastructure, such as those for conducting elections. Second, respect for democracy is a good that cannot be limited by the oft-cited precept of inadmissible “interference in internal affairs”.

Looking at variants of authoritarianism and autocracies

The world of authoritarian states is not homo­geneous. It will therefore hardly be possible to apply a uniform standard for foreign policy action against them. In addition, for many autocratic leaders, their international presence and the recognition it often brings are convenient instruments for consolidating power, which also gives them domestic political legiti­macy. Those shaping German foreign policy are thus faced with a difficult problem: judgement cannot solely be based on an assessment of the “qualities” of the respective regime and its internal dynamics; it must also take the regional and global environment into account.

The spectrum of possible manifestations of author­itarian rule practices is very broad,4 ranging from repressive autocracies (as in North Korea and Syria) to liberal autocracies that still allow the media and civil societies to operate (as in Jordan and Morocco) to modernising autocracies that combine repressive ele­ments with the granting of certain civil liberties (as is evident in the case of Saudi Arabia). A special position is occupied by “authoritarian gravity centres” such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, which not only exemplify and propagate an autocratic role model within a narrower regional framework, but even hone corresponding governing techniques through collec­tive learning processes and disseminate them world­wide via common means of transmission.5 Ger­many’s close partners, such as Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, deserve spe­cial atten­tion because they are expected to enforce democratic rules to a greater extent than can be demanded of regimes that are less close to it. In addi­tion, it must be assessed as to whether the respec­tive authoritarian regimes exhibit revisionist or even expansionist ten­den­cies, that is, whether they are pur­suing strategies that could change the inter­national status quo. Ger­man foreign policy decision-makers must react in a correspondingly scaled man­ner to these states’ viola­tions of the fundamental norms and rules of democ­racy. Democracy promotion – whether in the context of state cooperation or through civil society actors such as German political foundations – is also in­creasingly encountering resistance in the host coun­tries, which limits, com­plicates, and even inhibits engagement in the promotion of human rights and political participation.

From external democracy promotion to an international policy of democratic resilience

Democracy promotion has been based on two approaches – one antagonistic and one facilitative: Specific punitive measures, such as those directed at particular individuals (as currently the case with the leaders of Belarus, Nicaragua, and Venezuela) or more comprehensive sanctions regimes (as in the example of Cuba) have sought to promote regime change, not least by supporting opposition members or subsidising their diaspora organisations. This is in contrast to the promotional approach, which focuses on democ­racy-building measures with the aim of expanding existing spaces for participation and helping a variety of voices to find expression in a pluralistic society. The aim is to provide an impetus in the hopes of encouraging parliaments, parties, the media, and civil society groups in the target countries to develop and expand democratic norms by means of imitation and persuasion, but also by setting conditionalities (such as in the EU accession process).6 The central point here is to create confidence in the institutions and procedures of democracy to prevent democratic com­petition from creating lines of conflict within society that cannot normally be dealt with by (still) weak insti­tutions. This goal is primarily served by the classic instruments of promoting political parties and expanding spaces for participation by civil society actors. So far, the focus of such engagement has most­ly been focused on the political elites, whose interests in maintaining power and social positions are often at odds with this concept of democracy promotion because it fails to engage them in democratic pro­cedures.

Today, a new understanding of democracy pro­motion must be found, one that focuses not only on initiating and galvanising but also on defending demo­cratic standards. This shifts the focus to the ques­tion of which instruments, procedures, and organisations are suitable for strengthening the resili­ence of democracies. The aim is to formulate a policy of democratic resilience7 that focuses on those insti­tutional relationships which are essential for the functioning of democratic rule and can ward off anti-democratic behaviour, that is, robust institutions such as transparent and fair electoral procedures, the effective separation of powers, and free media. In this context, the transnational dimension of challenges to democracy must also be taken into account, for example the targeted external attacks on democratic procedures (such as elections) by means of hybrid inter­ventions by other states.8

However, even such an ambitious programme to strengthen democratic resilience needs to identify its priorities, not only in terms of the selection of coun­tries, but also in terms of its own possibilities. Given the limited resources for action, a policy of demo­cratic resilience must focus on the early stages of autocratisation processes,9 on when existing freedoms can still be used, and on where resilience – especially of the judiciary – can still be strengthened. Once institutional relations have been massively weakened, such a policy can only react, and merely with a greatly reduced arsenal of options. A policy of democratic resilience is a policy “without red lines” that must act agilely and closely to the ground, even if the partners and institutions concerned are not democratically “flawless”. In doing so, one will still have to live with the criticism of applying “double standards”.

It is therefore advisable to adopt a preventive ap­proach that does not follow static formats but allows for strategic adjustments in order to enhance and expand the performance of democratic procedures. It follows from this that countries such as El Salvador, Indonesia, and the Philippines should be considered with respect to the question about which measures of active de-polarisation or transformative re-polari­sation can still be successful.10 This does not mean completely dispensing with the reciprocal strategies of opposition forces vis-à-vis state measures, but working with other themes and formats that neither reinforce nor strengthen existing patterns of polarisa­tion. Such a strategy demands comprehensive local knowledge and the rapid availability of resources from the actors involved. The latter could be provided by a “resilience fund” from the German Federal For­eign Office that may be accessed without too much bureaucracy.

Setting priorities: A policy of democratic resilience must focus primarily on those institutions in states where threats are becoming visible or where a weak­ening of authoritarian rule practices (as is currently the case in Sudan, despite all the recent turbulent events) can be discerned. Robust institutions must be supported flexibly and promptly in the relevant states with “light” tools, that is, with little bureaucratic effort. Authoritarian gravity centres, for example, thus fall outside such a grid, as they are difficult to influence with proactive measures.

Politicisation of cooperation formats: Pursuing a policy of democratic resilience means showing “clear edges” and publicly addressing undesirable developments as such, in other countries as well. Those who want to combat the dismantling of democracy must formulate clear positions. Possible negative consequences should be mitigated through formats of risk and responsi­bility-sharing – in the national context through the development of network structures, digital formats, and multi-actor alliances; internationally through joint action by various donors and their implement­ing organisations. “Foreign agents” laws in countries such as Russia and El Salvador try to single out non-governmental organisations, journalists, and bloggers receiving grants from abroad to control or even inhibit their activities.

Counteracting the formation of international blocs: It is important to avoid driving governments with authori­tarian tendencies into a common front in the mis­taken assumption that democratic values and prin­ciples can be better enforced through the formation of a democratic bloc. With such an approach, the opposite effect could manifest: If the world is once again divided into blocs and new rifts are created, joint action is likely to become more difficult, or even impossible. Economic interdependence and social interaction remain important preconditions for in­fluencing the authoritarian character of a regime.

Thinking Build Back Better on a Global Level: Strengthening Strategies from the Global South

Christina Saulich and Svenja Schöneich

“Build Back Better” (BBB) is a strategy for socio-economic recovery after the Corona pandemic. The aim is to compensate for weaknesses in the global economic system. In its Recovery and Resilience Plan and the European Recovery Plan, the German gov­ern­ment has committed itself to aligning post-health crisis recovery with the premises of social justice and sustainability. While the focus so far has been on combating the pandemic and its consequences in Germany and Europe, the upcoming coalition gov­ernment must think BBB in more global terms. Due to the high level of international interconnectedness in investment, trade, and the production of goods along global supply chains, the recovery and future resilience of the German and European economies also depend on the successful management of eco­nomic crises and political stability in countries of the Global South. The German government therefore needs to take the potential negative impacts of the German and European BBB strategies on other (sub-)continents or regions into account. Otherwise, these impacts may run the risk of thwarting Germany’s and Europe’s economic and development policy goals. To avoid this, the newly elected German gov­ern­ment should initiate a “Global Dialogue on Recovery Strategies”.

Understanding regional recovery strategies

The economic recovery strategies of regions in the Global South and the Global North differ according to the socio-economic challenges that they consider to be particularly pressing. Where strategies overlap, for example the aim to strengthen regional value chains, the implementation of these strategies varies widely due to the different geographical contexts. For exam­ple, when comparing Latin American and African countries to most Asian countries, which have com­petitive manufacturing industries and high production capacities, consolidating regional value chains is a major challenge due to (with some exceptions) low levels of industrialisation. Both regions often function as suppliers of critical raw materials to the Global North in global supply chains and are therefore the focus of this article. Since the production and trade of goods is organised along global value chains, inter­ventions at one point of the chain automatically affect the entire supply chain. In order to support crisis recovery in Latin America and Africa and to assess the potential impacts of the German and Euro­pean BBB strategies on both continents, it is impor­tant to better understand regional BBB strategies.

European priorities

The European Union’s (EU) recovery plan “NextGener­ationEU” and the seven-year budget adopted in 2021 put a strong emphasis on climate protection and digitalisation. The German Recovery and Resilience Plan largely coincides with the EU’s priorities because Germany played a key role in drafting the budget. A third of the investments at the EU level will finance the European “Green Deal”, which aims to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. The “Just Transition Fund” is intended to mitigate the socio-economic costs of the green transition. Central elements in the Euro­pean debate on BBB are the concepts of reshoring and nearshoring. In order to increase the EU’s stra­tegic autonomy and security of supply – particularly with raw materials for the green transition – Brus­sels aims to relocate selected production facilities to EU member states or neighbouring countries. In June 2021, Germany also joined the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative in the wake of the G7 sum­mit.1 B3W aims to promote large-scale investments in low- and middle-income countries in the areas of climate, health, digitalisation, and gender equality.

Build Back Better in Africa

In order to combat the pandemic, African states have centred on regional cooperation within the framework of the African Union (AU) and the African regional organisations, as well as on support from inter­national actors such as the World Health Orga­nization, the World Bank, and the International Finance Corporation, but also from China. The regional strategy developed by the AU prioritises the building of resources to combat the coronavirus, inter alia by supporting the Africa Centres for Disease Con­trol and Prevention. In February 2021, the AU called for the TRIPS agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), which also protects intellectual property rights of products and technologies used to combat the virus, to be suspended for the duration of the pandemic. The claim has so far been unsuccessful due to opposition from the EU, among others.

The mobilisation of financial resources is another important component of the African BBB strategy. How­ever, there were limited effects of stimulus packages from the African Development Bank and international organisations as well as of the suspension of interest payments on public debt and sov­ereign bonds for low-income countries decided by the G20 finance ministers on the regional liquidity crisis. Finally, the AU is pushing for the rapid and effective implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), launched in January 2021, to boost economic reconstruction. By removing barriers to intra-regional trade, AfCFTA aims to strengthen intra-African value chains and attract foreign direct invest­ment.2 It has the potential to increase the economic resilience of African states in the long term and can promote economic recovery in the medium term. However, the successful implementation of the free trade area requires extensive economic reforms in the AU member states, investments, and supportive meas­ures to strengthen the private sector – in addition to political will.

Latin American strategies

Latin American countries have shown very different reactions to the pandemic. However, many are now pooling their efforts and formulating common goals for recovery. Regional organisations such as the Eco­nomic Commission for Latin America and the Carib­bean (ECLAC) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) have identified the chal­lenges the region is facing and have developed strategies for reconstruction. In doing so, they are focusing in particular on the problem of social in­equal­ity, which in most Latin American states coincides with a high level of mistrust in state insti­tutions by the citizens. In some cases, non-trans­par­ent or even contradictory measures that were adopted to deal with the pandemic have reinforced the dis­tance between citizens and their respective states. The recovery strategies of Latin American governments are therefore being directed at strengthening effective governance with a focus on social justice and sustain­ability. Digitalisation is among the most important instruments to reach this goal.

The extraction and export of raw materials is the main economic pillar of many Latin American coun­tries. However, this sector has suffered massively from the crisis. The Latin American BBB strategy there­fore aims to promote resource exports and restructure the entire extractive sector in a fairer and more sustain­able way, for example through increased investments in new technologies and the expansion of renewable energies. Some countries have already introduced con­ditional cash transfer programmes that include incentives for environmental and health protection and sustainable production methods, and they have also adopted fiscal pacts with a focus on sustainable investment.3

The need for compatible regional strategies

The European economy is closely linked to produc­tion and processing sites in Latin America and Africa. Economic recovery and resilience in Europe and Germany depend on success against the pandemic as well as economic recovery in the two continents. Regional BBB strategies must therefore be compatible with each other. The future German government should make use of three central fields of action to strengthen the BBB strategies in Latin America and Africa. It should supplement these efforts by initiat­ing a “Global Dialogue on Recovery Strategies”.

Establishing B3W as an attractive cooperation offer: Taking advantage of the German G7 presidency

The G7 countries present their B3W infrastructure project as a value-based and transparent alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). B3W seeks to establish partnerships of equals between G7 countries and countries of the Global South. However, distribu­tion of the Corona vaccines and the decision not to suspend patent protection on vaccines have re-mani­fested existing global power imbalances and cast doubt on the credibility of the B3W initiative. In con­trast, many countries in the Global South have viewed China’s mask and vaccine diplomacy positive­ly. At the same time, some governments in the target regions are critical of Beijing’s actions in the context of the BRI.

B3W offers an opportunity for Germany to position itself, together with the G7, as an attractive partner for middle- and low-income countries. Against the backdrop of the smouldering rivalry between China and the United States, however, the initiative should not be designed as a rival to the BRI but instead create attractive offers for cooperation for its target coun­tries. An important step in this direction would be to align investments with the recovery strategies of the partner regions. The newly elected German government should seize the opportunity of the upcoming G7 presidency to play a key role in shaping the cri­teria for implementing B3W. Looking at Germany’s Due Diligence Act and the one being planned by Europe, priority should be given to compliance with high sustainability and transparency standards. These standards and the mechanisms for monitoring them should be defined jointly with the partner countries.

Designing nearshoring fairly: Strengthening local supply chains through EU trade policy

Supply shortages during the pandemic have revealed weaknesses in the hitherto organisation of supply chains. The EU as well as countries in the Global South therefore seek to promote regional supply chains by nearshoring or reshoring specific economic sectors. In resource-rich countries in Latin America and Africa with weak processing industries, this cannot be achieved without an additional push towards indus­trialisation. If the EU was to transfer some industrial processing (closer to) to Europe, this would thwart cur­rent efforts to promote the creation and consolidation of robust local value chains in both regions. The future German government should therefore use its strong voice in the EU to advocate for the promotion of economically, socially, and ecologically sustainable and transparent processing industries in countries of the Global South within the framework of European trade policy. It should aim to strengthen the resili­ence to crises in international supply chains and to increase its own security of supply.

With regard to Africa, the new German govern­ment should advocate broadening the support for AfCFTA at the next EU-AU summit. The EU could supplement existing measures by promoting the build­ing of production capacities and the creation of a mechanism that mitigates economic and social inequalities within AfCFTA. At the same time, the EU should not push for economic partnership agree­ments (EPAs) with individual African regional organi­sations. EPAs could negatively impact the implementation of AfCFTA and the development of manufac­turing industries in the free trade area. In addition, European and international investment programmes, such as the EU External Investment Plan for Africa, the G20’s Compact with Africa, and B3W, should be more closely aligned with AfCFTA. With regard to Latin America, Germany should advocate for taking into account not only trade policy considerations but also the expansion of sustainable, local processing industries during negotiations on bilateral free trade agreements, for example between Chile and the EU.

Thinking globally about the energy transition: Implementing measures for a just transition

The German and European BBB strategies focus on the green transition. Potential negative effects of the EU’s decarbonisation strategy in other regions have been given little consideration so far. However, the current focus on securing the supply of critical minerals, which are indispensable for the development of green technologies, should not neglect the social and ecological impacts in countries where minerals are extracted and processed, nor the goal of promoting local value creation. Planned policy instruments for the implementation of the “Green Deal”, such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mecha­nism for imports, pose economic challenges for coal-dependent countries in the Global South. These coun­tries lack access to the technologies and financial leeway needed to drive the energy transition and mitigate its social costs. Reducing the negative social and environmental impacts of the extraction and processing of raw materials in the Global South is an important prerequisite for increasing the sustainability of end products produced in Germany. To achieve this, the new German government should focus on technology and knowledge transfers within the frame­work of bilateral partnerships. Furthermore, in the course of its upcoming G7 presidency, it should advocate for the creation of a global fund to mitigate the socio-economic costs of the energy transition in countries of the Global South.

The three fields of action highlight that a lack of compatibility between regional BBB strategies can thwart efforts to achieve an equitable and sustainable global recovery. The creation of a “Global Dialogue on Recovery Strategies” would be an appropriate tool to discuss and coordinate regional priorities for building back better and their impacts.

Formative Change

Integrating Climate Ambition and Energy Diplomacy in Foreign Policy

Susanne Dröge and Kirsten Westphal

In the past, Germany’s climate and energy diplomacy had many overlaps and interlinkages. However, they followed separate path dependencies and were largely dealt with individually.1 The energy sector accounts for two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and is thus central to the climate agenda. In order to rapidly increase the low-carbon supply of elec­tricity and hydrogen, renewable energy production has to be expanded considerably and energy efficiency must be improved. This should be accompanied by a modernisation and repurposing of long-standing infrastructures in industry as well as existing buildings, and transport networks. With the Green Deal, the European Union (EU) is adding new climate initiatives for industry, transport, and agriculture to its agenda. Climate protection, energy, technology, and industrial policy are thus becoming increasingly integrated. Internationally, however, they are subject to geo-economic rivalries. Accordingly, Germany’s energy and climate foreign policy conduct needs both a step change and a strategic set-up for the next couple of years.

Climate ambitions and a changing energy sector

Following the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of 24 March 2021,2 the Federal Government has committed itself to achieving climate neutrality by 2045 and a 65 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990. This reinforces once more the primacy of climate protection. Yet, the German energy consumption mix is still dominated by fossil fuels: Oil has a share of 33.7 per cent, natural gas 26.6 per cent, coal 15.8 per cent, nuclear 6 per cent, and renewable energies only 16.6 per cent.3

Moreover, the EU has decided to become climate neutral by 2050, too; EU-wide, emissions are to be reduced by 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990. As part of the “Fit for 55” package, the European Com­mission proposed a first set of measures in July 2021, and the European post-pandemic recovery plan, “NextGenerationEU”, includes the promotion of cli­mate-friendly investments.4

There is no alternative but to initiate far-reaching and rapid decarbonisation through closer internation­al cooperation, as it is technically difficult and expensive for Europe to undertake the energy transition on its own, not to mention the potential disruptions at its external borders and in its relations with the neigh­bourhood. German and European climate diplo­macy therefore has to maintain and deepen the cli­mate policy consensus of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Energy diplomacy needs to be intensified for both the “phase-out” of fossil energy sources and the “phase-in” of green and clean electrons and molecules.5

A coal phase-out as the prevailing global climate solution

The global phase-out of coal combustion is a climate policy goal of many members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Global coal consumption is consistently high – despite the pandemic – and is being driven by China, which burns around 56 per cent of the global coal supply.6 Germany had announced a phase-out of its coal-fired power generation by 2038 that was to be accompanied by a socially acceptable transformation (“just transition”), and the new government coalition wants to speed up the end of coal by the target date of 2030. In the long term, however, it will also be neces­sary to phase out natural gas in order to meet climate targets.

How much and how quickly oil consumption in Germany and the EU will decline depends on how extensively climate-neutral energies are used for trans­port and mobility. A rapid reduction in oil con­sumption will have far-reaching geopolitical conse­quences, as the EU accounts for 12 per cent of global consumption.7 The EU’s shift away from oil will severely affect countries in its wider neighbourhood such as Algeria, Nigeria, Angola, and Azerbaijan. As far as oil production is concerned, the shares of the Arab Gulf states and Russia could continue to rise. The turnaround in the climate policy of the United States (US) under President Joe Biden implies that the US will set a regulatory limit on extended and expanded oil (and gas) production.8

Expansion of renewable energies and the importance of Europe

The use of renewable energies is on the rise globally. However, neither the pace nor the capacity is suffi­cient to meet the demand, let alone permanently slow global warming. Even if Europe still has the potential for more renewables investment, Germany and the EU will have to import green electricity as well as carbon-neutral hydrogen to meet their needs. For this, pipelines and grids will have to be expanded on a pan-European basis. Moreover, the European energy transition depends on new technological solutions such as offshore wind farms, more efficient batteries, and electrolysers. Metals and rare earths, as well as the complex supply chains for raw materials and tech­nological components, add to the list of new for­eign policy challenges. Climate-neutral raw ma­terials and energy sources must be available promptly, reliably, and cost-effectively if European industries are to avoid competitive disadvantages.

External relations in climate and energy: Interfaces, divergences, and partners

Climate and external energy relations need guardrails if they aim at supporting the reduction in fossil fuel imports and the expansion of climate-friendly alter­natives. Germany and the EU should, in a first step, develop the necessary norms, standards, and rules within the EU and the European Economic Area, the Energy Community, and the United Kingdom.9 Hydro­gen in particular has to be integrated into the EU’s Energy Union. In a second step, these guardrails must also be negotiated and implemented globally. Trade policy rules, coordinated carbon pricing, and climate- and energy-related standards for key sectors and goods must be negotiated and agreed with the US, China, and Japan as well as other G20 members.

In view of limited diplomatic resources, it is nec­essary to focus on key partner countries in the Afro-Euro-Asian ellipse.10 This refers to countries in the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and Caspian regions with which climate policy cooperation as well as old and new energy policy issues need to be addressed. They provide the production sites as well as important grids for green electrons and molecules.

Dealings with Russia remain arguably the greatest geopolitical and economic task due to its pre-eminent position as a supplier of oil, gas, and raw materials. The potential for escalation is high; the most pro­minent example being the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Furthermore, the planned de-coupling of the Baltic States, Ukraine, and Moldova from the post-Soviet electricity grid constitutes another critical issue. The integration of Ukraine into the European energy mar­ket is already a political priority. Cooperation with Russia on hydrogen could help to shape a positive agenda and strike a balance between cooperation, confrontation, and competition.

Finally, the Maghreb, Egypt, and Turkey are key energy countries and also bridgeheads to Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, where interconnectivity dynamics are unfolding. The economic and logistical corridors that are emerging in these regions have to be developed, as part of both the EU-Africa partner­ship and the Green Deal.

Whether the partner countries will commit themselves more strongly to low-carbon energy sources and production will not least depend on their politi­cal approaches to dealing with an increasing number of climate change-driven extreme weather events.

Options for a proactive German diplomacy

German climate and energy diplomacy needs a step change with the aim of transforming the patchwork of German climate and energy partnerships into a more coherent landscape. Such a change should be based on priorities that reflect geographical and substantive policy goals. The new German government should take stock of its energy and climate policy interests with a view to its respective foreign partners and draw up a strategy that reflects these interests.

One of the priorities is dealing with fossil fuel suppliers. So far, Germany’s interests in security of supply on the one hand, and climate action on the other, are not aligned, which is creating tensions. Such tensions can be reduced, yet it is important that government departments prioritise issues based on environmental, development, and foreign trade policy considera­tions. These priorities should become part of a co­ordi­nation process between the ministries that minimises contradictory signals in foreign relations much more than in the past. The decarbonisation of the gas value chain will pose a particular challenge in this respect.

From a geographic angle, energy policy has to be developed along concentric circles. Climate policy inter­ests have to be added in order to complement and specify the approach. For a rapid and far-reaching trans­formation towards climate neutrality, existing as well as new infrastructures matter as much as a common legal and normative framework. These prior­ities demand a refocusing on the EU and other European partners, including the neighbouring regions of the North, the Baltic, the Black Sea, as well as the Mediterranean. Policymakers have to develop forums for the EU’s “electricity neighbours” and the “hydrogen neighbours” along industrial centres, routes, and networks. Moreover, Germany has to carry forward these new dimensions of foreign policy to the European level of trade policymaking. Existing and future trade agreements help to set standards and lower transaction costs – at best this will also have an impact on progress at the World Trade Organization.

The trade policy debate on climate action has come alive in view of the Commission’s proposal to intro­duce a border carbon adjustment levy on certain energy-intensive goods entering the EU market from 2026. The carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) will be based on the CO2 content of the pro­duction processes abroad.11 Some EU neighbours have already reacted by signalling an interest in national CO2 pricing, and OECD partners would also like to cooperate with the EU on this issue. However, China and Russia, among others, are highly sceptical and have thought aloud about retaliation should the CBAM be put into force. The German government should not give in to such rhetoric and instead use the window of opportunity in 2022 to put climate pro­tection on a common footing – namely CO2 price and emissions standards – with the G7 partners, the G20, and other groups.

The energy and climate policy tools and their nation­al implementation will remain important topics also in negotiations at the United Nations (UN) level, the G‑formats, and in existing multilateral insti­tutions. However, for effective regional and global cooperation, multilateral institutions are still lacking. New technologies, energy sources, interconnectivity, standards, and norms need to be addressed in detail. In order to facilitate this, the growing number of parallel forums should be consolidated around these issues as quickly as possible. This would be a task for the German G7 presidency in 2022, with which the new German government could raise its profile.

The prominence that the impacts of climate change and the pressure for more climate protection have gained in politics and the public sphere has made decarbonisation part of the contest for global leadership in Europe and the US. This contest is reflected in UN climate negotiations but also in eco­nomic competition over future technologies. Only together with its European partners can Germany achieve the critical mass and develop the foreign policy levers to prevail in this contest. To be more assertive, technological leadership, standard-setting, regulatory space, and market size should be the guid­ing principles of a new energy and climate foreign policy strategy, and they must be added to the diplo­matic toolbox if it is to carry more weight.

German and European Asylum and Migration Policy: Why a More Forward‑looking Approach Is Needed

Steffen Angenendt, Nadine Biehler, Nadine Knapp, Anne Koch, and Amrei Meier

In recent years, German and European asylum and migration policy has been strongly crisis-driven, espe­cially during and after the large-scale migratory move­ments of 2015/2016, with governments mainly trying to limit the number of incoming refugees and irregular migrants through short-term national measures.

However, the costs of a merely reactive mode of action are high, especially in this policy area. The ad hoc approaches of the past have had problematic consequences – among these legitimising the Libyan coast guard and its practices that violate human rights, strengthening Turkey’s increasingly autocratic government, and perpetuating the degrading con­ditions for refugees on the Greek islands. In reaction to this, the German government and the European Commission have been criticised by the European Par­liament as well as the United Nations (UN) and human rights organisations for violating European and international law, in particular the 1951 Refugee Convention.1 In addition, this mode of policy-making fuels doubts about the ability of those in power to deal with complex challenges related to migration and displacement. The main beneficiaries of this are populist parties and movements that offer supposedly simple solutions. A predominantly reactive policy ultimately misses opportunities to address migration challenges and to strengthen the contribution of migrants and migration to sustainable development – the main objectives of the Global Compact on Migra­tion, adopted by the majority of UN member states on 10 December 2018 in Marrakesh. Against this back­ground, the European Union (EU) and its member states should adopt a more forward-looking asylum and migration policy. There is a favourable opportunity for this, at least in Germany. First, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, public attention to issues of displacement and migration has waned, allowing for a more factual approach to these polarising issues in domestic politics. Second, internationally, Germa­ny’s reputation with regard to its asylum and migra­tion policy has risen due to it being one of the main refugee-hosting countries. This goes hand in hand with growing expectations about German engagement in this policy area, and with demands being placed on the Federal Government to address longer-term issues concerning asylum and migration policy. Third, the recent federal election and the formation of a new government offer an opportunity to break out of previous path dependencies based on a reactive policy mode. A more strategic, sustainable, and effec­tive asylum and migration policy is based on (1) iden­tifying problems, challenges, and opportunities to be expected in the medium and long term, (2) identifying conflicting goals, determining objectives, and prioritising them, and (3) expanding Germany’s com­petence to shape policy in a targeted manner.

Problems, challenges, and opportunities

Both forced displacement and irregular migration have increased in recent years. A reversal of this trend is not in sight. At the same time, Germany and Europe are dependent on immigration. This is the only way to cushion the impact of demographic changes and to counter the labour shortages that exist and continue to grow in many sectors of the economy. Dealing with these challenges and opportunities is made more dif­fi­cult due to the unwillingness of EU member states to pursue policies that address asylum and migration objectives in equal measure. This continues to be a problem because EU member states are affected to different degrees by refugee movements, and each has specific migration policy interests. Over time, how­ever, these differences will diminish.

This applies to migration, for one thing. Most Euro­pean countries are now in a phase of demographic transition, in which their populations are ageing and shrinking,2 resulting in political, economic, and social consequences that are hard to predict and difficult to manage. The ongoing convergence of interests in favour of labour immigration is accelerated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has shown, on the one hand, that the shortage of seasonal workers in agriculture and of skilled workers in the health sector is structural in nature. On the other hand, it has made it obvious that the previously abundant labour pools in the countries on the periphery of the EU are also limited. As international competition for labour increases, a rules-based and rights-based approach to international labour mobility is becoming an important asset.

There are also growing common interests in refugee and asylum policy that should be highlighted. In general, there are concerns with regard to reducing the root causes of forced displacement and stabilising countries of origin and host countries so that humani­tarian emergencies are avoided and the pressure on asylum systems is reduced. Europe’s capacity to act in this area should be strengthened through selective cooperation on key issues, for example in the context of a joint resettlement initiative or in relation to migra­tion in the context of training partnerships.

Conflicting objectives and target-setting

In order to transform German and European asylum and migration policy into a proactive mode, it is not only necessary to identify current and future chal­lenges and opportunities. There is also a need for a corresponding definition of policy goals. In this con­text, an open and evidence-based debate on conflict­ing goals and areas of tension is essential.

Conflicting goals exist, among other instances, with regard to reducing the root causes of displacement and irregular migration. This applies, for exam­ple, to cooperation with authoritarian regimes, which may seem necessary from a security policy perspective in order to reduce irregular migration in the short term. However, it is fundamentally at odds with the overarching goal of foreign and development policy to strengthen good governance in partner coun­tries.3

Similar trade-offs exist in the recruitment of labour, which is becoming increasingly important for the economic development of many industrialised countries. This applies not only to skilled workers, but also to lower-skilled jobs in home care and domes­tic services. Such recruitment can conflict with development policy efforts to prevent brain drain. Fundamental conflicts of this kind cannot usually be resolved. Instead, they require a balancing of inter­ests. To this end, it is necessary to set thematic and geographical priorities and to assess long-term and short-term interests. The basis must be the existing obligations under human, international, and Euro­pean refugee and migration law, in particular the 1951 Refugee Convention. More recent international agreements, such as the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Migration, are helpful.

Against this backdrop, there is an urgent need for priority action with regard to refugees, especially in the following key areas: responsibility-sharing within the EU as well as globally, the creation of more legal migration pathways to Germany and the EU, an im­provement of the reception facilities at the EU’s exter­nal borders, and increased support for major refugee-hosting countries outside of the EU. In this, the Ger­man government should lead the way with like-minded (EU) states instead of waiting for a com­mon European solution.

Elements of a strategically oriented asylum and migration policy

In order to pursue the strategic goals and expand Germany’s competence in shaping asylum and migra­tion policy, the new Federal Government should become particularly active in the following areas.

For one, a number of institutional and organisational reforms are needed. In addition to strengthening inter­ministerial coherence, thematic analysis and fore­casting capacities in particular should be expanded. The concerns and opportunities for action by the pri­vate sector, civil society, and municipal actors should be taken into account more systematically than has been the case. In addition, the external dimensions of Germany’s asylum and migration policy should be better coordinated, along the lines of the Swiss whole-of-government approach in migration policy, for exam­ple. Such an approach would give sufficient weight to foreign, security, economic, and development policy objectives and enable better cooperation between the relevant ministries and subordinate authorities. Part of this process could be annual asylum and migration summits at which all stakeholders discuss the direction of policy.4 In order for the Federal Government to effectively represent its interests and goals in international processes, two things are required. First, migration-related knowl­edge must be anchored in the German administration in a sustainable and interministerial manner, which presupposes appropriate staffing. Second, there is a need for the continued and expanded secondment of German personnel to the relevant UN agencies and international organisations (such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organi­zation for Migration, and the International Labour Organization). Finally, flexible, multi-year, and reli­able funding is a central element of any strategically oriented policy.