Welcome to another edition of the Krautshell! (And to any dispirited Brits out there, happy Trafalgar Day.) This week, Jonny gives us an unsparing analysis of the German foreign minister’s past announcement of a “feminist foreign policy” and how that’s coming up against the harsh reality of conditions in Iran. Our main articles discuss recent tensions between Paris and Berlin (never a good thing for Europe), the German Social Democrats’ attempted break from their pro-Russian past, and a Krautshell insider take on the current trade policy debate in the Bundestag. Finally, Anna brings you the latest dispute within the federal government, and what nuclear energy and a complicated-sounding German word have got to do with it.
As always, have a great weekend!
FIRST, SOME SOLID INTEL:
Macron is Salty about the Doppel-Wumms… and other very Serious Franco-German Topics
Whether you like it or not, Germany and France are essentially the EU’s parents. And, as much as Mom and Dad (or Dad and Dad or Mom and Mom… we’re not here to comment on family constellations) have tried to put on a strong, united front for the kids during these hard times, sometimes arguments can’t stay behind closed doors. This week, these pent-up marriage tensions boiled over, as Paris and Berlin pushed back a two-years-in-the-making summit between their two governments (like ALL the Ministers). The reason: there was no outlook for finding a joint position on a “whole range of different issues.” Here’s the inside scoop.
Primarily, these disputes center around defense and energy. For the former, the two sides hoped to use the summit to resolve a longstanding dispute between the two countries on who takes the lead in the joint development of a fighter jet. But that’s minor. The REAL problem is energy. Macron (and other EU leaders) was very peeved about Germany’s €200 billion Doppel-Wumms to lighten the burden of high energy prices on consumers – both because Germany rode solo and because it could distort the internal market at a time when citizens across the EU are struggling with high prices.
Then, once again, a pipeline is at the center of tensions between Paris and Berlin. This time, the to-be-constructed MidCat Pipeline, which would deliver gas from Iberia through France to Germany and central Europe. In a [Kraut]shell: Scholz wants to hit the accelerator on the project, particularly because the pipeline could deliver gas now, and Spanish green hydrogen soon. Macron, on the other hand, wants to focus investments on nuclear power, stating, “I think that our priority is to have electricity interconnections in Europe“, low-key dissing the gas-focused pipeline. There’s no easy solution here, but the two countries’ cabinets are set to meet in January. We’ll keep you posted.
SPD vs Ghosts of a Pro-Russian Past
Self-criticism is not a trait commonly associated with politicians, so we figured the latest mea culpa deserved an article of its own. Last Tuesday, Social Democrat (SPD) co-chair Lars Klingbeil effectively bulldozed the last half-century of his party’s Russia platform, citing “failures” and pledging to align Germany’s future Ostpolitik more closely with Baltic and eastern European EU partners. An overdue step, but remarkable nonetheless. Here’s some key historical context:
Despite certain powerful associations, Russo-German relations have often been cooperative – to the detriment of the rest of Europe. From Bismarck’s “Reinsurance Policy” to the interwar Schaukelpolitik and SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Cold-War era Ostpolitik, Germany has sought accommodation with Russia for (power-)political gain. The latter case marks the beginning of the modern SPD’s Russia conundrum: Ostpolitik provided foreign policy leeway through increased trade and negotiations, and one could argue that its success was also its curse. The SPD’s pro-Russian policies continued into the post-Cold War era, first under SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (Putin’s close buddy) and then as a junior partner in governments led by Angela Merkel – a Russian star pupil in her own right. To take the most flagrant example: At late as this January, leading SPD politicians rejected criticism of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and ignored concerns by eastern European partners about its (obvious) geopolitical implications.
Klingbeil has finally admitted mistakes and the miscalculations of Russian intentions. But will that cut it in the eyes of skeptical European partners? Just last week, SPD Chancellor Scholz drew ridicule for saying he “always” knew Russia would weaponize energy, casting doubt on the sincerity of his party’s learning process. (What’s worse: Being blindly ignorant or knowing and not doing anything about it?) Meanwhile, German industry remains geared towards affordable Russian energy despite its best efforts, and there’s no telling how the government would react to a potential economic crash in the coming months. Bets are on.
Sneak Peaking the German Trade Policy Debate
In an Economist article earlier this year, Constanze Stelzenmüller claimed Germany “had outsourced its security to the United States, its energy needs to Russia and its export-led growth to China.” True or not, her damning analysis hangs over German decision-makers trying to make sense of the country’s position in a world out of whack. This week, the Krautshell team got a closer look at one of the most (de)pressing issues – German trade policy. Here’s what we heard.
Specifically, we attended a regular parliamentary lunch break meeting from the Strukturgesellschaft and this week’s “International Trade” session featured the Head of the EU Commission Representation in Germany, a high-ranking Chamber of Commerce representative and the Director of the German Council on Foreign Relations, an influential think tank. (Kudos to us for getting an invite.) Despite the illustrious panel, however, some key questions remained unanswered. First off, there was no consensus as to whether German export dependency on China was even a bad thing. One speaker noted that the German industry’s prominence on the Chinese market reflected strength rather than weakness – an interesting claim that didn’t refute the dependency itself. Another argued that Germany should be more concerned about Russian fossil fuel rather than Chinese supply market dependency. These were well-argued points, but they didn’t offer any solutions to the bottom line: Germany’s inability to pilot its own economic future.
It was the Commission representative who finally poured some cold water on these inner-German discussions. He outlined a strategic landscape similar to Stelzenmüller’s Economist analysis, criticized the German government’s past inability to foresee the current dependencies, and firmly placed Germany’s national interest within a unified and effective EU. There’s a lesson in all this. Dear Germany: If you need Europe to explain your interests to you, it’s time to get your act together.
TAKE A BREAK, GIVE YOUR EYES A REST.
Source: Deutsche Welle
THE HOUSE’S VIEW:
Not so Feminist Foreign Policy
After the Greens failed to win the federal election and it became clear that Annalena Baerbock would not be the next chancellor, a conspicuous number of middle-aged, white men in Germany breathed a sigh of relief. They only caught their breath again when Baerbock became the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Scholz cabinet and announced her intention to anchor a feminist foreign policy in Germany in the future. Now, one might think that the situation in Iran offers the best opportunity for a reality check for the minister’s new guidelines for action. Obviously, far from it.
Many Words, Little Help?
The death of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in police custody is widely seen as the trigger for the protests in Iran, but of course the causes lie deeper. In Germany, people are asking themselves these days how to respond. The only consensus is that too little has been done so far. Critical for the protest in Iran is the attention of the West. As soon as that dwindles, the outcry against the terrorist acts of the Iranian regime against its own population will also become quieter and quieter. As terrible as the situation is now, it would become completely hopeless in that case. Accordingly, it is understandable that exiled Iranians in Germany have been calling on the foreign minister to do more for days in front of the Green Party headquarters.
The Scourge of Bureaucracy
The Federal Foreign Office, the ministry that Foreign Minister Baerbock heads, is one of the biggest bureaucratic machines Germany has to offer. One wants to see the big picture here, which is why problem areas such as the nuclear agreement with Tehran are being considered in the current situation and (perhaps) given a bit too much priority. At present, there are allegedly many papers circulating in the ministry that suggest, quite in the style of a “graveyard rest,” that at some point one will have to return to a previous status quo for purely economic reasons. Views that give little hope for Iranian civilians should they continue to guide our foreign policy. Baerbock must fight against this, but the bureaucratic apparatus with its entrenched mindsets seems particularly strong.
Germany of all Places
There are quite a few exiled Iranians living in Germany. And there are also some with Iranian roots in top German politics. It is particularly interesting within the Green Party. Baerbock relinquished her post at the head of the party when she became minister. She was succeeded by Omid Nouripour, who was born in Tehran. In the burning Evin prison, whose pictures went around the world a few days ago, his uncle was executed in the 1980s. Nouripour is not to be envied at the moment. He has been criticizing the mullah regime for a long time, and at every public appearance you can see how much he would like to say. But he can also be accused of not speaking up, as he, in the interest of his party, doesn’t want to weaken his own minister.
The other “small” governing party, the FDP, has also nominated a new secretary general a few weeks ago: Bijan Djir-Sarai, born in – you guessed it – Tehran. He, too, is urgently appealing to correct the misguided Iran policy, but also seems visibly concerned not to attack his coalition partner in the process.
The Sanctions so far are not doing much Good
With the conclusion of the nuclear agreement in 2016, the EU lifted many sanctions against Iran. In doing so, it studiously ignored the oppression of Iranian people, the financing of terrorist organizations worldwide and the desire to eradicate the state of Israel. Now, apparently, the EU doesn’t quite know what sanctions to take, given its efforts to renew the nuclear agreement after former U.S. President Trump unilaterally terminated it. In any case, the EU is freezing the assets of Iranians who can be held personally responsible for the various horrific acts of violence. But that’s honestly little, and still doesn’t have much to do with feminist foreign policy. The protesters in front of the Green headquarters fear that mainly economic interests are to be saved and thus the needs of the protesting population are gradually blurred into unrecognizability.
The House’s View
What would feminist foreign policy be in this case? First of all, Baerbock would do well to listen to Iranian human rights organizations and women activists, to inform herself, to understand what the situation is and what demands exist. And then Germany must urgently learn that the situation of the population must at least be a condition for further negotiations on a nuclear agreement with Tehran. If there should be further negotiations at all. Quite a few people are calling for the diplomatic isolation of Tehran. Since it became clear that Iran has also supported Russia with drones in its attacks on Ukraine, the basis for effective sanctions should finally be in place, at the latest now, if the many atrocities against the Iranian population have not sufficed to legitimize them. We can only hope that Baerbock will wake up from her lethargy and initiate a European response that really helps the brave people in Iran.
LONG STORY SHORT:
- Canna-Karl’s Boof Woes: This week, a leaked document shed light on German Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach’s (SPD) plans to legalize cannabis in Germany. There was some interesting stuff, but our favorite line: there is to be a cannabis-tax, but the final price should still be “competitive” with the going black market rate of 10 euros/gram.
- The More, the Merrier: Given Europe’s current energy woes, a plan has been put forward for the EU’s Member States to pool their resources and collectively purchase gas – essentially a buyer’s cartel. We saw this already for COVID vaccines, so the blueprint is there. However, some leaders still need convincing.
- Work Work Work Work Work: Is what the European Commission has in store for next year as it released its work program for the coming year this week. Six headline ambitions, 51 flagship initiatives split up into 43 policy objectives, and countless political buzzwords to make your head spin. You want more details? Ping us.
WHAT’S ON OUR MINDS:
Well. It did take another four weeks, a lost election for the FDP, and a Green’s party congress, but now, finally, we got there: Thanks to the “Machtwort” from our Chancellor, the nuclear plants are staying on. Who would have thought.
But one step after the next: You might remember my last months’ WOOM about the pains of our Economic Minister Habeck, how impossible it was for him to spell it out, what was obvious, that we are sticking to nuclear power for the time being.
Two weeks later, the FDP lost the state elections in Lower Saxony, and rightly attributed that loss to a poor performance at the federal level. Which made Party Chair and Finance Minister Lindner declare keeping the nuclear plants (and all the plants) running his personal life-or-death mission.
This was already kind of a declaration of war, and Habeck might have given in, except that the Green’s party on their congress last week with a clear vote decided to continue opposing the prolongation. With his party’s decision now spelled out, there was no way Habeck could agree to the FDP’s demands. Deadlock. Severe coalition crisis. First commentators even sensed a looming end to this whole construct, built rather on hopes than on solid political common ground.
We still have a government though. Using his “Richtlinienkompetenz”, something loosely translated by “Guiding Authority”, which basically is the right to decide on the general direction of where things are going in his government*, Chancellor Scholz wrote a nice letter, telling his Ministers how the compromise is gonna look like: Keeping all three plants running until end of April – shorter than the FDP demanded, one plant more than the Greens were willing to accept. Even though I can’t get rid of the impression of them having been scolded like a bunch of kids fighting, everyone gets out saving their faces. And we get nuclear energy over the upcoming winter. Told ya.
*To be used (not exclusively though) when Ministers are disagreeing. Or just to override them. However, it is quite astonishing how rarely it was being used, you would have to go back into the 50s to find a chancellor really working with this tool. All the other chancellors preferred to hint more or less obviously towards their power, and then find a compromise.