Sitemap

Oppinion

How Much Has The Ukraine War Changed Germany?

Germany faces no shortage of crises, from the Russian security threat and political instability among Western allies to democratic backsliding and a looming economic crisis within the European Union. But, overall, the current government has proven surprisingly adept at managing the situation

It has now been more than six months since German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stood before a special session of the Bundestag to address Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine. “We are living through a watershed era. And that means that the world afterwards will no longer be the same as the world before,” he observed. “The issue at the heart of this is whether power is allowed to prevail over the law … Or whether we have it in us to keep warmongers like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in check. That requires strength of our own. Yes, we fully intend to secure our freedom, our democracy, and our prosperity.”

Scholz’s speech proclaiming a Zeitenwende, or historic turning point, came at a moment of deep shock in Germany. The country was witnessing a total collapse of strategic principles that went back to the late 1960s, with then-Foreign Minister Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik (“Eastern Policy”) and its central premise of Wandel durch Handel (“change through trade”). The hope was that commercial, cultural, and other forms of engagement with actual and potential adversaries would eventually bring about rapprochement. After 1989, the peaceful political transitions in many Central and Eastern European countries became the expected norm for how the world ought to work.

But Putin’s war of aggression shattered these assumptions, leading Scholz to announce some of the most drastic policy reversals in postwar German history. Among other things, his government would invest significantly more in the armed forces, with a new €100 billion ($99 billion) special fund for that purpose; provide military support for the Ukrainian army; push for a joint EU sanctions regime against Russia; radically overhaul Germany’s energy policy; and conduct a review of the country’s trade policies with autocratic regimes (especially China), to avoid future dependencies.

In short, Scholz committed Germany to a far more active role in the defence of the liberal international order. But while none of these policy changes has been reversed or derailed, some have stalled, and others have progressed too slowly.

On the positive side, Germany’s complicated three-party coalition government has held together, which is a success in itself. While Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) have fallen in the polls, the Greens have remained strong, owing to the popularity of key figures such as Economic Minister Robert Habeck and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock.

Scholz committed Germany to a far more active role in the defence of the liberal international order. But while none of these policy changes has been reversed or derailed, some have stalled, and others have progressed too slowly

Even more importantly, the government has won the battle of narratives against the Putinversteher (Putin apologists), a formidable bloc that is represented across the German political spectrum, but especially within the SPD. Those pushing for a deal in which Ukraine would cede territory to Russia are no longer influencing policy.

Despite high inflation, there has been very little industrial action and few demonstrations challenging the government’s policies. Germans generally agree that they must invest in renewable energy and reduce their economic dependencies. Short-term preparations are underway in the event that Russia cuts off energy deliveries to Europe entirely.

Still, while the government has managed to forge a political consensus on key issues, it has failed to deliver on many fronts, owing to inherited problems, ineptitude, and, in some cases, political opportunism.

For starters, the armed forces turned out to be in far worse shape than was assumed, which is one reason why Germany’s weapons deliveries to Ukraine have been miniscule compared to other NATO countries. The Bundeswehr simply is not fit for purpose. A substantial portion of the promised €100 billion will merely compensate for past underinvestment, rather than strengthening capacity.

Photo: EPA-EFE/Clemens Bilan

Further complicating matters, Finance Minister Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats (FDP) insists that the Schuldenbremse (the “debt brake,” a constitutional cap on deficit spending) must be upheld, which means that higher defense spending therefore must come at the expense of other programmes. In its 2023 budget, the government foresees a remarkable reduction of new government debt (from €138.9 billion to €17.2 billion), implying foregone spending on social welfare, education, health, infrastructure, and other popular priorities.

Germany’s budget policies are entirely at odds with the imperatives the country must confront. Although Germany is facing massive economic, energy, and security challenges, its finance ministry has continued to put a balanced budget first, imposing a straightjacket on the rest of the government.

Legacy issues also weigh on Scholz’s administration. Following the missed reform opportunities of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship, a mountain of red tape will hamper the expansion of wind and solar capacity. Germany also is woefully behind in e-governance and digital administration. While the government recently announced a new digital strategy, it will be many years before it shows meaningful results.

With a relatively sound economy, a strong commitment to the liberal order and the EU, and a functioning government, Germany may be Europe’s best hope in the current crises, provided that American support for Ukraine remains strong

Elsewhere, new policies have exposed past neglect. For example, a sharply reduced fare for regional public rail transportation was supposed to save energy. Instead, the sharp increase in ridership overwhelmed the rail system, which suffers from decades of underinvestment, exacerbated by botched privatization efforts. Now, the rail-ticket subsidy has ended and is unlikely to be renewed.

Incompetence has also been a problem. Consider the Energieumlage (energy allocation), financial rescue operation to save companies at risk of insolvency because of higher gas prices. Starting in October, German households were going to be charged an additional 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour to help replace Russian supplies. But the way the policy was designed, energy companies will be able to offset some of their losses from gas even as they are still generating huge profits elsewhere.

Worse, Germany still plans to shut down its last remaining nuclear power stations, and it is still dead set against fracking, even as it imports energy that was generated by nuclear power or fracking elsewhere.

Nonetheless, Scholz is proving to be a steadfast leader. Despite his cautiousness, he comprehends the gravity of the Zeitenwende. Germany faces no shortage of challenges, from the Russian security threat and political instability among Western allies to democratic backsliding and a looming economic crisis within the European Union. In a commentary published in July in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Scholz offered a strong response to these problems, urging the EU to become a geopolitical power, and signaling that he is willing to trade sovereignty for that purpose. Speaking in Prague recently, he re-confirmed his commitment to EU reforms, advocating more majority voting in the European Council, greater security cooperation, reform of the stability pact, and expansion to the Western Balkans, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

With a relatively sound economy, a strong commitment to the liberal order and the EU, and a functioning government, Germany may be Europe’s best hope in the current crises, provided that American support for Ukraine remains strong.

Helmut K. Anheier, Professor of Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin

CorD Recommends

More...

Comment by Zoran Panović

From Lavrov to Macron

Despite the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) having signed a Cooperation Agreement with Putin’s United Russia, and despite SNS President and Serbian PM Miloš Vučević...

Goran Radosavljević, Ph.D. Vice Dean and Director of the FEFA Institute

We Need to Quadruple Our Growth Rate

Reducing corruption, reforming the energy sector and fundamentally changing the secondary education system are the keys to faster economic growth It was two months ago...

Luka Baturan, University of Novi Sad Faculty of Law

Arbitrary Tax Breaks Degrade the System

The biggest job that Serbia has to do – and it pertains to tax regulations – is to radically reform personal income tax and...

Nebojša Bjelotomić, Director of the Digital Serbia Initiative

Instead of Walls and Machines, We’re Investing in People and Their Knowhow

For countries with a falling population, it is recommended that all remaining workers “climb” the ladder of industrial worth. However, this means dealing far...

News

Montenegro Nominated for Europe’s Most Desirable Destination Award

Montenegro has been nominated for the prestigious title of Europe's most desirable destination in the Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards...

Serbia Signs Memorandum on Nuclear Energy Development

In a significant move towards modernizing its energy sector, the Serbian government, along with twenty scientific and academic institutions,...

H.E. József Magyar – The Western Balkans is a Priority

The Hungarian Embassy in Belgrade hosted a reception to mark the beginning of Hungary's presidency of the Council of...

The International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot

The third International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award was ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot on June 24, 2024,...

75th Anniversary of the Council of Europe Marked

The Council of Europe Office in Belgrade marked the 75th anniversary of the Council of Europe with a commemorative...

Montenegro Nominated for Europe’s Most Desirable Destination Award

Montenegro has been nominated for the prestigious title of Europe's most desirable destination in the Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards...

The International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot

The third International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award was ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot on June 24, 2024,...

Medtronic to Launch Operations in Serbia with Strategic Bio4 Campus Partnership

American medical technology giant Medtronic is set to establish operations in Serbia following a memorandum of understanding signed with...

Mickoski Proposes New Government for North Macedonia

Hristijan Mickoski, leader of VMRO-DPMNE and the designated Prime Minister of North Macedonia, has formally submitted his proposed cabinet...

King Frederick X Inaugurates First Section of Undersea Tunnel Connecting Denmark and Germany

King Frederick X of Denmark has inaugurated the first segment of the ambitious 18-kilometre Fehmarn Belt tunnel beneath the...

Montenegro Nominated for Europe’s Most Desirable Destination Award

Montenegro has been nominated for the prestigious title of Europe's most desirable destination in the Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards...

The International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot

The third International “Aleksandar Tišma” Literary Award was ceremoniously presented to French writer Cécile Wajsbrot on June 24, 2024,...

Medtronic to Launch Operations in Serbia with Strategic Bio4 Campus Partnership

American medical technology giant Medtronic is set to establish operations in Serbia following a memorandum of understanding signed with...

Mickoski Proposes New Government for North Macedonia

Hristijan Mickoski, leader of VMRO-DPMNE and the designated Prime Minister of North Macedonia, has formally submitted his proposed cabinet...

King Frederick X Inaugurates First Section of Undersea Tunnel Connecting Denmark and Germany

King Frederick X of Denmark has inaugurated the first segment of the ambitious 18-kilometre Fehmarn Belt tunnel beneath the...