The European Neighbourhood in Turmoil
The European Neighbourhood in Turmoil
War & Peace (Season 5)
War & Peace (Season 5)
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 9 minutes

The European Neighbourhood in Turmoil

Complacency and indifference are no options

In the area of European security and European Neighbourhood Policy Europe has been avoiding the difficult question to determine where Europe ends. But defining Europe will be a key priority and Germany needs to shape the European project more explicitly than it has. Complacency and indifference are indeed no policy options anymore.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier's invitation to comment on German foreign policy reveals not only a desire to reconsider Germany's position in the world but a willingness to do so in active consultation with others, including non-Europeans and even representatives of non-German civil society. This in itself signals that whatever the evolution of German foreign policy might be, it cannot be reduced to a simple "re-emergence" or "re-assertion" of German power according to some realist or national-interest model. Germany is engaged in something new. 

When this coalition government was getting under way, at the handover ceremony in Germany’s foreign ministry, Mr Steinmeier paid tribute to the past: "The basis of German foreign policy stands firm and has proven itself – European integration, the transatlantic partnership, an active role in shaping a peaceful global order in the United Nations." Yet he then went on to say, "it will not be sufficient simply to keep repeating familiar and tried and tested mantras. In a world undergoing sweeping change we have to ask ourselves the critical question as to whether the pillars on which these fundamental principles rest can still be relied upon to bear this weight." 
This early speech was followed by statements from the president, chancellor and minister of defense. In January, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, in answering a question about why Germany should concern itself over the ongoing disaster in the Central African Republic (CAR), replied, "we can’t look away when murder and rape are taking place daily." Her basis for saying this was both a moral one and, in her reference to the shrinking of distance that comes with globalization, a political-economic one. She went on to say, regarding increased German involvement in Mali, that "Europe will not make progress in the global power game if one country always daintily stays away from military operations while another country” – one supposes she was thinking of France – "storms forward without consulting others."  
At the 50th Munich Security Conference at the end of January, Ms von der Leyen said succinctly, "Indifference is not an option for Germany. …[T]he federal government is prepared to enhance our international responsibility." At the same conference, German President Joachim Gauck noted that the United States "is reconsidering the scale and form of its global engagement. Europe, its partner, is busy navel gazing. I don’t believe that Germany can simply carry on as before in the face of these developments."  
Finally, in mid-March, Chancellor Merkel, speaking to Germany’s Bundestag about Ukraine, placed events in the context of German and European history: "We are remembering the First World War, which broke out 100 years ago. It was the first great catastrophe of the 20th century and was soon followed by a second: the outbreak of the Second World War 75 years ago and the Shoah, that ultimate betrayal of all civilised values." In this context, Chancellor Merkel said, "No one can confine themselves any longer to only watching out for their own interests. And anyone who does so will harm these interests in the short or long term. That applies to everyone. It applies to Germany and it applies to our neighbours." This, of course, was all before the Russian takeover of Crimea.

European security in a stalemate

The startling speed of the action and Russia’s hovering on the borders of eastern Ukraine, have thrown European defence and NATO policies into disarray. Given that Germany has long been prominent in forming European policy for the eastern neighbourhood, Russia’s actions both invite the German lead that this coalition government was beginning to contemplate, and bring to the fore a military agenda that may prove divisive both inside Germany and among its partners.  
While Germany, in its recent dealings inside the European Union, has played an unprecedentedly large leadership role over the course of the euro crisis, it has been keenly disappointed by the addiction to brinksmanship that characterized European crisis management more generally and unpleasantly surprised at the virulent resistance from the main targets of severe austerity measures it proposed. Yet Germany's leadership in the Euro crisis stands in sharp contrast to its absence or isolation in the field of conflict management, prevention and resolution, and, most notably, military interventions. This is where Germany found itself most out-of-step with its neighbours and allies in the recent past, as epitomized by Germany’s abstention on the UN Security Council resolution authorizing all necessary measures for intervention in Libya in 2011. Germany never really explained this abstention. It represented not an alternative view of the Libya decision, but an inarticulate choice not to participate. 
As the Security Council consensus proved short-lived, the German hesitation in hindsight may have had considerable merit. But the Ukraine crisis is forcing a much more explicit articulation of Germany’s ambivalence vis-à-vis the use of military force. The pressure will no doubt increase as Poland and the Baltic states invite a more assertive NATO role and presence in their region. Articulating a rationale for the limits of the use of force will be necessary but difficult if Germany is to achieve the kind of leadership that the current government seems to be aiming at.   
Until now, Germany's military posture, like that of Europe more generally, had shifted away from defence and deterrence to types of intervention anchored in emerging humanitarian doctrines. This was in part the case in Libya, but also in Mali and more recently in CAR. Meanwhile, European security policy stalled. The all-European defence effort backed by Germany has not gotten very far, as can be seen, for example, in the sidelining of the EU battlegroup project when faced with the possible use of European troops in CAR. The coalition government's Russia advisor, Gernot Erler, said soon after taking his position that on Ukraine "the EU has made too many misjudgments." Although a European response is slowly being articulated, Germany"s position of the core security issues may be one of the slowest to take shape, and for good reasons. 
Until now, with regard to NATO, Germany saw a need for its leadership given both an apparent weakening of U.S. interest and long-standing disagreements among EU member states on what the EU’s own security capacities should actually be. The new coalition’s immediate emphasis on reviving Franco-German cooperation was clearly part of an attempt to address both American diffidence or self-absorption and intra-European fractiousness. This is changing as the U.S. attempts to re-engage and NATO searches for a second breath.

Defining Europe and its borders

All this will now give new impetus and urgency to Germany’s new positioning in foreign policy. Defining Europe will be a key priority. Germany needs to shape the European project more explicitly than it has. Specifically, it needs to shape the next iteration of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Europe has been avoiding the difficult question of determining where Europe ends. Instead, the EU has offered association agreements whose eventual results are in a state of indefinite suspension. This fundamental coyness, however unintended, has begun to have consequences, first in the disappointment felt in Georgia and later in the EU’s failure to give Ukraine the political space it needed to avoid being forced to choose between Europe and Russia.  
The European Neighbourhood Policy with regard to Ukraine (and others) was based on a long view; but Ukrainian politicians had to make short term decisions. The disjuncture between these two timeframes led to political chaos. Germany will need to lead in finding a way to bridge the long term of the acquis communautaire and the short term of urgent political realities on its borders.      
Germany also needs to provide stronger EU leadership on Turkey. This is not about instant EU membership, which neither side wants, but about reinvigorating the decades-old EU accession process in a way that will halt the drift of this important commercial and strategic partner away from European norms of transparency and rule of law. Germany has long taken a special interest in the European Neighbourhood Policy. Germany’s economic vulnerability as a highly globalized power, and its long eastern land border, suit it to conceptualizing European border management over the long term. A more active engagement on the frozen conflicts in Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh, for instance, would be part of this, as might the development of a coherent policy toward Central Asia in the wake of NATO’s drawdown in Afghanistan.

Franco-German cooperation in crisis management

Mr Steinmeier has emphasized reviving the Franco-German relationship specifically in terms of making EU foreign policy. He undertook his own mission to Ukraine together with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski); Germany's development minister, Gerd Mueller, undertook his mission to CAR in tandem with his French counterpart; Defense Minister von der Leyen made an early trip to Mali in part to show support for France’s effort there; and in April, French President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel appeared together in Brussels, in the context of announcing a reinvigorated EU deployment to CAR, speaking of a Franco-German "great bond" (Merkel) and a "special friendship" (Hollande). This revival is desirable in itself but it needs institutional deepening so that it can function well even after the coincidence of an SPD foreign minister and a Socialist French presidency has passed. The Eufor CAR mission will be a proving ground. 
Germany has long considered crisis prevention as a major goal. Now is a time to put it center stage, making it a hallmark of German policy. This requires political, not just technical, engagement. While Germany has a wide range of logistical and engineering capacities that should be put to greater use in UN and other peacekeeping operations, such capacities are essentially reactive. Putting the rule of law at the heart of its development agenda would play to Germany's strengths in a truly preventive way. 
On a global scale, Germany has come to perceive its vulnerability to breakdowns in globalization and therefore has decided that it must play a leading role in defending the open global system. This is where Germans' national interests and global trends coincide most forcefully. The sense of vulnerability propels a desire for greater influence and an eagerness for leadership.  
The principles of mutuality and subsidiarity should guide Germany's growing engagement in the world. Germany’s lack of a formative colonial past, its experience of the limits of power and indeed of the madness of power, and the "culture of restraint" that is a feature of contemporary Germany, are all, in their way, strengths. Germany’s growing capacity for leadership combined with an ingrained wariness of attempts to remake the world holds the promise of a much needed balancing and deliberateness in global affairs.

Greater German leadership in foreign affairs

Events in Ukraine will inevitably invite a new strategic understanding of Europe's and Germany's foreign policy. Back in December, Mr Steinmeier told his new colleagues at the foreign ministry: "How Russia has taken advantage of Ukraine's desperate economic situation to block the EU association agreement is an outrage." But he then went on to emphasize: "As Europeans we should perhaps catch ourselves before berating. We should ask ourselves if we have underestimated how torn and weak the country is, whether we have overlooked the fact that it is too much for this country to have to choose between Europe and Russia, whether we have underestimated Russia's determination in light of its close economic, but also historically emotional ties to Ukraine. …[T]he financial and economic help that we offered fell long short of what is necessary to protect Ukraine from economic collapse and bind it to Europe in the long-term."  
"I fear," he concluded, "that we are only at the beginning of conflicts over spheres of influence," a dark prospect also invoked by Chancellor Merkel at the Bundestag. This is not where international relations were meant to end up in 2014. And perhaps we are not there yet. But we are at a point where, for a power like Germany, complacency and indifference are indeed not options.    
So the conditions are ripe, based on specific historical realities, for greater German leadership in foreign affairs, bearing always in mind that German public opinion, and political opinion in the Bundestag, might not be as enthusiastic as in the governing coalition. Yet this comes at a time of greater urgency, and possibly less European unity, than Mr Steinmeier might have envisaged when he stepped up to the plate.

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