German Leadership in Light of Ongoing Crises: The Washington Launch of the Berlin Policy Journal
On November 18, 2015, GMF hosted the Washington launch of the Berlin Policy Journal, for panel discussion titled “German Leadership in Light of Ongoing Crises.” After a brief introduction of the topic by GMF President Dr. Karen Donfried, Dr. Sylke Tempel, editor of the Berlin Policy Journal and Internationale Politik, presented the Berlin Policy Journal, a bimonthly digital magazine on international affairs that is published by the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr. Philipp Ackermann, minister and deputy chief of mission of the German embassy in Washington pointed to the speeches by Defense Minister Ursula Von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the 2014 Munich Security Conference as a shift in German political leadership, noting that the marked a turning point for German foreign and security policy. However, he said Germany does not overestimate its external role, in the European Union, or around the world, and that its policy of “leadership from the center” is comfortable for many Germans to accept.
Dr. Daniela Schwarzer, senior director of research and director of the Europe Program and the Berlin office at GMF, remarked that unlike in the eurozone crisis, in which Germany was able to exercise leadership and leverage amongst its EU partners, in the migration crisis, Germany no longer has the capacity to define and set the agenda for Europe. Its leadership role has been redefined. She pointed to the different constellations of alliances in both situations, noting that in the migration crisis, Germany has limited resources on which to rely in order to be able to lead in an EU context (for more, see Schwarzer’s contribution on Germany’s leadership in the Berlin Policy Journal). Dr. Tempel agreed, noting that Germany no longer has the means to take unilateral decisions as it did in the euro area crisis, nor is it in the position to ask for solidarity in order to manage the crisis. Yet Dr. Ackermann highlighted the strength of the German social fabric, noting that while the bureaucracy may be temporarily overwhelmed by the migration crisis, the country is able to handle the influx of refugees and migrations because of the flexibility of German civil society.
Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, commented on the fact that there is no realistic alternative to Chancellor Angela Merkel, either in domestic German politics or in the European Council. He argued that one reason why Germany has risen to such power in the EU is the weakened positions of the United Kingdom and France, and he contended that Germany will be crucial to the U.K.’s renegotiation of its EU membership. Dr. Ackermann noted that if the British referendum should lead to Brexit, this will certainly not be a failure of either German or EU leadership.
As the conversation turned to Germany’s leadership role vis-à-vis Russia and the conflict over Ukraine in the Normandy format and the Minsk accords, Dr. Celeste Wallander, special assistant to the president and senior director for Russia and Central Asia at the U.S. National Security Council, noted that Berlin’s economic power within Europe enabled it to play a pivotal role as a stronger voice for a united policy on sanctions. She contended that Germany’s insistence on having another European member state (France) present during the Normandy negotiations has been essential to the success of the Minsk agreements. She said that Germany has been a strong leader in dealings with Russia, as Merkel has been willing to sacrifice Germany’s short-term economic interests for longer-term foreign policy goals.