Since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, the CDU has played an overriding role in shaping policy as a whole, including foreign policy. Under Konrad Adenauer, the first Chancellor of the FRG, Germany was tied to the US-dominated West, a fundamental decision that still determines the country’s foreign policy today. Under Helmut Kohl, Germany’s reunification was made possible, the introduction of the euro was prepared and the country was anchored even more firmly within the European Union. For the past 16 years, the CDU has provided the chancellor in the person of Angela Merkel, who will, however, leave office in a few months.
In foreign policy, Merkel’s main priorities were a good relationship with the USA, which has been subject to enormous upheavals under Trump, and the success of the German export industry. Within the EU, cooperation was deepened, but there were major conflicts here as well. During the euro crisis at the beginning of the last decade with the countries of Southern Europe and in the refugee crisis with the states of Eastern Europe, plus the strain of Brexit. But the Franco-German relationship, the heart of the EU, has also been characterised by stagnation for years, with one of the two states having been the passive actor in each case.
In security policy, Germany has lagged far behind the expectations of its allies and the demands of geopolitics, and Merkel is largely to blame for this. The often invoked formula of “German responsibility” in foreign policy has so far been rhetoric.
The party is currently in the midst of an episode of change, which has already led to some difficulties in the election campaign. Under Merkel, the CDU has been shifted further and further in a left-green direction, which has led to a considerable vacuum on the political right. So now, in the middle of the election campaign, the conflict between the economic liberal, the conservative and the Merkel wing is also being played out. The outcome of this dispute over direction could be decisive for the future of the party.
Armin Laschet, Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, is seen by many as Merkel’s natural successor in terms of content. However, the similarities between him and Merkel are not as great as they are often made out to be. In foreign policy in particular, his ideas are almost identical to those of the liberal FDP. As a Rhinelander and Catholic, Laschet is also much closer to the French than it is to the Chancellor. If Friedrich Merz, who will play a major role in Laschet’s election campaign, had been a candidate for chancellor, he would certainly have represented a stronger break with Merkel than Laschet, but compared with the opportunist Söder, he certainly represents a stronger contrast to the CDU’s policies to date.
Since the CDU has not yet published an election manifesto or even a first draft of one, the statements in this text refer to a keynote speech on foreign policy given by Armin Laschet a few days ago.
He described peace, prosperity and freedom for Germans and Europeans as the fundamental goals of German foreign policy. In this context, he sees a change of epoch in our time, which is characterised by various developments, including the rise of Asia, the technological revolutions, the threat to freedom by authoritarian regimes and populists, climate change and, of course, the Corona pandemic and the drifts that followed it.
For Germany, this means that it needs “the will to shape international politics”. For this, Germany should also become more “resilient”. As already mentioned, this rhetoric has been used for years, especially by the CDU, so far without any significant consequences. What is new about Laschet, on the other hand, is the proposal to set up a national security council, which is to have its seat in the Federal Chancellery. This council has to publish a report twice in each legislative period, which is also to be discussed in the Bundestag, with the decision-making authority remaining with the executive. This is intended to stimulate debate in the country. This example shows the great agreement with the FDP, which had demanded the same. The term “networking of foreign policy” was also used by him as by the FDP. Likewise, the struggle for raw materials is named as an important aspect of future world politics, which could bring some realism to the strategic debate.
With regard to Europe as a foreign policy actor, Laschet referred to the importance of a united position of the EU. He was also an advocate of a core Europe in which the states are more flexible in deciding which competences they want to relinquish and in which security policy projects they want to participate. Here Laschet also emphasises once again the central position of the Franco-German axis. It should be noted that this emphasis has not appeared in any (!) of the election programmes of the other parties, at least not on the subject of foreign policy. The importance of this issue will be felt in the country next year, when elections are held in France and Marine Le Pen will help shape the debates in our neighbouring country with her anti-Germany course.
In addition to improving the institutions in Germany to organise the country’s foreign policy, Laschet also sees such a need in the European Union. Thus, like most other parties, he also advocates the introduction of majority voting in EU foreign policy issues. In contrast to the SPD and the Greens, however, he is against a permanent communitisation of debts within the European states. In view of past experience on the part of the CDU, however, we should remain sceptical as to whether this is still valid at the decisive moment.
Like the FDP, Laschet wants to cooperate with the democracies of the world, and not just those in the North Atlantic. In this context, he sees China as a “competitor and partner” and he describes the deployment of a German frigate to the South China Sea as the right thing to do, without, however, being able to give arguments for it. He describes Great Britain as an important partner, as well as Canada and the United States, next to which he sees Europe’s place in the world. Of course, he also considers a revival of relations with the USA necessary and cites climate policy as an example of potential cooperation.
With regard to Russia, he would not change anything in current German and European policy; rather, “Russia must be shown limits”. The fact that Laschet sees the proof of the success of the previous Russia policy in the fact that a “major war” has been avoided so far is a considerable shift in proportionality and has nothing to do with rational foreign policy. At least he stands by Nordstream 2 and mentions Germany’s alliance obligations towards the Baltic states. As with France, he is the only one who explicitly emphasises this fact. In view of the simple fact that Germany must always take its partner and neighbouring countries into account in its foreign policy, and in view of the sometimes clumsy to presumptuous statements of his political opponents from the other parties, Laschet seems to be the only one who can be trusted with a functioning alliance policy.
He also emphasises the importance of NATO’s alliance commitments and the 2% target, which his party co-signed and has consistently ignored ever since. It remains to be seen whether anything will change under him.
In contrast to the Greens, Laschet does not consider the European Neighbourhood Policy a success so far. He favours new relations with the states of the Mediterranean and the Middle East and a stabilisation of the neighbouring states to the east. He sees Israel’s security as part of Germany’s raison d’être, but also adheres to the chimera of the two-state solution and, strangely enough, spoke out in favour of strengthening Mahmoud Abbas. He ignored the fact that Abbas has been ruling for twelve years without democratic legitimacy and that he simply cancelled previously announced elections, an important aspect of the recent escalation in the Middle East. With regard to Iran, he considers the resumption of nuclear negotiations to be positive and sees this as an important example of functioning multilateralism, which in his view is needed.
A number of Armin Laschet’s statements have been a consensus within his party and Germany for years, but they have not yet been implemented. Whether this will happen under Laschet remains to be seen.