Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Party conference in Essen has re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel as chairwoman of the Party. This means that Merkel will lead CDU at the 2017 parliamentary elections. Merkel claims another, fourth term as German Chancellor. However, comparing to the last elections held in 2013, Merkel’s foreign and domestic policy tasks during the upcoming elections and in the post-election period will be complicated more than ever before. Now Angela Merkel needs more support inside her country to keep CDU’s rating at the upcoming elections.
Merkel personally has to overcome the consequences of the migration crisis that has undermined her personal authority. And she did it quite symbolically at the latest CDU gathering by calling for a full-face veil ban in Germany. "The full veil is not appropriate here, it should be forbidden wherever that is legally possible. It does not belong to us," she said. In this light, the multicultural policy in Germany has been buried finally. “We don't want any parallel societies,” she said. The chancellor suggested integrating migrants into the norms and rules of life in Germany, deporting those who have no refugee status, and shoring up control over Germany’s borders at the same time. Merkel seeks to sign a kind of migration agreement with other countries on the example of the one signed by the EU and Turkey. At the same time, the chancellor is not going to impose any quantitative restrictions on immigration.
Merkel’s statements on the migration policy demonstrated that she has made a “pragmatic shift to the right.” Ahead of elections, CDU and the government have toughened the migration policy deliberately. However, Merkel rejected CDU’s decision to end dual citizenship for the children of immigrants. This episode showed that inside CDU, there is a wing having a tougher stance on the migration policy than Merkel – she pursues a balanced policy but remains committed to “values” at the same time.
The most important domestic policy event of Merkel’s future election program is that CDU plans no rise in taxes. That is, the current and future financial policy is sustainable and successive. Merkel’s future election program contains only one uncertain thing i.e. the stance of the United States under new president Donald Trump. Both the CDU and Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) are well aware of that. Merkel and CDU’s top leadership are not ready to act in the foreign policy beyond the usual Euro Atlantic scope and support from abroad. Nevertheless, in July 2016, after Brexit, the EU leaders came out with the known initiative of expanding the areas of Europe’s defense and security policy. At first, they presented it as a measure in order to further promote European integration despite the negative processes that followed Brexit. European countries should do more to increase their common defense capabilities, and this is what Social Democrats and Christian Democrats of Germany have no discrepancies about. After Trump was elected president in U.S., they started interpreting the European integration and defense policy as a potential offset, if U.S. changes the policy on NATO in Europe. It is hard to say if it is a serious argument used by European leaders or soft blackmailing of Washington. It is unlikely that under Trump U.S. will refuse from its domination in Europe. Trump is more likely to prefer receiving dividends from Europeans for their security. Therefore, Germany hopes Trump’s Administration will appear to be reasonable and the commitments to Europe and NATO will be implemented in the future too.
Nevertheless, development of Europe’s defense initiative bumps into the problem of own nuclear weapons and European strategic capacity of deterrence. Only France can provide its nuclear weapons to United Europe. Despite Brexit, UK is a European big power too. However, its strategic and tactical nuclear weapons are controlled by Americans, as the UK nuclear warhead is based on the U.S. W76 design. UK’s Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) carry Trident missiles that are purchased directly from U.S. The U.S. officers are assigned to maintain and support the missiles on British submarines.
Therefore, the only option for the European defense initiative is the French nuclear weapons. This will increase France’s role in the Franco-German tandem and remove the progressing misbalance in favor of Germany. On the one hand, a stronger tandem would help uniting Europe, but it would throw back Germany from the leadership positions in the EU it has gained during the last decade. The German politicians will have to weight all pros and cons and make a choice, if the U.S. policy of NATO weakens in Europe. This is a hard choice for Berlin, and Merkel appears to be unready for it. Germany’s underlying agreements and its public opinion make the country remain committed to its denuclearization policy. European autonomous nuclear deterrence forces in France’s hand is an old, since de Gaulle’s presidency, strategic dream of France to retain its leadership in United Europe. Now, after Brexit, there is an opportunity for that dream to come true.
As for the rest in the European aspect of Germany’s foreign policy, Merkel is going to preserve the unity and consolidation of the EU. The Chancellor links prosperity of Germany with the prosperity of the EU. The anticipated failure of Italy’s constitutional referendum adds more confusion to European affairs, nothing more so far. Berlin has to find ways to meet every challenge specifically. For instance, Berlin is going to show a tough position in its talks with UK over Brexit. As for the support to the countries experiencing sovereign debt crisis, Berlin displays a flexibility and firmness at the same time.
As for Russia, Merkel just repeats the usual statements concerning Germany’s readiness for dialogue with Moscow and Russia’s important role in settlement of conflicts in the world. However, when it comes to fundamental problems, Merkel insists that “annexing of Crimea is a violation of the international law” and that Minsk process stalls through Moscow’s fault.
Germany’s policy towards Ukraine will not change, though it may have to “mutate” due to the United States’ policy under Trump. Germany links the sanctions against Russia to Moscow’s full retreat from Donbass. Ukraine should remain in the area of EU, specifically Germany’s influence. Recently, some foreign policy strategists at CDU have been promoting the idea of simultaneous involvement of their “Eastern neighbors,” i.e. Ukraine and Moldova, into both European and Eurasian integration projects.
At the same time, CDU feels certain enmity towards Russia when it comes to Moscow’s alleged interference with the upcoming elections in Germany.
Since 1990s, Germany with the support of U.S. has been expanding into Central and Eastern Europe under pretext of democratic choice and protecting the rights of small and mid-sized countries. At present, Germany still seeks to retain its control over Ukraine, though through political means and political and economic pressure on Russia. As a result, the Nord Stream gas pipeline in Germany may be considered as a measure of control over Ukraine, since Germany will have sufficient capacities to supply gas to Ukraine from the west. Although the Nord Stream may be not within economic interests of Ukraine, it remains in the geopolitical plans of Germany concerning Europe and its peripheries.
In this context, Merkel and her political allies in Europe started using the Russian factor to consolidate the crisis-stricken EU. This has turned into an element of CDU’s policy and may be removed only if the system, Merkel and her allies, are removed from the German and European politics.
EADaily’s European Bureau