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Global order under attack : Germany – leader in disruptive times

Geopolitical changes have not played in Germany's hand

The liberal order has come under attack, not just from the outside, but also from the inside. Populism, nationalism, and protectionism have entered Western politics and impact upon the agenda of Western states. There is Donald Trump in the White House and Brexit around the corner laying open fundamental questions about the future of European integration. By the way: In Germany some on the hard right, in their anti-EU mindset, think Brexit is super. The great majority of Germans, however, views the departure of the United Kingdom as a sad, bad thing: bad for us, bad for the UK, bad all of us. Unfortunately, there is more to worry about. European countries that were welcomed into NATO and the EU just a few years ago have turned out to be neighbors with a strong preference for illiberalism and nationalism. This has come as a big surprise to us, as Thomas Bagger, a foreign affairs adviser to German President Steinmeier, has noted. Maybe it is true: As we approach the 30th anniversary of the fall Berlin wall, the golden moment for Germany, politically and even economically, is over or about to be over. Domestically, the refugee and migration crisis has turned German politics upside down.   

At the same time, the call for Germany to rise to the occasion, from Afghanistan to Africa, and sharpen its international profile has not fallen silent.

And it was echoed in the country. Five years ago, almost to the day a loud shot was fired in the debate about German responsibilities in Europe and in the world. Speaking at the Munich Security conference, a German trio including the president, the foreign minister and the defense minister asked for Germans to be ready to shoulder more responsibilities. “As a good partner the Federal Republic should act earlier, more decisively, and more vigorously, then-President Joachim Gauck said. He defended the use of military force and said the country’s past should not be misused as an excuse for complacency, ignorance and isolationism. As if he was looking into a crystal ball, Gauck encouraged Germany and its partners to do more for their security since the United States was no longer able and/or willing to shoulder the bulk of the collective burden. When Trump arrived, the bill was presented, though, in blackmail fashion.  

A turning point in transatlantic relations

There was another key moment. It came in late spring of 2017. Upon her return from two summits in Brussels and in Sicily, and after strange encounters with the still new American president, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made headlines when, in an address to a Bavarian beer tent crowd, she said this: The times in which we could fully rely on others are to a certain extent over.” European would have to take their fate in to their own hands. Actually, Merkel had made the reference to a more mature European posture before; but her reaction to the twin meetings with the American president was read by many as a turning point in transatlantic relations, particularly for Germany. It was even idolized as a kind of European Declaration of independence  from the Unites States. Well, this is too much self-indulgence, just as the talk of strategic autonomy is overblown. But it points in a direction which for Europe has become necessary to embark upon. The era of transatlantic romanticism, nostalgia and imbalance in military burdens is definitely over. We have to do much for ourselves, for our security and our well-being.

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