Where does Germany stand in European Foreign Policy?

ECFR Heads of offices and experts discussed the question What is Germany´s new role in foreign policy leadership? 


Piotr Buras, Senior Policy fellow and Head of ECFR Warsaw

Francisco de Borja Lasheras, Senior Policy fellow and Head of ECFR Madrid

Manuel Lafont Rapnouil, Senior Policy fellow and Head of ECFR Paris

Vessela Tcherneva, Senior Director for Programmes and Head of ECFR Sofia Office

Jan Techau, Director Richard C. Holbrooke Forum at the American Academy, Berlin 

Chaired by

Josef Janning and Almut Möller, Senior Policy Fellows and Heads of ECFR Berlin

On September 12th, the ECFR Berlin office and Stiftung Mercator organized a public debate to discuss with colleagues across Europe how they see the current and future role of Germany in European foreign policy.

Germany has become a key player in European foreign policy and has also started to play a stronger role in European security. From the conviction that a Europe-oriented Germany strengthens the European Union and its members, it is imperative to reflect both on its present and future European policies. How “European” is Berlin after having taken on a leadership role in withstanding EU’s current foreign policy crises? What should be the guidelines and key characteristics of its prospective policies in order to strengthen the EU’s foreign policy in a variety of areas and (re)establish the EU as a strong(er) actor in the international community?

The EU and its members are facing unprecedented foreign policy challenges, many of them unfolding in their immediate neighbourhood. At the same time, it faces disintegration from within. The United Kingdom, a major player in Europe’s foreign policy, is on its way out. ECFR research has found that foreign policy is no longer an elite game, with insurgent parties and movements starting to shape public opinion on foreign policy across the EU. 

In all this, Germany has come to compensate for weak leadership from other traditional leaders, the European Commission and the High Representative. For many, Berlin is the lighthouse in a fragmenting Union. For others however, Germany represents a leadership style that takes decisions affecting the entire Union but does so largely on German terms.

In their policy brief “Leading from the centre: Germany’s new role in Europe” Josef Janning and Almut Möller dissect Germany’s leadership performance and make recommendations for how German leadership can contribute to the strength and health of the EU as a whole by building a new political centre in the EU. Berlin has the resources to do so and benefits greatly from embedding its power in the EU setting. Such coalitions will allow German and European interests to meet more organically than they currently do under the default of EU intergovernmentalism through which the management of recent crises has emerged. The existing model has not been without criticism, with Germany coming under fire for abusing its share of power.

In particular, they argue, it is worth exploring the potential of a coalition with the affluent, small member states, namely the Nordic countries, Benelux, and Austria. They represent an important part of the EU’s economy and its financial resources, their quality of governance is generally high, and their foreign policy outlook corresponds well with that of Germany. These countries are geographically close to Germany, share many of the same preferences, and, according to the data of ECFR’s coalition survey, want to work with Berlin.