How the world is watching the German elections – Foreign and security policy
China has followed the elections in Germany very closely. This has to do with the special bilateral relationship, which has long been dominated by economic relations: China’s trade with Germany alone accounts for almost 40 percent of the volume with the EU as a whole, l he German industry has established large subsidiaries in China, and sales in China are essential for the automotive sector.
However, Chinese think tanks are also closely monitoring changing attitudes towards China around the world. They have observed a steady deterioration in China’s image over the past few years – and at an astonishing rate. This is especially true for the United States: while there were reflections on the emergence of a G-2, open antagonism now dominates relations in many policy areas. From a Chinese point of view, it therefore seems logical on the one hand to stabilize relations with Asian neighbors, for example through China’s accession to the RCEP. On the other hand, it draws attention to the relationship with Europe, and institutionally this means the EU. The most unfavorable development from the Chinese point of view would be for the EU to largely follow the lines of the American leadership; and therefore preventing this is an important goal.
Now a lot of damage has been done recently: EU sanctions against China have caused deep disappointment, China’s strong counter-sanctions have in turn dismayed the EU because they were seen as disproportionate, skipping multiple possible levels of climbing. While the two sides are still trying to figure out the other’s strategy, there is a consensus that relations have cooled significantly and that a thaw is not currently in sight. This makes relations with Germany important in two respects: on the one hand, as a bilateral partner country, and on the other hand, because Germany is seen as a leader in the EU – this is probably perceived more strongly in Beijing than in Berlin.
The bilateral dimension ranges from economic relations to cooperation on environmental and climate issues. Germany has a good image, in part because it is not charged with the colonial past of other European nations. The Wilhelmine adventure in Qingdao was short-lived, but it left lasting impulses for development, like the Tsingtao brewery, which is still considered a symbol of German virtues today. At the same time, the classification of international relations with China – as a partner triad, competitor and systemic rival – was first formulated in a strategic document of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), months before it ‘she hardly describes word for word. the position of the European Commission. The fact that German industry in particular, heavily involved in the Chinese market, has taken this turn shows the development of bilateral relations.
Germany’s influence on the EU is greatly appreciated. The conclusion of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) is one example. It has been negotiated tenaciously for seven years; Towards the end of 2020, entrenched resistance was suddenly overcome quickly and the deal was signed. It appears that key Chinese negotiators were motivated to come to a conclusion while the incumbent German government was still in a position to promote the deal within the EU.
Much more important from Beijing’s point of view seems to be how the EU will position itself in the area of foreign and security policy. Will its Indo-Pacific strategy have a measurable impact – or will it become a paper tiger? China knows that the EU’s strategic documents are carefully formulated and approved before they are released, but also has found that implementation does not always follow the precise wording. It is therefore difficult to assess what the EU actually does, especially in the area of foreign and security policy.
Beijing therefore suspects that decisions on central questions of foreign and security policy are taken through direct coordination between the largest nations of the EU. However, the UK has left the EU, France, the main remaining military player, is linked to Africa and has recently been severely alienated by the cancellation of its submarine deal with Australia. China sees Germany as a fundamentally moderating factor; he is also aware of his historical reluctance to engage in military operations. The perception is also that after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the European allies first need a longer period of reflection to clarify among themselves under what conditions and with what means they are ready to undertake future operations away from European territory.
It is the telescope through which China watches the German elections. The outcome will be assessed depending on whether the future German government, bilaterally and through the EU, is likely to increase or reduce existing tensions.
Alexander Kallweit, FES Beijing
The South African media are teeming with election coverage – but not that of Germany. Rather, campaigns begin for the historic local elections on November 1. The Berlin results are, at best, a marginal note in the papers.
Ahead of the elections, Angela Merkel’s imminent departure has sparked some interest. She is held in high esteem in South Africa, especially by the government. No other country in sub-Saharan Africa visited more often during her tenure. In August, South African President Cyril Ramphosa paid a short visit to Berlin – officially for the meeting of the G20 joint initiative “Compact with Africa”. But above all, he wanted to say goodbye to Merkel in person. But there is also excellent cooperation with Social Democrat Olaf Scholz. Scholz and his then South African counterpart Tito Mboweni, along with three other finance ministers, wrote a joint open letter to the G20 countries calling for the introduction of a minimum tax for businesses – with success.
Mutual visits and joint initiatives are expressions of solid bilateral relations, based above all on economic interests. The two countries are the other continent’s most important trading partners. In addition, there is deeper bilateral cooperation, more recently also to develop vaccine production capacities in South Africa. Berlin holds South Africa in high regard as a political stabilizer in the region and one of the eight so-called global partners of the Federal Republic of Germany. One of the reasons people here are probably watching the German election with serenity is that hardly anyone expects anything fundamental to change under a new government.
In some progressive circles, at least, there are tender hopes that these two influential democracies will work more closely together on global issues in the future. Scholz and Mboweni achieved this with the aforementioned initiative – a decision on a global minimum tax has been taken. South Africa, on the other hand, has not found support in Germany with its initiative to temporarily suspend patent protection for Covid-19 technologies.
Still, more than two-thirds of South Africans believe the pandemic has brought the world closer together – in Germany, it’s just over half. Figures from the latest FES New York world census also show that support for multilateralism and the United Nations is much higher in South Africa than in Germany, for example. It is a good basis for an even more strategic dialogue to democratize and strengthen global governance and the UN, reduce global inequalities and fight against the climate crisis. An exchange which should also take place further below the governmental level between the progressives of the party, the parliament and the unions.
But just as international issues hardly figured in the German election campaign, navel-gazing unfortunately also prevails in South Africa at the moment. The difficult process, which was politically pushed by President Ramaphosa, to deal with the escalation of corruption and state capture during President Jacob Zuma’s tenure (2009 to 2018) is linked to a bitter struggle for power within the African National Congress (ANC).
The ANC is also in financial difficulty and in conflict with its permanent staff because of the non-payment of salaries. As the ANC cares for itself, the country’s social crisis worsens, unemployment reaches 35%, and in the poorest neighborhoods in particular, there are repeated bottlenecks in the water and electricity supply, for example. Faced with these difficulties, the ANC is now entering the local electoral campaign. A result below 50% seems possible at the national level. In even more municipalities and provinces, coalition governments are likely to be needed. It may also be necessary nationally for the first time at some point in the future.
This development makes the current formation of the German government again relevant for South Africa. For it is certainly interesting to know how the majorities in Berlin now emerge from the election results and how the negotiations and coalition agreements succeed. And so the attention here is likely to be greater when a new government is actually formed in Berlin. Sadly, the slightly disappointed conclusion from the morning news broadcast on radio station 702 on September 27 was that it was still not clear what this government would look like.
Uta Dirksen and Sebastian Sperling, FES Johannesburg
Usually, elections in Europe do not receive much attention in the Russian media. The fact that Angela Merkel and her 16-year tenure have caused a lot of talk in recent weeks therefore shows the particular importance of Germany for Russian politics.
The German Chancellor enjoys a certain respect in Russia because of her long reign and her outspoken manners. So there were concerns about some analysis of how Germany will relate to Russia in the future, what role it can still play in international relations. However, the elections also come at a time when there is already a clear disillusionment with German-Russian relations at the governmental level.
The turning point here was Angela Merkel’s clear position in the Navalny case. From the Russian point of view, this interference in Russia’s internal disputes was seen as a violation of a taboo. Since then, German-Russian relations have visibly cooled, as evidenced by symbolic acts such as the Russian Foreign Minister’s long meeting with representatives of the far-right parliamentary group AfD. From the Kremlin’s perspective, this was a welcome return on investment opportunity, despite the lack of real interest in the German far right. Even on the Chancellor’s last visit, although she was honored with great pomp and circumstance, it became clear during a press conference that the Chancellor’s criticism of the human rights situation man in the country were no longer taken seriously.
Based on this very bleak assessment of German policy, the expectations of the new government are therefore not particularly high. Regardless of which coalition eventually governs, Russia does not expect relations to improve significantly. There is a conviction that anti-Russian sentiment dominates in Europe, which will continue to try to contain Russia, and that Germany cannot or will not reverse this trend.
Peer Teschendorf, FES Moscow