Madrid, Tokyo, Paris, London, Athens, Rome, Washington, Düsseldorf After the second triall, in which Europe, the USA, China, Russia and Afghanistan played no role, the judgment of the American foreign policy expert Noah Barkin of the German Marshall Fund’s Asia program was devastating: “The world outside Germany does not exist in this election,” wrote he.
It is the foreign and European policy priorities of a new government coalition that determine the interests of Beijing and Washington, Paris, London and Rome.
Among the European neighbors, the election in Germany is seen as decisive for the future financial policy course in the European Union and the reform of the Maastricht stability criteria. “In Paris you will be watching very closely what preliminary decisions are being made with a view to the question of national debt and a possible reform of the Maastricht criteria,” says Éric-André Martin, expert on Franco-German relations at the think tank Institut Français des Relations Internationales.
The widespread attitude in Paris is that the consolidation of public finances should not be pushed through in the coming years at the expense of investments in digitization and climate protection. For Paris, it is also about joint European borrowing via the EU development plan after the pandemic.
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The French hope that Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Annalena Baerbock (Greens) will gain more understanding for this position. During his visit to Paris, however, the SPD candidate evaded a clear answer: During the corona crisis, it was seen that the European rules already enabled “very great flexibility”.
For the French, as Federal Minister of Finance, Scholz is the best-known and most reliable figure in the field of three from the negotiations on the EU development fund. The newspaper “Les Échos” called him a “German pragmatist” who brought out the fiscal policy “bazooka” during the pandemic. Scholz is a reassuring option for Paris insofar as “he is predictable,” says political expert Martin.
A pro-European policy “close to France” can be expected from him. In this regard, the French are critical of a possible finance minister, Christian Lindner. Whose FDP works with the alliance of President Emmanuel Macron in the liberal party family in Europe, but on the question of budget policy they are far apart.
In security policy, on the other hand, France sees the strength on the side of the CDU chairman Armin Laschet and hopes that the Rhinelander, like Helmut Kohl once, could bring an emotional closeness to France, which one missed with Merkel, who grew up in the former GDR.
Under a Chancellor Laschet, less headwinds are expected in the military consequences of this commitment, especially when it comes to joint armaments projects such as the FCAS air force program with drones and new combat aircraft.
A government alliance with the Left Party, which neither Scholz nor Baerbock exclude, would pose problems for the French government. “Then there would be many questions in relation to Paris and in transatlantic relations as to whether Germany will continue to be a reliable ally,” says Martin.
Laschet is met with skepticism in Greece
Observers and politicians in Italy and Greece have similar hopes for Scholz. Should Scholz win, that would be excellent news for Europe and Italy, comments Tonia Mastrobuoni, Berlin correspondent for “La Repubblica”.
As finance minister, Scholz almost forgot his predecessor Wolfgang Schäuble and took on a mediating role in Europe. “In one-to-one conversations, Scholz indicates that he would be a much more pro-European Chancellor than his slogans, interviews and speeches would lead you to believe.”
Xenia Kounalaki, foreign policy editor and Germany expert for the newspaper “Kathimerini”, believes that Scholz is more popular with the Greeks than Laschet. “The Social Democrats have always been considered more Greece-friendly than the Christian Democrats.”
From the beginning, Scholz had spoken out in favor of mutualisation of debts and “against the criminal policy of his predecessor Schäuble towards the hedonistic European south,” says Kounalaki. He is therefore more sympathetic to the Greeks than Armin Laschet (CDU), who is viewed with suspicion as Merkel’s heir to the throne.
George Pagoulatos, Professor of European Politics at the Athens University of Economics and General Director of the Greek think tank Eliamep, expects Scholz to be more open to reforms in the euro zone. The SPD and Scholz are “more receptive to a revision of the fiscal rules of the monetary union in the direction of greater flexibility”.
The political scientist also expects more commitment from an SPD-led federal government in the stronger integration of the tax and banking systems in the euro zone, which is supported by Greece.
The hopes in the fiscal conservative countries of the EU – including Austria, Finland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, which are already speaking out against accepting “excessively high debt ratios” – are the opposite.
Washington hopes for more toughness against China
Scholz benefits from his government office abroad. This is how he distinguished himself in the struggle for a global minimum tax. In Washington, that has earned him respect from experts, think tanks, and administration.
In the transatlantic relationship, Germany’s future relations with China are more prominent than ever.
Laschet has “taken a position similar to Merkel – and does not want to leave the China caravan with public criticism of human rights violations,” argues David Wilezol, foreign policy expert at the American Foreign Policy Council in the journal “National Review”.
He welcomed Baerbock’s more critical course on China, which had criticized a “sell-out of core parts of European infrastructure” to China and advocated stricter hurdles and an increasingly value-driven policy. Even if Scholz had held back on China policy, Wilezol assumes that green participation in the government would tighten Germany’s course on China.
China fears green austerity
Xu Heqian, head of foreign affairs for the Chinese business magazine “Caixin”, believes that if the Green Party appoints the foreign minister, the attitude towards China could be far tougher than it has been in the past 15 years. Baerbock’s demands for a tougher policy towards China were well received in Beijing.
The state economic information platform China Economic Information Network (CEINET) criticized that one could see from these statements that Baerbock was “a typical Western politician” who followed a “your own country first” approach on many issues.
Xu argues that “tensions between Beijing and Berlin will increase” regardless of which party wins the election. China is “worried about who will set the tone in German-Chinese and European-Chinese relations in the post-Merkel era,” says Xu.
At the moment it does not seem to be a priority for any of the three candidates for chancellor to defend Merkel’s legacy in relation to relations between China and the EU.
Moscow hopes for Russia-friendly Scholz
Leading politicians in Moscow hope that under a German Chancellor Scholz the most Russia-friendly course will be followed. Officially, nobody says this out loud – if only to avoid giving the impression of Russian interference in the elections. “The Kremlin is deliberately positioning itself neutrally, officially not evaluating any of the three promising candidates,” says Wladislaw Below, head of the Center for German Studies at the Institute for Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences.
All three candidates are critical of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, for example, even if Baerbock is the toughest. Scholz scores with his experience. Laschet is perceived in Moscow as the most well-founded position in security policy and as a proponent of the continuation of the German-Russian dialogue and the search for compromises.
The picture that is currently showing up abroad is not flattering: “The duel of boring candidates”, writes the Greek Sunday newspaper “To Vima”, “The search for Merkel 2.0” writes the “New Statesman” in Great Britain.
More: Prime Minister Bouffier: “Armin Laschet rules successfully – and not Legoland”