New German Chancellor Faces a Slate of Foreign Policy Crises

, New German Chancellor Faces a Slate of Foreign Policy Crises, The Evepost New York News
, New German Chancellor Faces a Slate of Foreign Policy Crises, The Evepost New York News

Rarely has a German leader come into office with so many burning crises.

When Olaf Scholz is sworn in as chancellor in early December, he will have to deal with a surging pandemic, tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border, a Russian president mobilizing troops near Ukraine, a more confrontational China and a less dependable United States.

“While we were negotiating, some crises have dramatically come to a head and developed,” said Robert Habeck, co-leader of the Greens and designated vice-chancellor of Mr. Scholz, during a joint news conference to unveil their new governing pact. “We are taking charge of the government in a time of crisis.”

Foreign policy was barely discussed in the campaign but it might well end up dominating the first months of the new administration. With Germany taking over the presidency of the Group of 7 in January, Mr. Scholz will immediately have the spotlight on him on a host of pressing international questions.

On Wednesday, the incoming chancellor made clear where his priorities lie.

“A sovereign Europe is the key to our foreign policy,” Mr. Scholz told reporters. “As the economically strongest and most populous country at the heart of Europe it is our duty to make this sovereign Europe possible, to promote it and advance it.”

Few analysts expect Mr. Scholz to change course significantly from his predecessor, Angela Merkel, who took him along to the Group of 20 meeting last month and introduced him to a number of world leaders, including President Biden.

But with so many fires burning on the international stage and some structural geopolitical shifts underway, circumstances — and his two more hawkish coalition partners — might force Mr. Scholz’s hand.

In Europe, one of the first tests Mr. Scholz will face is how to deal with Poland, which has violated some of the democratic principles underpinning membership in the European Union but is also under pressure from neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally.

Mr. Scholz’s Social Democrats are traditionally dovish on Russia, supporting projects like the contentious Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. But if Moscow begins another offensive in Ukraine, it would be a significant test.

On China, the picture is more complicated.

As Beijing has become more confrontational and German industry more outspoken about its dependency on the Chinese market, Germany’s China policy was ripe for evolving from the mercantilist soft touch of the Merkel era, analysts say.

“The German position will get tougher on China for structural reasons,” said Mr. Kleine-Brockhoff. “Mr. Scholz is no hawk. But he is not Merkel either and he will face pressure from the other parties in his government,” he said.

, New German Chancellor Faces a Slate of Foreign Policy Crises, The Evepost New York News

On Wednesday, Mr. Scholz hinted at a more values-based foreign policy.

“That which makes us who we are, that we are democracies, that we stand for freedom and the rule of law, will of course play a role, because we are particularly connected with some countries, especially the United States, because these values have shaped us,” he said.

In the United States, Mr. Scholz does have a seeming center-left ally in Mr. Biden. Not since the second term of former President Bill Clinton have both the White House and the German chancellery been in the hands of center-left leaders.

But few in Berlin want to rely too much on Washington.

“We don’t know how dependable the Biden administration is and we don’t know how long it will be in power,” said Jana Puglierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

As one of Mr. Scholz’ advisers put it: “Biden is America First, just more polite.”