Europe on the verge of  the Post-Merkel Era

When Angela Merkel, along with her minister father headed to East Germany, and experienced a tough time near the paralytic children neighboring her father's church, or when spent many years in chemistry labs, she never believed to become one of the most influential women in the world and Europe during the first two decades of the ۲۱st century.
2 October 2021
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Ali Beman Eghbali Zarch

When Angela Merkel, along with her minister father headed to East Germany, and experienced a tough time near the paralytic children neighboring her father's church, or when spent many years in chemistry labs, she never believed to become one of the most influential women in the world and Europe during the first two decades of the 21st century. She talked Russian with command many times Putin; she travelled 14 times as Germany's chancellor to China and saw 4 American  presidents. In her youth she was not interested in politics and was more focused on the professional career of chemistry, but entered politics accidentally and quickly made it to a ministry and in a short time became chancellor.

A host of sweet and bitter international events after communism, such as the spread of western democracy, unavoidable advance, European integration, and closeness to Russia in a European security system, and success of the market economy, and the trend of developments in China creates the belief for Europe, that these events have led the world towards multilaterism based on rules. Following the collapse of the soviet, Germany's foreign policy tried in various forms, and sometimes variable forms, to balance interaction with Russia and Eastern European states.  But the annexation of Crimea  and the Ukraine war were major developments , and though Germany , for the settlement of the crisis, continued interaction with Russia, and despite joint projects like the Nord Stream, Germany's foreign policy has clearly pivoted towards cooperation and solidarity  with east Europe as well as support for the green continent in a way that today Germany is the main investor and trade partner of these countries.

Trump's presidency was another factor for the European experience that questioned the Nato and its wide security guarantees; a policy that emphasized the US unilaterism and must be understood as a waking call and a sign of wider and more continuous changes of the US new approach towards Asia and Oceania and its national interests. This reality that Biden's administration  has reinstated its decision to withdraw from Afghanistan is only a new example and the resulting conclusion that Angela Merkel stressed is that the Europeans ( and of course the Germans) must put more in for their security. In this regard, most German politicians are in favor of strengthening the European Union's security and foreign policy . However, over 30 years and despite made advances in the next agreements, the capabilities of the European union have remained, compared to the marginal  challenges, and still are limited to small , and medium missions outside Europe.

Also, the BREXIT brought up the question whether the EU is a proper framework for organizing  a stronger pillar of defense and security? None of these issues must be separately investigated. Generally, although a group of politicians in the green continent pursues  strategic autonomy, there is still no substitute option for Nato in the security of Europe, the relations with Washington will most probably vacillate and the Germans, as well as the other Europeans, want to participate , design and plan these relations for appropriate interaction with the US. However to the Germany's opinion, like to the other parts of the European Union , many questions have not yet been clearly answered, to the meaning that a successful foreign policy is not a policy that easily maximizes interests for Germany, but one that through which the EU can propagate joint action and compromise.

With a look at east, especially at Russia, it has to be said Germany's foreign policy has two balance three political requirements. The first issue is support of Palestine and assurance for its allies and partners in Eastern and Central Europe. The second issue is retaining the level of interaction with Russia for preventing intensification of clashes and the third issue is the policies that can jointly be supported by all partners in the European Union, without which any national policy would be meaningless. Nord Stream is an example whose digestion by the US and some European states is hard to bear and on one hand, it shows how the understandings are different and first the Germans' views must be described without claiming to have an objective description of the problems.

The Germans went to the polling stations for electing the new members of Bundestag on September 26 and the chancellor's rival party managed to gain a minimal victory after 20 years, and as a result Angela Merkel resigns following 30 years of presence in the German and European politics and after four terms in the Chancellor's office. Merkel's political activity began in 1991 when she became the family, women and youth minister in the united Germany and after the former  chancellor of the Federal Germany , between 1982 and 1998, Helmut kohl and Gerhard Schroder, leader of the Social Democrat party (SPD), as head of the government, Merkel became the first woman and the first citizen of the Democratic republic of Germany to achieve this status.

Generally, in foreign policy, through relatively limited views and adopting pragmatic positions which serve the stability and political and economic interests of Germany and Europe, Merkel showcased herself, and the principle  of lack of interest in confrontation and the effective and systematic method with which she managed to solve many crises she faced during her tenure helped in her popularity , but some believe paradoxically the same characteristics drew the most criticism , especially the tolerant behavior she showed towards authoritarian governments  in Hungary or Poland . Also, she  became the target of blame for tolerance towards Russia's actions in recent years, inability in taking hard positions and imposing related sanctions  regarding violating other neighboring countries' sovereignty by Putin and nonobservance of human rights, and eventually in the corona crisis it took a long time for Angela Merkel to regain  part of her lost popularity; with her unique style of nonuse of force for combating chronic diseases and with emphasizing finding scientific ways for solving dire problems, she supported the European commission for financing the EU's Marketing Fund following the pandemic.

Summarily, it has to be said, on one hand, during her 16 year long tenure, Germany tried to balance among the US, Russia, and China triangle, and with her personal traits like patience, forbearance and her capacity for dialogue and listening to opponents and interlocutors, especially her hard-working and austere and philanthropist  style ( the clear example of which being accepting on million Syrian and Afghan  refugees in 2015) she left a dazzling legacy; and on the other hand, regarding the relative victory of the social democrats in the elections, in case Mr.Schultz wins, aside from relative strengthening of pivot towards Russia , we should not expect substantive and structural changes in the foreign policy of Europe's economic engine  in interaction with the euro-Atlantic , East Asia and other regions of the world.

By Dr.Ali Beman Eghbali Zarch, Senior Expert of European Studies   

(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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