Prior to the EU-G7 summit in Elmau, SPD chief Klingbeil puts forward ideas for a turning point. Almost none of this is really new. Above all, it is a matter of finally drawing conclusions from the realization that Europe is in an uncertain world in itself.
Rarely has the term been as meaningless and overused as Olaf Scholz’s “Zeitenwende”, which was introduced into public discourse on February 27. The word had to be used to justify Germany borrowing another € 100 billion in addition to the already terrible debts to tackle the coronavirus and climate crises in order to strengthen the Bundeswehr’s national and alliance defenses. Tenor: After the Russian war of conquest against a sovereign state, the order of the state can no longer be relied upon as a guarantor of peace. But it’s more like this: after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, no one could lie about how dangerous the multipolar world has become for Germany and its EU partners. If the “turning point” ended with this simple finding and the billions of the Bundeswehr: Germany’s future would be bad.
At the turn of the century, SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil presented his ideas on the implications of Germany for the allegedly changed situation. Klingbeil’s reasoning is largely driven by the realization that many countries do not adhere to US-European sanctions policies against Russia, but adopt Russian narratives and accuse the West of impending hunger and economic crisis in the world. If Donald Trump were still US president at the moment, the EU, Britain, Japan, Australia and New Zealand would be almost alone in the war against Russia. And what isn’t, it could be two and a half years – if America votes again.
The assumption that the vast majority of states will embark on a path to free democracy during economic globalization was wrong. Klingbeil cleans up on behalf of his party. Other parties were a little further. The continent of the former colonial empires is losing influence over the rest of the world. This may not be bad, but competition between authoritarian and democratic states is not going so well at the moment.
It is understandable that Europeans, with their noble values, face great distrust of the global South. Sometimes this morality served as a cheap excuse for otherwise motivated military interventions, and where this belief would require greater determination, the West held back on its own. The foreign deployment of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan and Mali was motivated primarily by their own security interests. Many people outside Europe see uninterrupted continuity with the former colonial powers if they pursued their interests by force, until eventually Europe and the United States were too exhausted for further adventures of this kind.
And now? Europe must be all the more politically, economically and militarily so that it can advance its interests on its own. These include: overcoming the climate crisis, restoring and maintaining a peaceful state order, and maintaining and promoting prosperity and social balance. To achieve these goals, Klingbeil introduces several terms that the SPD does not know: “interest”, “leading force” and “military force as a legitimate means of politics”. In fact, each federal government pursued what it considered to be German interests; tried to play among the first violins in the state orchestra and since 1999 he has been continuously deploying Bundeswehr soldiers abroad. But honestly, she rarely did it herself.
Don’t rely on the US
Anyone who wants to fulfill the term “Zeitenwende” factually must have a debate about what German interests are and how they should be compared to beliefs. There is no line: the Federal Republic and the EU cooperate with numerous dictatorships and autocracies out of economic interests. On the path to climate change, dependence on fossil fuel imports will tend to increase during the transition period, and much of the hydrogen needed will tend to be produced in geographically more favorable areas of the world. Whoever has Erdogans and Al-Sísis from this world as partners cannot constantly raise a moral index finger without losing credibility. There is an urgent need to establish a strict line as to which countries are acceptable as partners and which are not, and what compromises can be made, for example in negotiations with China.
The situation is similar to other Klingbeil conditions: never going without risk and aligning political positions with a predictable majority, as Germany has long done, especially in its European policy, will no longer be enough. For Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is certainly a role model for his predecessor Angela Merkel, the “leading force” demanded by Klingbeil is a challenge: He has not yet shown much willingness to do so. At the summit of the EU Council and Heads of Government and the subsequent G7 summit in Elmau, he will be able to show whether he wants and can set a new tone and agenda. The chancellor’s self-confidence is not lacking.
And then there’s the military: the Klingbeil wants to give the Bundeswehr “respect and recognition” again. There is no need for flag appeals or patriotic stickers on vehicles. However, one approach is to make the Bundeswehr more publicly aware and to equip and structure it to become an attractive employer. This is nothing new, but it has not been consistently implemented. And it is necessary to say why the people of Germany need their Bundeswehr: Not to establish democracies in states where there are no social preconditions. Germany needs the Bundeswehr to ensure peace in Europe, which is more threatened than it has been in recent decades – while the US is no longer here to do it for us.