1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

What are dominant views in your country on future relations with Russia?

In gen­er­al the rela­tions to Rus­sia are viewed as very impor­tant in Ger­many and are wide­ly dis­cussed. Over­all it is seen that after a phase of com­ple­men­tary inter­ests between the EU and Rus­sia, the rela­tions dete­ri­o­rat­ed until the deep cri­sis they are in now. Accord­ing to the Coor­di­na­tor for Inter­so­ci­etal Coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia, Cen­tral Asia, and the East­ern Part­ner­ship Coun­tries, Ger­not Erler, this cri­sis is found­ed on a sen­ti­ment of “ignored alienation”.

Ger­man-Russ­ian rela­tions are deemed con­tra­dic­to­ry. The Ger­man econ­o­my is depen­dent on Russ­ian gas. Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel has said that Ger­many would review its sources of ener­gy in light of the cri­sis in Ukraine. How­ev­er, in August 2015 an exten­sion of the Nord Stream pipeline ship­ping gas from Rus­sia direct­ly to Ger­many was pro­posed. Sim­i­lar­ly, Rus­sia depends on Ger­many for import­ing mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing prod­ucts and vehi­cles. In 2015, bilat­er­al trade declined by 35 per cent com­pared with the pre­vi­ous year, to EUR 7.74 bil­lion. In Jan­u­ary and Feb­ru­ary 2015, Ger­man exports to Rus­sia fell by 34 per cent, to EUR 3.07 bil­lion, and Russ­ian exports to Ger­many declined by 36 per cent, to EUR 4.66 billion.

When dis­cussing the future rela­tions with Rus­sia, there is a for­ward-look­ing approach in Ger­many going beyond the imme­di­ate Ukraine cri­sis and an over­all under­stand­ing that Rus­sia is cru­cial for a peace­ful and pros­per­ous Europe. How­ev­er, it is also becom­ing increas­ing­ly clear that Rus­sia under the present gov­ern­ment is an extreme­ly dif­fi­cult part­ner to achieve this goal. There is an increas­ing impres­sion that Putin is untrust­wor­thy and unpre­dictable. This leads to the con­tin­u­ous debate on how dia­logue can be con­tin­ued with Rus­sia with­out fail­ing Euro­pean values.

Con­cern­ing the more imme­di­ate future, main points of dis­cus­sion are the sanc­tions cur­rent­ly in place against Rus­sia and the extent to which they are use­ful in pres­sur­ing Rus­sia as well as the extent to which they are most­ly harm­ing the Ger­man econ­o­my that is adher­ing to these sanc­tions, per­haps more faith­ful­ly than others.

Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier sug­gest­ed that Rus­sia should be allowed back into the G‑7 after hav­ing being sus­pend­ed from it with its annex­a­tion of Crimea and the con­flict in Ukraine in 2014, claim­ing that the G7 need­ed Rus­sia to return in order to help resolve con­flicts in Europe and the Mid­dle East. How­ev­er, Rus­sia has rebuffed this ges­ture, with Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov claim­ing that they are more inter­est­ed in work­ing in the BRICS and G‑20 and there­fore are not seek­ing re-entry.

This is just one exam­ple under­lin­ing the cur­rent sen­ti­ment in Ger­many that the rela­tions with Rus­sia will remain prob­lem­at­ic for some time to come.

How do the events in Ukraine affect the views in your country on EU relations with Eastern Partnership countries?

The Ukraine cri­sis has great­ly increased cov­er­age of the East­ern Part­ner­ship and the EaP coun­tries in Ger­many. It has led to some politi­cians advo­cat­ing for EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive for all East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries more open­ly than ever. For exam­ple, the mem­ber of the Green Par­ty Manuel Sar­razin believes that a clear offer of mem­ber­ship prospect should have been offered at the Riga Sum­mit, as this would have pro­vid­ed moti­va­tion for reform. On the oth­er hand, Ger­not Erler admits the EU was wrong not to have analysed pos­si­ble con­flicts with Rus­sia before offer­ing the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ments and Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Areas to coun­tries like Ukraine. At the same time, Ger­many is a staunch sup­port­er of a polit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion of the Ukraine cri­sis with very few demand­ing mil­i­tary involve­ment or sup­port of the Ukrain­ian army. In oth­er terms, Ger­many has great­ly increased its finan­cial sup­port to Ukraine, a total of 1.4 bil­lion in 2015 alone.

How was the Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga on 21/22 May 2015 assessed in your country?

The East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga on 21/22 May 2015 was large­ly assessed as unevent­ful or pre­dictable. It is esti­mat­ed to have failed to meet overop­ti­mistic expec­ta­tions by the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries while at the same time right­ly putting the focus on the imple­men­ta­tion of the exist­ing agree­ments. It is gen­er­al­ly assumed that, even though the East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP) can be con­sid­ered a suc­cess, it has reached its lim­its in the cur­rent form.

Does the EU need its own army in order to face up to Russia and other threats according to assessments in your country?

Ger­man Defence min­is­ter Ursu­la von der Leyen sees hav­ing a Euro­pean army in the future as a viable idea. How­ev­er, she does not see this as a use­ful tool for deal­ing with Rus­sia. In Ger­many there is a very real­is­tic approach that a vio­lent con­flict with Rus­sia is no real option. If at all, it is con­sid­ered an ele­ment of lever­age against Rus­sia to achieve more with polit­i­cal measures.

The Chair­man of the Bundestag’s Com­mit­tee on For­eign Affairs, Nor­bert Röttgen, also believes that the time has arrived for a Euro­pean army, as many small­er, nation­al armies are con­sid­ered less effec­tive mil­i­tar­i­ly, espe­cial­ly in com­par­i­son to Rus­sia. Some US-Ger­man ten­sions over the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine have led to sug­ges­tions of this being a rea­son for Ger­man enthu­si­asm for an EU army since that could shift pow­er away from US-dom­i­nat­ed NATO. Two secu­ri­ty experts, Clau­dia Major and Chris­t­ian Mölling, advo­cate for the intro­duc­tion of a joint EU and NATO Euro­pean Action Plan for Hybrid Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy, which could help to reduce the inse­cu­ri­ties that the EU cur­rent­ly faces and increase polit­i­cal unity.


2. EU Enlargement

How has the Ukraine crisis changed your country’s views on EU enlargement to the eastern neighbourhood?

For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier under­lines the fact that there is lit­tle point in talk­ing about mem­ber­ship for Ukraine when the EU has offered free trade and coop­er­a­tion via the Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment, and because it is dif­fi­cult to achieve a clear per­spec­tive of Ukraine’s future. The par­ty Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Union (CDU) sup­ports coop­er­a­tion with the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries, but this should not be expect­ed to always result in the goal of full EU membership.

Over­all, the sen­ti­ment in Ger­many is much less enthu­si­as­tic about enlarge­ment than it was before the east­ern enlarge­ment in 2004. How­ev­er, this does not imply a gen­er­al oppo­si­tion, as can be evi­denced by the fact that Ger­many host­ed the first of a new series of Balkan con­fer­ences in August 2014 to show com­mit­ment to the enlarge­ment process despite the fact that lit­tle process had made on the ground.

In the grand coalition’s agree­ment it is stat­ed that it con­sid­ers enlarge­ment an active peace pol­i­cy in the EU’s and Germany’s inter­est. It also under­lines the strict adher­ence to the enlarge­ment cri­te­ria and an account­abil­i­ty sys­tem for any progress made in the acces­sion countries.

In your country, what are the key concerns and dominant views regarding EU enlargement to the Western Balkans and Turkey, and which considerations regarding EU expansion are more/less important than previously thought?

Michael Roth, State Min­is­ter for Europe, sees EU expan­sion is in the inter­est of both the West­ern Balkan states and in EU states. In August 2015, Roth also expressed sup­port for con­tin­u­ing to devel­op clos­er ties between Turkey and the EU. There are near­ly three mil­lion peo­ple of Turk­ish ori­gin liv­ing in Ger­many, so Ger­man-Turk­ish rela­tions are sig­nif­i­cant. Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel remains scep­ti­cal about Turk­ish EU mem­ber­ship. Regard­less, dur­ing Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter Erdoğan’s vis­it to Berlin in Feb­ru­ary 2014, Merkel reaf­firmed Ger­man sup­port for Turkey’s ongo­ing acces­sion process — pro­vid­ed that Turkey demon­strates its inter­est in mov­ing clos­er to the EU.

In the agree­ment of the grand coali­tion, Turkey’s strate­gic and eco­nom­ic rel­e­vance are empha­sized. It men­tions the need for the nego­ti­a­tions to be based on democ­ra­cy, rule of law, and free­dom of speech and reli­gion and to be an open-end­ed process.

Merkel stat­ed with regard to the West­ern Balka­ns’ mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive that Ger­many sup­ports acces­sion and they have a “clear prospect” of join­ing the EU, but that the cri­te­ria and steps laid out to do so must be met and respect­ed. Her vis­it to the West­ern Balkan coun­tries in July 2015 was con­sid­ered an impor­tant sig­nal for how impor­tant the region is both for Ger­many and the EU. The head of the com­mit­tee for EU affairs in the Ger­man Par­lia­ment under­lined the fact that despite wan­ing con­fi­dence in the EU and enlarge­ment in the region, the aim was not to reduce Russ­ian influ­ence in the region but to let the coun­tries decide their future themselves.

The enlarge­ment pol­i­cy is seen as more urgent in light of the refugee cri­sis that devel­oped over the sum­mer of 2015.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.