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: www.eu-28watch.org.
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.