Stronger commitment but no shortcuts to NATO and EU

When Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel vis­it­ed Tbil­isi for talks with Pres­i­dent Saakashvili short­ly after the war in Geor­gia, her state­ment that “Geor­gia will become a NATO mem­ber if it wants to”[1] caused much atten­tion in the Ger­man media. Since Ger­many (among oth­er west­ern Euro­pean states) had open­ly reject­ed US-led attempts to imme­di­ate­ly offer Geor­gia a Mem­ber­ship Action Plan and thus paving the way for the country’s quick inclu­sion into the Alliance at the April 2008 NATO Sum­mit in Bucharest Merkel’s state­ment seemed remark­ably def­i­nite. How­ev­er, the Ger­man gov­ern­ment empha­sized that the Chan­cel­lor had only re-endorsed the summit’s con­clu­sions and that no fur­ther enlarge­ment promise had been given.[2] Indeed, despite increased pres­sure from the Bush administration[3], Ger­many retained its posi­tion that no fur­ther deci­sion on NATO enlarge­ment should be tak­en in the near future at the Decem­ber 2008 NATO for­eign min­is­ter meeting.[4] For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier even implied that the ques­tion of NATO enlarge­ment would dis­tract atten­tion from the more impor­tant ques­tion of NATO’s future role by stat­ing: “For NATO we need such a thing like a new ‘Harmel report’ – a fun­da­men­tal agree­ment on the future way. Too long we have post­poned an hon­est dis­cus­sion on NATO’s respon­si­bil­i­ties whilst deal­ing with ques­tions of enlargement.”[5] The Ger­man government’s cur­rent posi­tion on that issue is wide­ly shared across the polit­i­cal par­ties. How­ev­er, there are dif­fer­ent opin­ions about fur­ther NATO east­ern enlarge­ment in the long run: Where­as Merkel’s con­ser­v­a­tive CDU[6] and the largest oppo­si­tion par­ty, the lib­er­al FDP[7] do not seem to rule out Georgia’s (and Ukraine’s) NATO mem­ber­ship prospects in principle[8], For­eign Min­is­ter Steinmeier’s Social Democ­rats (SPD) and the oppo­si­tion­al Green Par­ty (Bünd­nis 90/Die Grü­nen) are even more cau­tious here.[9] The left-wing oppo­si­tion par­ty ‘Die Linke’ con­sid­ers NATO as a whole as need­less and there­fore is against any enlarge­ment as a mat­ter of principle.[10]

The con­flict in Geor­gia gave rea­son for Ger­man politi­cians to call for a stronger EU com­mit­ment towards the Union’s east­ern neigh­bours. As For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier put it: “Our goal must be to con­ceive Geor­gia, Ukraine, Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan and Moldo­va as an inte­gral part of a Euro­pean space of secu­ri­ty, sta­bil­i­ty and wealth.”[11] The Pol­ish-Swedish pro­pos­al for an insti­tu­tion­al­ized ‘East­ern Part­ner­ship’ with­in the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy, which pre­dat­ed the war but got more atten­tion as the con­flict broke out, was greet­ed by the Ger­man government[12] and is now seen as one main instru­ment to pro­mote peace and sta­bil­i­ty in that region by the gov­ern­ment and in parliament.[13] As this is a low pri­or­i­ty issue which large­ly remains in the realm of for­eign pol­i­cy experts there is lit­tle dis­agree­ment among the major polit­i­cal parties.

Despite the Ger­man population’s approval for fur­ther EU enlarge­ment hit­ting a new record low of now only 26 per­cent in the recent Euro­barom­e­ter poll[14], there has been no change in the government’s posi­tion on that issue. Ger­many sup­ports cur­rent mem­ber­ship nego­ti­a­tions with Croa­t­ia and the long term Euro­pean aspi­ra­tions of the coun­tries of the West­ern Balkans,[15] although this is also a rather bare­ly dis­cussed low pri­or­i­ty issue. Despite sup­port­ing their mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive, Ger­many does not rush the West­ern Balkan coun­tries to join the EU, espe­cial­ly after the expe­ri­ence of Romania’s and Bulgaria’s pre­ma­ture acces­sions. Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Stephan Eisel (CDU), recent­ly urged: “Mem­ber­ship nego­ti­a­tions are no edu­ca­tion­al process to reach the con­di­tions of acces­sion but the nego­ti­a­tions are about orga­niz­ing the acces­sion of coun­tries that have reached these con­di­tions. […] I am very scep­ti­cal of pre­ma­ture acces­sion offers for exam­ple to Serbia.”[16] Also, the mal­func­tion­ing of the judi­cia­ry and high lev­els of cor­rup­tion in Croa­t­ia are seen as seri­ous obsta­cles for a swift con­clu­sion of nego­ti­a­tions in 2009. Much more con­tro­ver­sy lies in the ques­tion of Turkey’s pos­si­ble mem­ber­ship: Here the par­ties in the cur­rent grand coali­tion gov­ern­ment of Merkel’s CDU/CSU and Steinmeier’s SPD take oppo­site views. The CDU/CSU is against Turkey join­ing the EU main­ly for val­ue and iden­ti­ty based rea­sons as well as geo­graph­i­cal reasons.[17] Instead, the par­ty prefers the con­cept of a vague­ly defined ‘priv­i­leged partnership’.[18] The SPD, in con­trast, sup­ports Turkey’s mem­ber­ship nego­ti­a­tions, which have start­ed under the for­mer SPD-led, Schröder gov­ern­ment. This dilem­ma of con­trary posi­tions of the rul­ing par­ties, has led to the offi­cial Ger­man government’s posi­tion that Ger­many at least stands by its com­mit­ment of car­ry­ing on open nego­ti­a­tions with­out prej­u­dic­ing any outcome.[19] As Ger­many will observe a gen­er­al elec­tion this autumn, a new con­stel­la­tion of gov­ern­ment might bring a new offi­cial Ger­man posi­tion on that issue.




[1] Angela Merkel at a press con­fer­ence with Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbil­isi, 17 August 2008, avail­able at:–08-17-pk-merkel-saakaschwili.html (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[2] Cf. remarks by the Ger­man gov­ern­men­t’s spokesman Thomas Steg, quot­ed in Ö1 Infora­dio: Merkel: “Georgien wird NATO-Mit­glied”, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[3] Cf. Frank­furter All­ge­meine Zeitung: Wash­ing­ton macht Druck, 22 Octo­ber 2008.
[4] Cf. Süd­deutsche Zeitung: Nato weist USA in die Schranken, 3 Decem­ber 2008.
[5] Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier: Part­ner­schaft wagen – für eine Erneuerung der Sicher­heit­spoli­tik im 21. Jahrhun­dert – Namen­sar­tikel von Außen­min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier, 4 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[6] Chris­t­ian-Demo­c­rat Party.
[7] Free Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party.
[8] Cf. inter­view with CDU/CSU par­lia­men­tary for­eign pol­i­cy spokesman Eckart von Klae­den: Über­denken der europäis­chen Rus­s­land-Poli­tik erforder­lich, 14 August 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009); press release of FDP par­lia­men­tary for­eign pol­i­cy spokesman Wern­er Hoy­er: Die Bun­desregierung muss bei ihrer Zurück­hal­tung hin­sichtlich eines NATO-Beitritts Georgiens bleiben, 18 August 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[9] Cf. inter­view with SPD par­lia­men­tary for­eign pol­i­cy spokesman Gert Weis­skrichen: Georgien hat keine Prämie ver­di­ent, in: Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung, 8 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009); press release of Bündnis90/Die Grü­nen par­lia­men­tary fac­tion: NATO-Außen­min­is­ter müssen Zeichen der Entspan­nung set­zen, 2 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[10] Cf. press release of ‘Die Linke’ par­lia­men­tary defense and dis­ar­ma­ment pol­i­cy spokesman Paul Schäfer: Bun­desregierung muss NATO-Oster­weiterung stop­pen, 24 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[11] Speech of Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier at the open­ing of the con­fer­ence of ambas­sadors in Berlin, 8 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[12] Cf. Poland’s ‘East­ern Part­ner­ship’ set for sum­mit approval, 17 June 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[13] Cf. speech of Angela Merkel in Tallinn, 26. August 2008, avail­able at:–08-26-merkel-kunstmuseum-tallinn.html (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009); Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier: Part­ner­schaft wagen, op. cit.; press release by the CDU/CSU par­lia­men­tary fac­tion: Union posi­tion­iert sich zu aktuellen The­men der EU. Klausurta­gung der Arbeits­gruppe Angele­gen­heit­en der Europäis­chen Union, 9 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[14] Cf. Stan­dard Euro­barom­e­ter 70, Nationaler Bericht: Deutsch­land, Exec­u­tive Sum­ma­ry, p. 8.
[15] Cf. speech of Angela Merkel in Zagreb, 11 May 2007, avail­able at:–05-11-rede-merkel-zagreb.html (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[16] Stephan Eisel, in: Deutsch­er Bun­destag: Stenografis­ch­er Bericht. 175. Sitzung, Ple­narpro­tokoll 16/175, 17 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[17] Cf. Bar­bara Lip­pert: Wait-and-See. Atti­tudes of Ger­man Stake­hold­ers, in: Nathalie Toc­ci (ed.): Talk­ing Turkey in Europe: Towards a Dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Strat­e­gy on Turkey, Rome 2008, pp. 135–160, here p. 142.
[18] Cf. ibid., p. 145.
[19] Cf. CDU, CSU and SPD coali­tion agree­ment: Gemein­sam für Deutsch­land. Mit Mut und Men­schlichkeit, 11 Novem­ber 2005, avail­able at: (last access: 21 Jan­u­ary 2009).