Steinmeier’s presidency of Germany: any changes coming?


March 23, 2017 – Fort Russ News –

– Political discussion by Tom Winter –

Yesterday Frank-Walter Steinmeier went from Foreign Minister of Germany to Bundespräsident of Germany. Of course in Germany the Chancellor is the country’s chief executive officer, and the president, as head of state, is expected to be above politics. But Steinmeier’s way is to speak bluntly. His first words as Bundespräsident give a big clue about how “far above the fray” this new president can go:
“President Erdogan, don’t jeopardize all that you have built up with others. Stop the unspeakable Nazi comparisons.” and finally, “release Deniz Yücel!”

These are NOT the words of a hands-off head of state! But given that he is not the “CEO,” will we see any changes in German policy? 

Yes. The biggest indicator is this: there is now a German president who dared split with NATO. He criticized last summer’s NATO exercises in Eastern Europe, making him that rare German politician – Sahra Wagenknecht being another – who could see the faux pas, the realpolitik error of putting German troops on the Russian border! 

And, as is his wont, he spoke bluntly: 

“Anyone who thinks symbolic Panzer Parades on the eastern border of the Alliance will bring more security, is wrong. We are well advised not to provide a pretext for the renewal of old confrontation free of charge,” adding “it would be fatal now to narrow one’s outlook to just the military, and to seek safety only thorough a policy of deterrence. [Your translator/columnist loves the German word for deterrence: Abschreckungspolitik!]

And in another interview, with Bild am Sonntag: “What we should not be doing now, is inflaming the situation with loud saber-rattling and war cries.” 

In June, he was saying It is in our interest to integrate Russia in an international partnership of responsibility. The prevention of an Iranian nuclear bomb, the fight against radical Islam in the Middle East or the stabilization of a Libyan state are some current examples. “

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On the subject of Ukraine and Russia, there is little positive to look forward to. In September, he visited Donbass, but only the part that is under Kiev’s control. Not a good sign. 

He has spoken of easing both anti-Belarus and the anti-Russia sanctions, though, which does set him apart. On June 19 he told the Redaktionsnetwork Deutschland that “The European Union should gradually phase out sanctions imposed against Russia over the Ukraine crisis —if there is substantial progress in the peace process.”

I.e, sanction easement should go pari-passu with steps toward Minsk II fulfillment. Progress was the difference, and it is a difference within the ruling left-right coalition. The difference with Merkel’s party is that sanction-removal would come only when Minsk II becomes fully implemented, which, since the implementation is actually up to Kiev, means never. 

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Finally, his comment on the election of Donald Trump, two days after his inauguration, was partly a slap at US unilateral exceptionalism mixed in with some standard-issue Atlanticism: 

I know that we have to adjust to disturbing times, unpredictabilities and new uncertainties. But I set forth that I would like to make sure that in Washington we find attentive listeners who are aware that even big countries need partners, ones who are ready to find their way together with good friends and tried and true alliance partners.

 Ich weiß, wir müssen uns auf unruhige Zeiten, auf manche Unberechenbarkeit und neue Ungewissheiten einstellen. Aber ich setze darauf, dass wir in Washington aufmerksame Zuhörer finden, die wissen, dass auch große Länder Partner brauchen in dieser Welt, und die bereit sind, ihren Weg gemeinsam mit guten Freunden und bewährten Bündnispartnern zu gehen.

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