October 22, 2009

Guido Westerwelle of the FDP will likely emerge from coalition talks between Germany's main parties — the CDU, CSU (Conservatives) and FDP (Liberals) — as the country's new foreign minister, marking the first time a Liberal has held the office in a decade.

  Although Spiegel notes that “In the central questions of foreign policy the FDP and CDU/CSU are on one page,” real differences between the three parties exist that seem certain to impact the direction of German foreign policy.

Westerwelle's Views

With the position of Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor traditionally awarded to the strongman of the minor coalition party, Guido Westerwelle's nomination to the office seems virtually certain.  However, most analysts agree with political scientist Gerd Langguth that “Westerwelle's added value would be highest in domestic politics not internationally.”  A majority of Germans polled, and an even higher number of FDP voters, agree with this, according to Die Welt.  Westerwelle's credentials even recently provoked a low-key controversy because of his refusal to speak English at a press conference.

However, Westerwelle has consistently argued he is the best person for the job, both in an interview with Internationale Politik and in a speech last spring at the DGAP, a prestigious German foreign policy think tank.  In both cases he stressed the importance of close relations to the United States and criticized previous government efforts:

The German government had not seized the opportunity to impact the process of reorientation of American foreign policy after the presidential elections.  ...  The enthusiasm for Barack Obama in Germany was shared nowhere as little as within the government.

Westerwelle also emphasized the increased importance of humanitarian issues in German foreign policy under his leadership, moving away from the current “principle of non-intrusion” toward a German foreign policy that is “value-orientated and interest-based.”  He furthermore promises a return to Germany's EU policy of the 1980s and 1990s, when “the interests of smaller states were taken seriously and put into consideration during the formation of policy proposals.”  At the same time, Westerwelle emphasized that Germany should not "shy away from thinking in the category of national interests.”

Finally, Westerwelle believes that Germany should reclaim a lead in international nuclear and conventional disarmament negotiations.  He also wants U.S. nuclear weapons to go:  "Within the framework of NATO, we should work towards the complete removal of U.S. nuclear arms from Germany.”

Turkey-EU Policy

Both sides oppose Turkish accession to the European Union, so a major shift in policy here is unlikely.  The Conservatives principally argue for a privileged partnership for Turkey, while the Liberals maintain that a sufficient amount of preconditions have not yet been fulfilled.  Coalition negotiations have led to a compromise where the government has agreed to an accession discussion "without predetermined results" and an offer of a privileged partnership in the case of Turkish non-accession, FR reports.

Afghanistan and Security Issues

Although the CSU is highly critical of the German army's mission in Afghanistan, CDU and FDP maintain that German troops will not be withdrawn from Afghanistan until the country's security situation permits.  Furthermore, the FDP wants to double the German contribution of police training in Afghanistan.

In general, the FDP has criticized the Defense Minister's “exaggerated willingness to engage the Bundeswehr abroad.”  With the Foreign Ministry clearly dominating decision-making in this domain, and “the Conservatives incapable of changing this even if they wanted to,” the Liberals' stance will likely lead to future intra-coalition conflicts.

The new German government will hardly institute a fundamental shift in Germany's foreign policy orientation.  However, it is almost assured the first Liberal foreign minister in a decade will make some changes.

Benjamin Preisler is an intern with the New Atlanticist.  He recently earned his M.A. in North American Studies and Political Science from the Free University Berlin.  Translations from non-English language sources are his own.

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