Germany: the state is back!

energy, gas, arms deliveries, role of the state: following the Russo-Ukrainian war, Germany is redefining its values. A silent revolution, fraught with anticipated difficulties.

The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is forcing Germany to completely rethink the question of its relationship with the world, to re-discuss the foundations of its commercial policy and its defense policy, and to review its copy in terms of energy transition. On the basis of this observation, we can say that the liberal approach has lived. This results in nationalizations, measures to support purchasing power and the restoration of military capacity.

The end of the geopolitical turnip

The war in Ukraine has brutally pulled the country out of the state of somnolence in which it had been for a very long time on the question of security of energy supply. The debate on energy dependence did exist, but at an essentially intellectual level, without concrete actions being put in place to try to diversify sources of supply. This time, the urgency means that we can no longer limit ourselves to intellectual debates: we must act.

The Uniper group, German energy giant, leading European importer of Russian gas, of strategic importance for energy supplies across the Rhine, will be acquired 99% by state. This rescue, announced on September 21, 2022, vividly highlighted the very great energy insecurity in which Germany finds itself since the total cessation of gas deliveries by Russia. This nationalization is a very unusual measure in a country attached to the free functioning of the market.

Germany had been the big winner of the wave of globalization and liberalization following the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the entry of China into world trade, but today it is reaching the end of this cycle. Indeed, relations with Russia are broken and China is increasing the signs of closure.

Russia's offensive, in defiance of international law, also brought Germany out of its geopolitical naivety. For a long time, the doctrine Wandel durch Handel (untranslatable play on words meaning the change through trade) prevailed: Germany was then convinced that by maintaining commercial relations with non-democratic countries, they would eventually take the path of liberalization and democracy. This posture was obviously comfortable, but it is no longer tenable today.

In this regard, the speech given by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, on September 6, 2022, is revealing:

As an exporting country, we continue to focus on the values ​​of openness and our networks. But we must also admit a reality to which we have turned a blind eye for too long in Germany: interdependence carries risks. And trade does not automatically lead to democratic change.

The Minister of the Economy Robert Habeck made the decision, in May 2022, to withdraw the investment guarantees granted by Germany to Volkswagen for its activities in China, due to its establishment in the province of Xinjiang, scene of the terrible repression of the Ugurs. Never had a comparable decision been taken before, under the Merkel era.

Weapons and energy

Annalena Baerbock also declared, last March, that Germany should participate in the nuclear deterrence program of theNATO, which is a 180 degree turn from the traditional positions of his party, the Greens, on defense policy. She even drove the point home, firmly marking the desire to change strategy after the Russian invasion:

No country, not even Germany, can be neutral when it comes to war and peace, justice and injustice. Much has been written in recent weeks about the history of our country and our responsibility. I say it here very clearly: yes, from our history, from German guilt for war and genocide, arises for us, for me, a particular responsibility, the obligation to support those whose lives, freedom and rights are threatened. . () We must no longer repeat the mistakes of the past: there are no good and bad dictators.

In other words, there is no longer any question for Germany of showing off.

One of the consequences is that defense policy is also experiencing a radical turning point. Germany is now determined to restore its military capabilities. The government has set up a special fund of 100 billion euros to finance the modernization of the army. In addition, the defense budget will increase by more than 2% of GDP from 2023, increasing from 50 billion per year currently to around 75 billion, which will make it the largest defense budget in Europe. All this was unimaginable before Russian aggression.

Germany also decided to deliver arms to Ukraine, although until then it had the doctrine of never supplying arms to countries at war. For some within the government coalition, Germany could and should do even more. The president of the Greens, Omid Nouripour, insisted that now is not the time to procrastinate:

It is precisely now, before winter, that we must support Ukraine so that it can liberate itself as far as possible this year. Ukrainians are also fighting for our democracy, our way of living, our freedom.

Germany says it is now seeking exchanges between nations defending the same values, on political but also environmental issues. This is why Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Canada at the end of August, a country which has a lot of raw materials, like Russia, but which is also a democracy and a reliable partner.

This trip enabled the signing of a green hydrogen delivery contract. The aim is for supplies of energy, raw materials and goods to no longer be determined solely by the law of supply and demand, but to take place in a context including geopolitical and environmental issues. The reversal of the unconditional energy partnership with Russia is a real revolution for Germany which, let us remember, has a historic debt to Russia, due to the millions of Soviet citizens murdered by the Nazi regime.

They did not consider

All these sudden developments provide strong evidence of the culture of compromise, which is essential in German political life for structural reasons. Indeed, after the experience of the Third Reich, everything was done to avoid the return of authoritarian power.

Power was shared at all levels: both between the federal state and the Lnder, in the Bundestag, thanks to proportional representation, and also within the government, with a chancellor forced to bring together several political forces. In no case can the leader of the party which won the legislative elections assert, as in France, that he or she has a clear mandate to implement his or her project. The government program is forged only after the election in Germany, from the concessions made by the parties who intend to govern together. According to Thomas Wieder,

Firmly anchored in German political culture, this ability to build consensus is a major democratic asset for a country which, during the Merkel years, had become accustomed to comfortable prosperity and today finds itself confronted with a profound challenge to its economic model.

It still has to work! The three parties of the government coalition, the SPD (the Social Democrats), the Greens and the PDF (the liberals) all three end up accepting things that were totally unimaginable for them even a year ago.

The Minister of the Economy, Robert Habeck (Greens), for example announced the maintenance in reserve of part of the German nuclear fleet which should have been closed at the end of 2022. This is only a reprieve of a few months, and no additional fuel will be a priori purchased, but for a party whose history is closely linked to the anti-nuclear battles of the 1970s-1980s, it was a very difficult and very controversial decision to make.

The Greens had also not considered reopening coal power plants, building liquefied natural gas import terminals, or deferring the increase in the carbon tax for a year (scheduled for January 2023), as they were forced to do after the invasion. of Ukraine.

Heirs of theOstpolitik of Chancellor Brandt at the beginning of the 1970s, the Social Democrats were also not prepared to cut ties with Moscow, by suspending the commissioning of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline of which they had been ardent promoters for a long time.

As for the Liberals, the three successive plans to support the power of

purchase, to help households face soaring energy prices, which have just been adopted for a total amount of 95 billion euros, make the promise of reducing public debt illusory: it will most certainly be necessary to suspend the curb the debt in 2023, while the Liberals had always assured that this brake, put on hold since the covid-19 pandemic, would be reestablished whatever happened.

Announcement difficulties

Few people expected aid of such a high amount from the government, whose chancellor, for the occasion, quoted three times the legendary anthem of the Liverpool football club, Youll never walk alone (you will never be alonethat is to say no one will be left behind).

The choice of this slogan owes nothing to chance. The war in Ukraine is also testing social cohesion in Germany: demonstrations against the government's energy policy are increasing, particularly in the East. The far right is trying to harness anger against high energy prices, by asserting that it is enough to reconcile with Russia and open Nord Stream 2 to once again have gas in sufficient quantity and at an affordable price. Some, the far left, are also very critical of the government's energy policy. And, more generally, social cohesion is undermined by the risk of recession and social injustice that Germany's current economic difficulties imply.

Due to the large part of its economy devoted to industry, which is very dependent on external markets, and because it is severely affected by disruptions in supply chains and the explosion in energy prices, Germany will probably experience difficulties in the coming months. undisclosed economics. Domestic consumption, weighed down by inflation, will not be able to compensate for the loss of corporate profits, despite the three very ambitious purchasing power support plans.

The war of stories is a long war. And Vladimir Putin will end up losing it. Recent news gives reason to hope that this will be the case. The conflict in Ukraine, just 10 hours' drive from Berlin, has already led to large-scale changes in German political life, which go well beyond just energy policy. They are redrawing the contours of its defense policy, its relationship to nuclear power, state debt, and pushing the limits of the culture of compromise which characterizes the country.