New German Chancellor facing series of foreign policy crises

Rarely has a German leader come to power with so many searing crises.

When Olaf Scholz is sworn in as Chancellor in early December, he will have to deal with an outbreak of pandemic, tensions on the Polish-Belarusian border, a Russian president mobilizing troops near Ukraine, a more confrontational China and the United States. United less reliable.

“While we were negotiating, some crises have dramatically reached their climax and developed,” said Robert Habeck, co-leader of the Greens and vice-chancellor designate of Mr. Scholz, at a joint press conference to unveil their new government pact. “We take over the government in times of crisis. “

Foreign policy was barely discussed in the campaign but it may well end up dominating the first months of the new administration. With Germany taking over the presidency of the Group of 7 in January, Mr Scholz will immediately be drawn to a host of pressing international issues.

On Wednesday, the new chancellor made it clear where his priorities lie.

“A sovereign Europe is the key to our foreign policy,” Scholz told reporters. “As the economically strongest and most populous country at the heart of Europe, it is our duty to make this sovereign Europe possible, to promote it and to take it forward.”

Few analysts expect Mr Scholz to change course significantly from his predecessor, Angela Merkel, who took him to the Group of 20 meeting last month and introduced him to a number of world leaders, including President Biden.

But with so many fires burning on the international stage and some structural geopolitical changes underway, the circumstances – and his two more hawkish coalition partners – could force Mr Scholz’s hand.

In Europe, one of the first tests Mr Scholz will face is how to deal with Poland, which has violated some of the democratic principles that underpin membership of the European Union but is also under pressure from neighboring Belarus, a Russian ally.

Mr Scholz’s Social Democrats are traditionally conciliatory with Russia, supporting projects like the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. But if Moscow launches a new offensive in Ukraine, it would be a significant test.

In China, the picture is more complicated.

As Beijing became more confrontational and German industry became more open to its dependence on the Chinese market, Germany’s Chinese policy was ripe to evolve from the mercantilist soft touch of the Merkel era, according to analysts.

“The German position will harden vis-à-vis China for structural reasons,” Kleine-Brockhoff said. “Mister. Scholz is not a hawk. But he is not Merkel either and he will come under pressure from other parties in his government,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr Scholz hinted at a more values-based foreign policy.

“What makes us who we are, whether we are democracies, whether we defend freedom and the rule of law, will of course play a role, because we are particularly linked to certain countries, in particular the United States,” because these values ​​have shaped us, ”he said.

In the United States, Mr. Scholz has an apparent center-left ally in Mr. Biden. Since former President Bill Clinton’s second term, the White House and the German Chancellery have not been in the hands of center-left leaders.

But few in Berlin want to rely too much on Washington.

“We don’t know how reliable the Biden administration is and we don’t know how long it will be in power,” Jana Puglierin of the European Council on Foreign Relations said.

As one of Mr. Scholz’s advisers put it, “Biden is America first, just more polite. “

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