By William Tucker
Germany recently held federal elections with Armin Laschet, the successor to Angela Merkel within the Christian Democratic Union, coming in second. Though Mr. Laschet could conceivably form a government, the odds are that a government coalition led by the center-left will ultimately prevail.
Regardless of the new government’s composition, Germany will not change much, if at all, in how it behaves. Democratic rule creates turbulence in Germany’s leadership, but the overall trajectory of this nation-state will change very little.
Ultimately, the demographics, economics and geographic location of Germany are its dictating forces. Germany’s demographics are also in decline, which is not helping the situation.
Germany’s Economy Depends Upon Its Exports
In essence, the Germany that emerged from reunification will still face the same issues. Germany is an export-oriented economy that plays a significant role in the European Union, and export economies need customers and producers to work.
Germany Also Needs Energy, but Is Alienating Eastern Neighbors
In addition, Berlin’s need for energy is alienating Germany from its eastern neighbors. With natural gas prices rising significantly and the potential for more sanctions currently under discussion in Congress, Germany may soon find itself torn between national interests and international obligations.
It is no secret that there is some discontent within the European Union, stemming from the 2008 financial crisis, and many nations have experienced uneven economic recoveries. The pandemic, as usual, has exacerbated things with energy prices chief amongst the short-term concerns with winter on the horizon.
Russia Can Provide Germany with Natural Gas, But at a High Cost
Natural gas prices in Europe have risen nearly 400% this year, and Russia, the top provider of natural gas in Europe, has decreased deliveries via the Yamal-Europe pipeline by 77%. Russia often uses natural gas deliveries as a political tool to punish nations – namely Ukraine – downstream.
In the past, the delay or diminishing natural gas deliveries hit nations further to the west, but Russia now has pipelines such as the Nord Stream 2 that allow Moscow to bypass nations it finds troublesome. Furthermore, Russia is planning a bypass on the Yamal-Europe pipeline that will cut out Ukraine entirely, which is why the U.S. has been aggressive in trying to disrupt the completion of Nord Stream 2.
Germany and Russia Potentially Need Each Other
Germany needs energy for its large and robust economy, but this need comes at the expense of the collective security agreement under NATO.
Merkel began floating the idea of an EU military because it would cut out the U.S. and thus pressure from Washington to support non-EU members on the continent. Unsurprisingly, Germany failed to gain traction with an increasingly skeptical Europe on such a proposal.
Germany has tried to cement its relationship with Russia in the face of pushback from across the continent. Germany needs the energy that Russia provides, and Russia would like an economic relationship with Germany that could offer Moscow some economic diversity.
Berlin has been soft in responding to Russian assassinations against dissidents in Germany, among other atrocities, because of Germany’s need for a working relationship with Russia. Strangely enough, this need for a relationship may push Germany towards working unilaterally in pursuit of its interests.
Germany has tried and, in many ways, succeeded in using the EU as a vehicle for German growth with minimal dissention, but that took place during more prosperous times. Berlin has tried to balance its individual interests with those of the EU and NATO, yet it is increasingly difficult to see how this balance can continue without a wider economic turnaround on the European continent to relieve some of this pressure from Germany.
Unfortunately, this economic turn is unlikely to happen, nor will Germany abandon its quest for energy to fuel its economy. Perhaps Otto von Bismarck was correct when he noted, “The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.” When such a pact happens, Europe does not escape unscathed.