Easter break in Germany has been less peaceful than the German government might have hoped.
Over the weekend, fault lines between Germany (or rather its Social Democrat leadership) and Ukraine became evermore visible through a public clash between former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Ukraine’s Ambassador to Berlin, Anrij Melnyk.
Melnyk accused current German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of having “weaved a spider’s web of contacts with Russia for decades” during his time as foreign minister.
In a guest article for Der SpiegelGabriel rebuffed Melnyk’s criticism as “untruthful and evil” and accused the Ukrainian envoy of “conspiracy theories”.
SPD leadership now wants to meet with the Ukrainian ambassador, likely on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Chancellor Olaf Scholz is set to address the press in Berlin this afternoon at 6pm.
In normal times, a scuffle like this would have ended with both sides walking away and calling it even. But in current circumstances, with Scholz’s short-lived Zeitenwende already wanting in the country’s foreign policy, it is politically explosive material.
After a short intermezzo, Germany has become an obstacle, disrupting Europe’s sanctions efforts, while the country’s internal debate about whether to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine risks the stability of the governing coalition.
Because the truth is that Germany’s ruling SPD is staring at the ruins of its long-standing Russia-Ukraine policy, including the party’s biggest russlandversteher and former chancellor-turned-Nord Stream 2-advocate Gerhard Schröder, Gabriel, and Steinmeier’s struggles with the Minsk Peace process.
After all, it was the Social Democrats who influenced German foreign and energy policy in one way or another since 2005 through foreign ministry control except between 2009 and 2013.
Scholz, some critics point out, and a large part of the German Social Democrats are trying to already position themselves for the time after the war (whenever that might be).
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, many German politicians have publicly admitted they got Vladimir Putin wrong.
Steinmeier was the only one to speak his mea culpaunlike his party colleagues, and admitted mistakes made during his term.
But more than a few pundits have countered that the ultimate outcome of the so-called ‘Steinmeier formula’ – an attempt to unlock the Minsk peace process for Ukraine and find a solution after the occupation by pro-Russian separatists of large parts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions – is the war we’re seeing now.
Some commentators across Europe have pointed out that there might be another reason for Germany’s appeasement, beyond economic interest and political calculus, partly related to the understanding that Germany’s desolate security sector is not quite up to its most basic task.
What is more dangerous about the increasing German appeasement is something that goes beyond the case of Ukraine.
It could damage the idea of an ‘ever-closer’ European Union, which had just seemed to be back on track.
Especially so after the EU took care of more competencies in health policy amid the COVID-19 pandemic or its geopolitical awakening that produced a joint response in the first weeks of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Central and Eastern Europe and an increasingly worried Scandinavia might lose the last bit of trust they regained in France and, to a larger extent, Germany.
They have been warning about a revisionist Russia for the last two decades, warnings that Paris and Berlin have dismissed as ‘Russophobia’ and nothing else.
Instead, this could cement a stronger focus on transatlantic relations rather than on Brussels.
With that, the Kremlin would, in a way, have achieved what it wanted: a disunited European Union that can split even more easily along political fault lines than was the case before 24 February.
As the second round of the French presidential election is fast approaching, EURACTIV France and Europe Elects have compiled all the polls and projections you need.
With five days to go before the final run-off of the French presidential election, the two remaining candidates are adopting opposing strategies as far-right contender Marine Le Pen wants to be viewed as ‘presidential material’ while President Emmanuel Macron aims to get closer to the people.
The EU has been urged to step up its actions to prevent politicians, journalists, and activists from being hacked by foreign spyware following new revelations of politicians targeted by the controversial Pegasus software.
A French court ordered the maximum fine against food delivery company Deliveroo on Tuesday for not hiring couriers as employees but as self-employed as the EU prepares its directive to clarify platform workers’ status.
Cases of acute hepatitis of unknown origin were reported among children in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, the European Center for Disease Control said on Tuesday.
Russia will only use conventional weapons in Ukraine, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in response to a question about the possible use of nuclear arms in the war.
Last but not least, check out this week’s Transport Brief: Unmasking the USA.
Look out for…
- Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni will participate in G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
- Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson in Sweden to give an address on fight against organized crime at EU Day event.
- French EU Presidency will hold an information meeting of the Working Party on Trade Questions.
Views are the author’s
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Alice Taylor]