For a long time, American statesmen looked at Germany with frustration: They wanted Europe’s economic giant to stop being a political dwarf.
Today there is at least a chance that her wish will be fulfilled. In a world of increasingly assertive autocracies, Germany’s potential transformation is a welcome prospect.
There are three elements to watch. The first sign of the new Germany is defence. Over the past 12 years, German military spending has averaged about $40 billion a year, or just over 1% of gross domestic product.
For comparison, in 2021 the US defense budget was about 14 times larger. But three days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that his country would henceforth exceed NATO’s military spending target of 2% of GDP “year after year”.
As a down payment, Scholz pledged $107 billion to upgrade Germany’s military capabilities, a sum almost equal to the annual defense spending of Japan and France combined.
Scholz is a workhorse, not a show horse, and he could have delivered quicker. But five months after the start of the war, Germany published a detailed list of its arms deliveries to Ukraine: around 3,000 anti-tank weapons, 3,200 man-portable air defense systems and much more. Germany has since announced further deliveries, including 100 howitzers and 16 armored bridges. Despite the pacifist roots of his SPD, Scholz keeps his promise to make Germany the leading military power in Europe.
Then there is Germany’s energy transition. When a 2011 tsunami hit Japan’s nuclear facilities at Fukushima, then-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government experienced the political equivalent of a collapse. Merkel immediately shut down about half of Germany’s nuclear power plant capacity and said the rest would be shut down by December 2022. In 2017, Merkel’s government passed legislation that more or less banned fracking, though Germany has certainly been using the technique for years to exploit its sizable natural gas reserves.
The result was a dangerous dependence on gas imports from Russia, which accounted for 55 percent of Germany’s gas consumption on the eve of the Ukraine invasion. But Russia’s attack on Ukraine was a wake-up call.
Scholz has worked intensively on the development of alternative energy sources over the past five months.
Russian gas now accounts for just 27 percent of German consumption.
Scholz has started talking about extending the life of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants.
Germany’s third transformation affects its neighbors.
A decade ago, Berlin’s rigidity during the euro crisis angered the Obama administration, which wanted a stable commercial and geopolitical partner in Europe.
Germany fueled populism in the weaker southern European economies by forcing too much austerity on them. She criticized the European Central Bank’s efforts to help her ease monetary policy.
She rejected the idea of common European bonds and closed another aid channel. It even refused to invest adequately in its own economy, depriving German industry of digital infrastructure and a useful surge of demand from the rest of Europe. Today Germany thinks differently. As part of its response to the pandemic, Berlin jointly approved more than $800 billion worth of guaranteed eurozone bonds.
Meanwhile, amid the recent financial shocks in Europe’s periphery, Germany has joined an immediate ECB pledge to support the debt of struggling governments. And domestic austerity has gone out the window. Germany’s budget deficit is 3.7 percent of GDP, a big shift from the steady pre-pandemic surpluses.
Of course, Germany has stirred once before – and then nodded off again.
In 1999 she called on the steadfastness to support a military response to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo; However, over the next decade defense spending actually declined. But today’s German awakening is less about a war of choice and more about self-preservation. Russia has proved much more dangerous than the Germans imagined.
As Lars Klingbeil, co-leader of Scholz’s party, put it, “Germany must claim to be a leading power.”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/germany-is-finally-acting-like-europes-superpower-after-a-wake-up-call-from-russia-41901394.html After a wake-up call from Russia, Germany is finally acting like Europe’s superpower