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November 28, 2019

Merkel’s legacy

Die Welt claims to have discovered Angela Merkel’s last big strategic decision: a firm commitment to an increase in defence spending to 2%, which she gave yesterday in the Bundestag. We agree with the report on one single aspect: her announcement caught the SPD and the opposition leaders by surprise - so much so that they weren’t able to react to it.  

Merkel’s target lacks credibility for three reasons: First, she won’t be around to implement it. She cannot commit future parliaments. Second, we all know that she lied about the target before. She gave a commitment to other Nato leaders to achieve the 2% target by 2024. That would have been achievable if she had invested political capital into it. And finally, she is not prepared to give up on the debt brake, as she reaffirmed in the same speech in the Bundestag yesterday. She dismissed the demands for an increase in debt as absurd. We think the following sums up her thinking - and that of the CDU.

"We never had such high investments. You can’t just approve of investments only if they cause the debt to rise."

We see the best, albeit small, hope in a German policy shift on security through an alliance between the CDU/CSU and the Greens. The Greens could be persuaded to accept higher defence spending in a European context. The CDU would in turn have to accept a massive increase in policies to wean Germany off its carbon addiction. We are not predicting that this will happen. We are saying that, if it happens, then this is the only conceivable political constellation in which it might.

More likely, it might not. Josef Janning characterised the current state of German confusion on security and European integration very well. He makes the point that Germany’s wish for ever closer union has become a veneer - something the political class supports officially but is not willing to invest any political capital in. Janning fears that a pro-European agenda may fail to win a majority among German voters. We think the following is spot on:

"The Germans continue to like ‘more Europe’ as a distant vision, but reject it as an operational strategy. The German elite has developed a taste for a national approach to the European agenda – which, conveniently, it can pursue while using widespread doubt about the feasibility of deeper integration as cover. The national approach puts the defence of one’s own short-term interests over presumed European interests; it helps fend off spending demands from others."

He predicts that there will be no return to a pro-integrationist position. That will be Merkel’s permanent legacy. Germany is also not interested in a stronger international role, either for itself or for the EU. Only a big shock could shift this equilibrium.

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