Five Questions, Four Agendas Germany's Top Parties Debate Foreign Policy Agenda

Some big issues await the next German government: European integration, Afghanistan, climate change, the economic crisis and the Middle East peace process. IP asked the politicians who may soon be steering German foreign policy to outline their responses to these challenges.


Editor's note: IP Global recently interviewed top foreign policy experts from Germany's top political parties in a discussion about priorities abroad for the country's next government, which will be elected on Sept. 27.

European Integration

In the wake of the decision handed down by Germany's Constitutional Court, what are the prospects for the European project if the role of national parliaments is to be strengthened? Can Germany continue to function as a motor of integration? And is the issue now one of expanding or of deepening the European Union?

Gernot Erler, state minister in Germany's Foreign Ministry with the center-left Social Democrats: In my opinion, strengthening national parliaments is not a barrier to Europe's development. Instead, it helps strengthen the European Union's political legitimacy. The Federal Government has never circumvented parliament in its pursuit of European policy. On the contrary, it has always been able to count on a cross-party understanding of the necessity of European integration. The Federal Constitutional Court has made it clear that our current constitutional order provides a framework for European unification. National governments have been assigned the task of contributing to the success of the process of European unification from within this framework. At a time when we need increasing international cooperation to respond to global problems (climate change, financial crisis, pandemics and so on) we need a European Union capable of effective action. EU expansion and consolidation are not mutually exclusive, and this will remain so in future.

Eckart von Klaeden, foreign-policy expert spokesperson for the conservative Christian Democratic Union's parliamentary group: The current financial and economic crisis as well as the fight against international terrorism, organized crime, and, in particular, climate change, clearly show the limits of any one nation to solve problems on its own. As far as Germany is concerned, the European Union is the main framework within which to address challenges that cannot be efficiently met in a national framework, if they can be met at all.

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This is why European integration, like transatlantic relations, is still one of the main pillars of German foreign policy. The remaining ratifications of the Lisbon Treaty, which are expected to take place in the fall of this year, and the treaty's subsequent entry into law will considerably strengthen the problem-solving capacity of the European Union. The Federal Constitutional Court's ruling does not alter that fact. Germany, together with France and its other partners, must advance the consolidation of the European Union, whose membership has now grown to 27, while at the same time remaining open to new members.

Jürgen Trittin, the Greens' leading candidate in the 2009 election and former federal environment minister from 1998-2005: The verdict was a defeat for Euro-critical populists like Herr Gauweiler of the CSU and the Left Party, who oppose the European project. The Federal Constitutional Court said yes to the Lisbon Treaty and called for the increased influence of the national parliament. But the Bundestag must finally take on more responsibility in the process of European integration. The Lisbon Treaty now requires a new collateral law that strengthens the rights of the Bundestag and Bundesrat and enables the legislators to fully represent their citizens, even on EU matters. This does not mean a discontinuation of the European project -- on the contrary.

There are two matters at stake with the treaty. First, with the reform of institutions and the decision-making processes, the community of states can become more capable of action -- particularly in terms of foreign policy. Second, we need the treaty to prevent an inner paralysis of the community through the process of expansion.

But those, like the Christian Democrats, who claim to see a populist anti-Turkey policy in the treaty do it a disservice. We support the accession talks with Croatia and Turkey as well as accession prospects for the West Balkan countries. Of course, all EU criteria need to be met before the admission -- of Turkey, Croatia, Iceland, and all future candidates. Then the door will be opened.

Guido Westerwelle is head of the Free Democratic Party and is the FDP's leading candidate in this year's election: Expanding and deepening the European Union are not contradictory objectives. However, the most pressing issue at the moment is to ensure that the European Union is able to continue fulfilling its vital function. The Lisbon Treaty is a milestone in this respect and an important prerequisite for the success of all subsequent steps towards integration.

The German Constitutional Court's ruling on Lisbon emphasizes that in transferring sovereign rights, a particular responsibility for integration falls to the legislature. The Lisbon Treaty provides for the transfer of sovereign rights by nation states to the Union, in many cases without requiring formal ratification. The court's ruling makes it very clear that this is not possible without the parliament's agreement. The necessary democratic legitimation needs to come from the citizens, not governments.

At the same time, it is vital that Germany retains its capacity to act at an international and a European level. The Constitutional Court has also taken this into account by emphasizing the compatibility of European law and the German constitution. Germany's role as a motor of integration is not called into question by this ruling. Germany is part of a federation of states whose historical success is based on a capacity for compromise and the renunciation of national unilateralism. Equally important is the fact that only those with a degree of flexibility can hope to exert a significant influence on policy at the EU level.

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