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Germany: Is the "Traffic Light" Going Out?

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Photo: Olaf Scholz has long avoided tough decisions but has finally started making them. The Chancellor announced permission for Kyiv to use German weapons against targets on Russian territory. Source: Getty Images
Photo: Olaf Scholz has long avoided tough decisions but has finally started making them. The Chancellor announced permission for Kyiv to use German weapons against targets on Russian territory. Source: Getty Images

The upcoming European Parliament elections on 9 June will be a significant test for Germany's ruling coalition. Chancellor Olaf Scholz, an experienced politician but not particularly popular as head of government, may face a series of challenges that could lead to early parliamentary elections. He addressed some of these challenges during a government statement on the "current security situation" at a Bundestag plenary session on 6 June.


Scholz has failed to become the informal political leader of Europe, a role previously held by Chancellor Angela Merkel. This status is now being claimed by French President Emmanuel Macron, while Scholz often finds himself on the defensive. In December 2021, he took the helm of a coalition government formed by his Social Democrats, the Greens, and the Free Democrats. Due to the party colours, Scholz's government is referred to as the "traffic light" coalition, but it is far from certain that he has control over it.


Within the first hundred days of Scholz's chancellorship, Russia launched its large-scale aggression against Ukraine. Under Merkel's leadership, Germany became a co-founder of the Normandy Format (Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine), which attempted to curb the Kremlin's ambitions through diplomatic means. The results were limited, and Berlin had to shift its policy direction.


Despite initial reservations from German politicians, German weapons began to be supplied to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and the Rheinmetall Group announced its readiness to build arms and ammunition manufacturing plants in Ukraine. Germany is a leading supplier of weapons to Ukraine, but the ongoing issue is Scholz's refusal to permit the supply of long-range Taurus missiles to Ukraine. Berlin's formal approval for the use of German weapons extends primarily to long-range 155mm howitzers, which is clearly insufficient to strengthen Scholz's political position.


It is worth noting that more than a million Ukrainian refugees reside in Germany, attracted by the social assistance system and employment opportunities in Europe's largest economy. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently reminded that one in four German citizens has a migrant background. While this is a positive argument for Ukrainians, a survey by the Bild portal found that 40% of respondents see cutting aid to Ukraine as the main tool for financial recovery.


A necessary aside: in November last year, the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany declared the allocation of €60 billion unconstitutional, and this deficit will need to be addressed through unpopular measures. It would not be surprising if, following the European Parliament elections, the ruling coalition announces its dissolution and calls for early Bundestag elections. This would allow political forces to undergo renewal through new elections, gain a vote of confidence, and, with a high likelihood, form a new coalition that is unlikely to re-elect Olaf Scholz as Chancellor.


Germany exemplifies current European political sentiments. On one hand, the increasingly controversial "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) openly flaunts its ties with the Kremlin. Recently, AfD MPs Petr Bystron and Maximilian Krah were stripped of their parliamentary immunity; the former faces corruption charges, while the latter not only suggested that not all SS officers were criminals but also harboured a foreign spy in his office. Additionally, AfD leader Hannes Gnauck voluntarily relinquished his immunity after being labelled an extremist by military counterintelligence a few years ago. Despite these issues, AfD holds strong positions in the eastern federal states (former East Germany), which have yet to reach the overall German standard of living.


While AfD has become a familiar problem in German political life, the resurgence of former "Left" party member Sahra Wagenknecht poses a significant challenge for Scholz and his party comrades. The popular politician and skilled orator has launched a personal project, the "Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance for Reason and Justice." Wagenknecht adeptly promotes pro-Kremlin narratives, advocates for halting arms supplies to Ukraine, and calls for lifting sanctions on Russia. She could be a surprise contender in the European Parliament elections. Her husband, Oskar Lafontaine, is a recognised authority in the left-centrist milieu.


Another issue ahead of the European Parliament elections is the rise in violence and intolerance in German society. Recently, an Islamist fanatic attack in Mannheim resulted in the death of a police officer, with the assailant being shot by colleagues. In the same city, a candidate from the "Alternative for Germany" was stabbed. These horrific coincidences have not yet caused widespread repercussions, fortunately.


Today, it is crucial for Germany to avoid becoming the Germany of a century ago, a task that all politicians must recognise regardless of their political orientation. It is unwise to take too seriously the statement by Free Democrat Bundestag member Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, who essentially encouraged the destruction of Russian aircraft. Her remark was more a part of the election campaign than a reflection of general public sentiment. Germany is weakening and awaits political renewal.


However, Scholz's speech on 6 June in the Bundestag was more than balanced, despite its undoubtedly electoral function. The loudest topics were two security issues: the deportation of migrants who committed crimes and the war in Ukraine.


In his address to the Bundestag, Scholz said what German citizens wanted to hear. He assured that he would do everything possible to ensure Germany is not drawn into Russia's war against Ukraine. This position of "we do not want to be involved" is not new from Olaf Scholz. However, days before his speech, the Chancellor announced permission for Kyiv to use German weapons against targets on Russian territory. Hardly anyone expected such a decision, and the resistance was colossal. The reason was the same – the fear that it could drag Germany into the war.


"We closely coordinated our response with our allies. As always," Scholz told Bundestag members. What caused the change in mood within the German government? The barbaric shelling by Russian forces of the 1.5 million-strong city of Kharkiv, located 21 kilometres from the Russian border. This could indeed lead to the supply of Taurus missiles.

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