What Germany’s new government means for the country’s EU policy


How will Germany’s European policy change under the country’s new government? Based on new data, Ann-Kathrin Reinl and Stefan Wallaschek show that the three coalition partners – the Social Democrats (SPD), the Greens and the Liberal Democrats (FDP) – are not as close to each other on European issues as one might assume. Everything will depend on how the government can reconcile the pro-EU positions of the Greens with the soft euroscepticism of the FDP.

The recently elected German government has set ambitious goals for its term – mehr Fortschrittwagen (dare to make more progress) as the coalition agreement calls it. One of the central policy areas of the new legislature is undoubtedly European policy. During the election campaign, the Greens excelled on issues concerning the European Union and consistently offered European solutions on topics such as fiscal policy, climate and environmental policy or migration and asylum policy. Consequently, Annalena Baerbock, head of the Green list, became Foreign Minister and, together with her Ministers of State, pledged to strong and coherent European policy.

The coalition agreement also stipulates that the new federal government is committed to strengthening the EU legislature, ie the European Parliament, and wants to make the EU a “European federal state”. In addition, the Next Generation EU program, which was adopted in response to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, is supported in the agreement. Regarding the social dimension, the coalition aims to minimize social inequalities in the EU and strengthen the pillar of social rights. Thus, the new German government is following a ambitious government plan.

However, despite the new “traffic light” coalition of Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) being judged to have the highest probability to be successful among the available coalition options, one may wonder to what extent the coalition is really united on European issues, in particular with regard to the EU social agenda.

In order to shed more light on this aspect, we use a recently published expert database on the estimated positions of the parties whose assessments were collected in the run-up to the 2021 Bundestag elections. We rely on articles particularly dedicated to the EU and solidarity policies within the community. We look at three issues: the extension of legislative competences at EU level, the introduction of an EU-wide social system and financial assistance in the event of an economic crisis. We focus on the three coalition partners, the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, to determine their position on these issues. Three main conclusions can be drawn from Figure 1.

Figure 1: Positions of the three ruling parties on EU policies

Source: Compiled by the authors. The higher the parties are positioned on the y-axis, the more they support pro-EU policies.

First, the three coalition partners are not as close to each other on European issues as one might assume at the outset. The FDP in particular is clearly more Eurosceptic than the Greens and the SPD on all three issues. This means that the FDP could slow down or even block any expansion or deepening of European integration. Especially with Finance Minister Christian Lindner’s stance, progressive EU social policy reform proposals could quickly come up against internal resistance within the government.

Second, the Greens confirm their pro-European position by representing (or being seen to represent) the strongest and most coherent position in the EU. They could thus become the driving force behind a new dynamic in German European policy. This firm position is underlined by the aforementioned reinforcement of the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for European matters. Additionally, longtime Green MEP Sven Giegold became Minister of State in Robert Habeck’s newly structured Department for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (Vice-Chancellor and Co-Leader of the Greens) alongside of Franziska Brantner, another ecologist. politician with explicit EU expertise who joined Habeck’s team. The Greens could thus pressure the German government from two central ministries to address and implement their ambitious European agenda. However, it will certainly not go smoothly with the other two partners.

Thirdly, the SPD has a double mediating position. Not only because his position was estimated by experts somewhere between the Greens and the FDP (with greater proximity to the Greens), but also because Chancellor Olaf Scholz will probably have to find a compromise between the strongly pro-European Greens and the slightly eurosceptic FDP. It is possible that Scholz will have to appeal to the political competence of the Chancellor (Richtlinienekompetenz) to the government in order to give the SPD a European profile in the new legislature. This would create an important sign for voters who explicitly voted for the SPD because of its stance on European integration, as previous research has shown.

In summary, the new coalition could face lasting internal conflicts when it comes to pursuing substantial and lasting EU reform policies. With two left-wing parties in government for the first time since the Schröder-Fischer era (1998-2005), there is a chance to bring about real change and strengthen solidarity in the European Union. Such a reform effort is badly needed given the ongoing pandemic and the multiple crises that have followed over the past decade.

Furthermore, in the context of the upcoming presidential elections in France and a potential end of the Macron presidency, the EU could welcome stronger and more progressive leadership from the German government. Therefore, how the Greens and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock implement their European policy proposals will not only be relevant: how the FDP adapts and positions itself on European issues in the new government will be also crucial, as is the extent to which the Greens are supported by Chancellor Scholz.

Note: This article gives the point of view of the authors, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: European Council


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