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Germany’s national security strategy: What does it mean for Europe?

Filipe Ataíde Lampe

Date: 03/07/2023
Looking ahead, Germany’s first-ever security strategy needs to be synchronised with the EU’s policymaking if Berlin is serious about the European foundation of its integrated approach.

On 14 June, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, together with four ministers, presented the country’s first-ever national security strategy. While the strategy successfully addresses the multidimensionality of security in today’s geopolitical environment, it falls short of an integrated approach towards Europe. It primarily presents the EU as a framework for possible upscaling of its national security projects.

A more integrated approach towards existing EU tools and frameworks (including the strategic compass, PESCO, or even the European Green Deal), as well as a refined vision for the EU’s security as a whole and institutional setting, would be desirable. In this regard, the strategy remains rather vague and should be further strengthened. After more than 70 years of EU membership, Germany’s first-ever security strategy underlines a worrying general trend. The Union is increasingly being reduced to an afterthought in Germany’s first-ever security strategy. It is, therefore, crucial to link Germany’s integrated approach to the Union’s political reality, while also considering the security concerns and perspectives of its fellow EU member states.

"Serving world peace in a united Europe" : Germany’s vision for Europe and the world

The 74-page paper establishes expectations that Germany's security strategy is founded on a unified Europe with a strong transatlantic alliance as its foundation, particularly in times of Zeitenwende. As a result, it is vital to evaluate how some of the strategy’s most important policy fields, notably defence, economic stability and climate change, are interlinked with EU policies. So, what exactly is in the strategy regarding Europe?

Following the paper, defending the rules-based international order should be prioritised. Berlin's decision-makers want to strongly support targeted military mobility initiatives of both NATO and the EU and harmonise military capability requirements through European solutions for procurement. In the post-24 February 2022 world, Russia remains the greatest threat to peace and security in the Euro-Atlantic area. In addition to the one-off financial injection of 100 billion euros into the German armed forces, the strategy provides black and white evidence that Germany is committed to meeting NATO's 2% of GDP target. However, whether or not these targets will be met in the years to come remains questionable.

Increased defence spending will also likely include investments in cyber defence and space capabilities. In light of Russia’s ongoing war, ensuring Ukraine's resilience as a democratic and free country is a further priority. Yet, the fact that Berlin is not pushing for a substantially higher level of defence (industry) integration among the EU and fails to address the security concerns of its fellow EU member states undermines its new security paradigm’s integrated (and European) approach. 

Following the paper, the security of the EU’s Southern and Eastern neighbourhood should be prioritised by supporting the Western Balkans states, Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova and, in future, Georgia, in striving for EU membership.

China also has a prominent role in Germany’s new strategy. While condemning Beijing's ambitions to undermine regional stability and international security and its disregard for human rights, Berlin counts on China as a partner to address challenges of mutual interest, such as fighting climate change.

Furthermore, the strategy links the country’s security to its economic growth. Be it foreign investments in critical infrastructure or the procurement of raw materials, medicines, or energy, economic dependencies should be avoided at all costs. Since the war in Ukraine, Europe’s leaders have known how authoritarian regimes may use all dependencies to weaken and blackmail democracies. While supporting the EU’s Critical Raw Materials Act, Germany also wants to use the full potential of the Union’s trade agreements to strengthen resilience, security and prosperity. Yet, if the strategy would bring about more concrete proposals for the EU’s internal market and better coordination with other member states, it could strengthen economic diversification much needed to make economic security a new EU paradigm.

Finally, the planetary crisis is recognised as a major security threat. Germany is expected to use diplomacy to scale up international efforts to limit the negative consequences of climate change. Berlin will soon publish its first-ever climate-foreign policy strategy and climate adaptation law. The ruling coalition aims to further develop international climate clubs and incentives for linking decarbonisation to economic growth. However, the paper fails to address the EU’s potential as a climate action leader. The EU and its European Green Deal flagship could serve as a role model for many of the EU’s partners wanting to transform their economies sustainably – a dimension the paper fails to prioritise.

The strategy is out: What does it mean for Brussels and Berlin’s policymakers?

Berlin’s security strategy pinpoints the various challenges that we are facing in times of permacrisis. However, the strategy would be strengthened if it also entails a detailed roadmap towards clearer financial and policy goals on implementing the strategy, and anchors Germany’s security concerns into the EU’s context and vice versa. Otherwise, there is a risk of Germany and the EU failing to follow through on several of the aims.

The document also seems to lack a vision for concrete institutional reforms (in Germany and the EU), which is crucial for strengthening the foreign and security policy capacity of both actors, as well as a detailed plan on how the measures will be funded. Although suggested by some of Germany’s political parties, the plan also avoids the creation of a so-called centralised National Security Council. With competences being decentralised from the German Chancellery, it remains to be seen how different authorities will implement promised measures and link them to existing EU policies in a decentralised manner.  

From strategy to action: Delivering on the integrated security approach

If Berlin is serious about the integrated character of the paper, it must clarify how it plans to integrate the new measures into the EU’s institutional setting and existing policies. In addition, it is important that Germany considers the security concerns of other EU member states. Hence, German and EU policymakers need to prioritise channelling the new strategy into the broader EU context.

To strengthen synergies between Brussels and Berlin and synchronise this new strategic thinking with existing European efforts, policymakers in Berlin and Brussels should:

●  Enhance the exchange between Germany and the EU on the implementation and follow-up of the strategy. While the strategy would benefit from closer consultations between Brussels and Berlin from the start of the process, both sides could profit from an enhanced dialogue and mutual understanding on the concrete follow-up of Berlin’s new integrated security approach. This way, Germany’s new priorities could be better aligned with the EU’s relevant policy areas and frameworks (e.g. in the context of the European Green Deal, Global Gateway, ‘Team Europe’ initiatives or the EU’s civil protection mechanism). Strengthening the EU’s and Germany’s de-risking approach in the international arena would be a significant first step toward mutual benefits.

●  Anticipate and factor in Germany’s monetary budgetary shifts. Although no price tag was attached to the strategy, investments are likely to follow, and there will have to be trade-offs in other policy areas to afford increasing investments in the years to come. While Germany will strengthen its investments in key areas of the proposal, such as defence (in every aspect), diplomacy, economic and financial stability or development cooperation, the EU should assess and take into consideration the effects on other member states stemming from Germany’s increased investments into security and therefore make it a more inclusive and integrated security strategy.

Integrate the new strategic thinking into existing European efforts. The EU has tools at hand, be it the European Green Deal, Global Gateway or Team Europe initiatives. As the strategy represents a starting point, Germany’s policymakers should constantly engage with their European counterparts so that existing strategies can take into account new security dimensions rather than having Berlin reinvent the wheel. There is also potential for mutual benefits between the German and EU priorities as the Union needs to adapt to a new European security environment through following-up on the EEAS strategic compass or updating its 2016 Global Strategy in a cross-topical and post-Zeitenwende manner.

Europeanising the strategy

Today’s world requires European and global solutions to multifaceted challenges. Therefore, it is crucial that, in almost every aspect of the German strategy, the EU should play a fundamental role rather than being an afterthought.

However, it is now up to Berlin, in close synchronisation with Brussels, to follow up with concrete (and European) measures and, with EU decision-makers, make it an integrated and European success story.

Filipe Ataíde Lampe is a Project Manager of the Connecting Europe project at the European Policy Centre.

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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