Don’t say it too loudly, but Germany is on a war footing. It may not feel like it, because bombs do not fall on German cities, and German troops do not fight in other countries. Yet the fiscal response to the pandemic, climate change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put Germany in a state of crisis.
Whether through efforts to save jobs, secure energy supplies, or rebuild its military, Germany is going into debt and spending billions in ways it has rarely done since World War II. As often happens in times of war, certain goods became scarce and inflation soared.
“It’s hard, especially in Germany, to say that word ‘war,’ but it’s also important to say it and understand what it means,” JD Bindenagel, a former US diplomat in Germany and now senior professor at the University of Bonn. .
“Gas is hybrid warfare. The collateral damage is inflation,” he added, referring to Russia’s throttling of its supplies of natural gas, which Germany has long depended on.
German government is under intense pressure to stop importing Russian gas
Domestic pressures respond to geopolitical demands
It is in this context that US President Nancy Pelosi meets Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin on Friday. They met once before in their current roles, just days before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
The main reason for Pelosi’s trip is a G7 meeting with parliamentary counterparts, and his meeting with the chancellor will be brief. But this is an opportunity for the two allies to gauge each other before a winter that could be critical for both of them.
Energy prices are skyrocketing more than the pockets of many Germans are deep. Scholz and his three-party coalition are under immense domestic pressure to keep factories running and homes warm this winter, while discouraging consumption and promoting renewable energy.
They worked to portray the crisis as Germany’s sacrifice for Ukraine’s freedom. At the same time, officials have expressed grave concern over a public backlash once the cold sets in. A majority in Germany supports sanctions against Russia, according to the latest DeutschlandTREND poll, but that figure has fallen from at least two-thirds earlier this year to just over half this month.
“Pelosi will test Germany’s resilience in the face of the energy crisis. Scholz will reassure Pelosi that Germany is tough and will survive the winter,” Bindenagel said.
Waiting for the other
In return, Scholz will likely want to assess Pelosi’s longevity as leader of the United States House of Representatives. The role of president places her second in the presidential succession and, at least on paper, gives her a stature equal to that of the president.
The House is primarily responsible for spending, which means Pelosi plays a major role in approving military and other aid to Ukraine. So far, the United States has committed more than $44 billion, according to the Kiel Institute, through early August. More than half of this amount was military aid.
The 82-year-old career politician is thus a formidable representative of American politics and interests. However, the US midterm elections are less than two months away and voters could return Pelosi to the minority. While the Democrats could stage an upset, the polls and history are tilted against them. More often than not, the party that begins with control of both the White House and Congress ends up losing the latter in the next election cycle.
US policymaking could therefore become more paralyzed just as allies like Germany wait for a transatlantic signal about how high to set the decibel level to support Ukraine, especially militarily.
“We have agreed with our partners that we will not take any unilateral decisions from Germany,” German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told an audience in Berlin this week, referring to the government’s continued resistance to delivering tanks and other heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Critics have lambasted the stance, especially amid Ukraine’s recent successes against Russian forces on the battlefield. Softer voices also expressed some wariness.
“I believe Germany wants to take more leadership, and we hope and expect it to do so,” US Ambassador Amy Gutmann told public broadcaster ZDF last week.
Many want to see German tanks sent to Ukraine
No light between allies
The United States has also held back heavy weapons so far, and while German aid is lagging in absolute terms and in terms of GDP, the Kiel Institute estimates that Germany has made more of its military commitment than the United States.
According to a reading of a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this week, Scholz said a diplomatic solution is not possible without three preconditions: the withdrawal of Russian troops, the recognition of Ukrainian sovereignty and the restoration of its territorial integrity. It marks a slight but critical departure from some voices in his party and other corners of the German political spectrum who have been pushing for a settlement.
It’s also a different tone from the more hawkish stance that aims to defeat Russia. Scholz’s formulation puts him on the path to potential help in ending the war, though much depends on Ukraine’s progress on the battlefield, Russia’s response and Western signals.
Friday’s meeting between Pelosi and Scholz is therefore another chance for the two allies to align their strategies and objectives. The end of the war would only be the beginning of a new set of challenges, whether it’s figuring out what a relationship with Russia will look like afterward, coexisting with China, making talks about the strengthening transatlantic economic resilience.
“They don’t want any light between us and them,” Bindenagel, the retired diplomat, said of Germany’s closeness to the United States.
Their efforts to close any gaps come exactly as Russia, China and their allies met in Uzbekistan to do the same at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an eight-nation security alliance. created to counterbalance American influence.
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