“Prepared to take the Lead”

Influential German daily offers constructive assessment of Berlin’s growing claims to “German leadership” in Europe and “European leadership” in the world.

BERLIN (Own report) – One of the most influential German dailies is offering a sort of constructive assessment of the German government’s repeated claims to leadership at EU and global levels. These claims to leadership are not new. Already more than ten years ago, the chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, had spoken of a "Zeitenwende” (historical turning point) and openly declared that Berlin must "lead Europe into a new era." For several months, a growing number of Berlin’s top politicians – including federal minsters – have again been forging ahead and declaring, like Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, “we are prepared to take the lead.” To implement the claim to leadership, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is calling for the introduction of decision-making by majority rule in EU foreign policy. This will hardly work, according to the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung: Some EU states have already balked at implementing less stringent decisions on the redistribution of refugees within the Union. Recently, Berlin has all too often limited itself to “demanding allegiance.” If it seeks success in the future, it must proceed in a “cooperative” manner.


In Berlin German leadership in Europe, or even in the world, has repeatedly been claimed in the past. For example, when Germany imposed its austerity policy on the EU during the Euro crisis, in the fall 2011, the chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Volker Kauder, declared, “we have reached a certain historical turning point in Europe. … We feel that we have to lead this Europe into a new era.”[1] Referring to Berlin’s austerity dictates, Kauder boasted, “all of a sudden German is spoken in Europe.” A “German Europe” is gaining “contours”, observers concluded at the time.[2] German predominance within the EU has also been a recurring theme among German foreign policy think tanks. Germany has to consolidate its “leadership role” in the EU, a strategy paper entitled “Zeitenwende | Wendezeiten” of the Munich Security Conference 2020 demanded: “European sovereignty … will be possible only if Germany takes on the leadership role which comes with being the EU’s largest member state.”[3] A little over a year earlier EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen extended Berlin’s claim globally by demanding, “Europe” must strengthen its “unique brand of responsible global leadership.”[4]

“Leading Power”

Following Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s officially proclaimed “Zeitenwende,” similar statements are now being regularly voiced from within Germany’s government coalition. “Germany must claim to be a leading power,” the SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil admonished exactly three months ago, on June 2. In this regard, “military force must be considered a legitimate means of politics."[5] Following this advance, also government members have expressed themselves in this direction. Germany will “make concrete proposals in the next few months” to position the Germany-dominated EU as a future “geopolitical actor,” Chancellor Scholz announced in an op-ed in July.[6] On September 5, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock declared in her keynote address at this year’s Berlin Ambassadors Conference, “We are prepared to take the lead.” Admittedly, Baerbock specified – most likely with the Green electorate in mind – that “responsible leadership” is planned “in solidarity with our friends.”[7] Without reverting to empty phraseology, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht simply declared a week later on September 12, Germany is a “leading power” – also in the military sphere.”[8]

“Instructions from Berlin”

Berlin’s claims to leadership are currently receiving a sort of constructive critical assessment by one of the most influential daily newspapers. “The reunification and the move [of the capital] from Bonn to Berlin” have “actually engendered what some of our neighbors had been fearing,” observes a recent commentary in the conservative flagship Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). “Since Gerhard Schröder’s time in office, Germany has been appearing increasingly self-confident and not seldom, even autocratic to the outside world.”[9] “Over the past few years German leadership” has, in practice “often demanded what amounts to allegiance.” For example, the German government demanded “austerity from the partners, during the euro crisis,” “during the refugee crisis, the acceptance of asylum-seekers, in Russia policy, the acceptance of Nord Stream 2.” “The anti-German resentment, that is resurging in Europe,” is “also in reaction to Berlin’s ‘leadership’, which, in reality, has often consisted of going it alone.” Repeatedly, on issues ranging from climate, to nuclear, to women’s issues, the German government has forged ahead without consultation. “Our partners,” the FAZ notes, “know … Berlin’s instructions. They seldom follow them.”

“Only Cooperatively Possible”

The journal explicitly warns not to attempt to break existing resistance within the EU by introducing majority-rule decisions – even on EU foreign policy issues. The latter has for years been a core element of Germany’s demands in Brussels. Chancellor Scholz recently explicitly endorsed this plan. “The majority rule in the council benefits … the larger member countries, because the size of the population is taken into account,” the FAZ explains. Scholz is “ultimately interested in taking away the right of veto from the smaller countries.”[10] However, that is risky. In foreign policy, it is “ultimately a question of war and peace.” “The idea,” of being able to overrule other EU member countries “on such magnanimous issues” is “alienating.” This is not even possible within NATO. Already, as is well known, the less stringent 2015 decision to distribute refugees within the EU was “successfully refused by several East European countries.” The journal therefore explicitly suggests that there be no majority rule decisions in EU foreign policy matters. “If Germany wants to be the leading power, (...) then in the future, that can only be achieved through cooperation.” The same holds true for the domain, where Scholz wants to subject to majority rule first – the policy of sanctions.

“No Leadership without Nuclear Weapons”

Beyond advice to refrain from ostentatious autocratic behavior and to rather incorporate smaller EU member countries through “seeking compromise and obtaining a consensus,” the FAZ points out another primary problem confronting Berlin’s foreign policy: Unlike France or Great Britain – Germany does not have nuclear weapons. “A leading power without nuclear weapons” however, notes the journal, “has not been seen since 1945.”[11] This is also why in Germany, for years demands have repeatedly been raised to either establish an EU nuclear military force – presumably by drawing on France’s nuclear potential – or even for Germany to acquire its own nuclear weapons. Most recently, in May, the First Parliamentary Director of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, Thorsten Frei, called for the EU to set up its own “nuclear protective shield.” (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[12])


[1] „Auf einmal wird in Europa Deutsch gesprochen“. welt.de 15.11.2011. See also Jetzt wird Deutsch gesprochen.

[2] Gunter Hofmann: Deutsches Europa. zeitschrift-ip.dgap.org 09.12.2011. See also Alte Dämonen.

[3] Zeitenwende | Wendezeiten Special Edition of the Munich Security Report on German Foreign and Security Policy. Munich, October 2020. See also Die „Koalition der Entschlossenen” (II).

[4] Ursula von der Leyen: A union that strives for more: My agenda for Europe. Political guidelines for the next European Commission 2019-2024. 16.07.2019. See also Lust for Power.

[5] „Der Westen hat sich zu lange sicher gefühlt“. ipg-journal.de 22.06.2022.

[6] Olaf Scholz: Nach der Zeitenwende. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 18.07.2022. See also Germany as Leading Power.

[7] Keynote address by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the 20th Ambassadors Conference. auswaertiges-amt.de 05.09.2022.

[8] „Deutschlands Gewicht macht uns zur Führungsmacht“. tagesschau.de 12.09.2022. See also “We are a Leading Power”.

[9] Nikolas Busse: Keine Führungsmacht. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 19.09.2022.

[10] Nikolas Busse: Die falsche Lehre aus dem Krieg. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.09.2022.

[11] Nikolas Busse: Keine Führungsmacht. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 19.09.2022.

[12] See also Die „Atom-Supermacht Europa“.