How will new German government steer policy in the post-Merkel era?

During German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 16 years in office, Germany has increased its presence in the international community. Hopefully, its new government will also play a role in maintaining an international order based on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), the most successful party in Germany’s federal parliamentary election in September, together with the environmentalist Greens and the center-right Free Democratic Party, have agreed to form a coalition. A new government is expected to be inaugurated soon.

German finance minister Olaf Scholz, who belongs to the SPD, will become the new chancellor. This is the first time in 16 years that an SPD-led government will take power. There is no doubt that the new coalition government will lean more to the left than the previous one, which was led by moderate conservatives.

The fact that the three-party coalition has set more ambitious goals for measures against climate change may be a manifestation of this possible trend.

In its foreign and security policy, the new government has put emphasis on the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, pledging to follow Merkel’s policy of prioritizing multilateralism. The coalition government’s stance in this regard is praiseworthy, as it will be able to contribute to the stability of Europe.

It is particularly important that the coalition government clearly stated that it will maintain deterrence based on the commitment to share nuclear capabilities with the United States, bearing in mind the threat posed by Russia. As a result, the system of U.S.-German cooperation will be maintained, in which U.S. nuclear weapons deployed in Germany are conveyed by German fighter jets.

On the other hand, it must be said that it is questionable that the three-party coalition has expressed its intention to participate as an observer in sessions of the conference of the parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

It seems that the coalition has struck a balance by taking into account strong voices in the SPD and the Greens calling for nuclear disarmament. However, the treaty is designed to completely reject the role of nuclear deterrence. Even if Germany is to participate as an observer, won’t that position be inconsistent with the system under which Germany relies on the U.S. nuclear umbrella?

It is worrisome that some Japanese who see the coalition take such a step might insist that Japan should participate as well.

Merkel’s policy toward China, which has been criticized as too conciliatory because of its strong emphasis on economic relations, is likely to change significantly.

In its agreement, the coalition stresses its stance not to overlook China’s human rights violations and the importance of resolving conflicts in the South China Sea and the East China Sea in line with international law. The coalition also expresses its desire to support the vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and to hold regular summit and ministerial-level talks with Japan.

In contrast with Merkel, who has visited China more often than Japan, it is encouraging that the new government has clearly expressed its stance to attach importance to Japan.

Merkel will retire from politics at the same time the new government takes office. She should be given credit for her achievements in standing up to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy and populism, and striving to defend international cooperation and democracy.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 1, 2021.