07:04 GMT +315 December 2018
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    A screen that shows the TV debate between German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and her challenger Germany's Social Democratic Party SPD candidate for chancellor Martin Schulz in Berlin, Germany, September 3, 2017.

    Chief Contenders in Upcoming German Elections and Their Foreign Policy Programs

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    The Germans will choose members of the 630-seat Bundestag this Sunday. Here are the main highlights of foreign policy programs of the key contenders.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The parliament will then elect the federal chancellor, who, in turn, will be able to form a government. The chancellor needs an absolute majority to be elected.

    The foreign policy programs of the key contenders in the upcoming German federal elections are similar when it comes to the European Union, but differ somewhat on NATO defense spending and the strategy for the relationship with Turkey.

    Primer on Parties

    Although there are several parties in the running, media attention so far has focused on the two heavyweights, the ruling alliance of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and its sister party, the Christian Social Union in Bavaria (CSU), and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), helmed by Martin Schulz.

    The right-wing Alternative fuer Deutschland party (AfD) has recently gained special attention due to its unusually strong performance in the polls, with some pollsters predicting it to come in third place.

    Other contenders include the Left Party (Die Linke), the environmentalist Green Party, and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

    The FDP and the Greens are the parties most likely to be able to form coalitions with the two larger movements, although the SPD might also accept the Left. Another possibility is the so-called "Grand Coalition," a merger of the SPD and Merkel’s CDU/CSU.

    United Europe to Remain Priority

    Both the SPD and the CDU/CSU are strongly in favor of the European Union. The CDU/CSU have said in their election manifesto that they would like to further stabilize the EU, but have drawn the line at merging debts. The SPD stands for increased cohesion inside Europe and welcomes a joint economic government as well as an expansion of the EU Parliament’s powers and advocates a European constitution.

    Both Schulz and Merkel have backed French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a common eurozone budget with a permanent European finance minister, but the stated approval may or may not translate into an actual change of policy.

    "Any idea that implies transfers of risks and revenues between countries, including the idea of setting up a spending ministry with its own pan-EU taxes or issuance of pan-EU debt, will be opposed by Germany. Germany [all political sides] in reality deeply opposes Macron's proposals," Sebastien Cochard, a member of the French right-wing National Front (FN) party, told Sputnik.

    Cochard added that Merkel was continuing "her game of paying lip service and pretending to support eurozone reform as proposed by Macron."

    The Left supports a "new start" for the European Union, with more solidarity in their program. The Green Party, similar to the SPD, wants the European Parliament to have more authority. The FDP would like to see the position of Foreign Minister for the European Union introduced.

    The AfD, unlike the rest of the parties, is strongly against the European Union, suggesting that Germany should leave the eurozone.

    According to Doctor Elmar Altvater with the Otto-Suhr-Institut of the Free University of Berlin, a specialist in political science, Germany has been benefiting from European integration for decades, so it does not have any truly strong social or political force opposing the union.

    "For Germany, the EU offered a win-win-situation and this also means that there is in public discourse ‘no alternative’ to the EU project – quite contrary to Great Britain," Altvater told Sputnik.

    According to the expert, this means that there are unlikely to be significant changes to Berlin’s policy on the European Union, whichever political coalition forms the next German government.

    Doctor Mark Hallerberg, dean and professor of public management and political economy with the Hertie School of Governance, suggested that the current government would probably simply continue its policy, if it stayed in power, but it might be more open to Macron’s proposals than some alternative coalitions.

    "The alternative is CDU/CSU and FDP. That coalition was in office 2009-2013. It is possible that the government will be a bit more skeptical on further cooperation at the EU level, and less friendly to Macron’s proposed reforms than the current one," Hallerberg told Sputnik.

    Germany After Brexit

    The CDU/CSU have expressed the wish to maintain a strong partnership with the United Kingdom despite Brexit. Still, during Brexit talks and in the run-up to their beginning, Berlin has also shown readiness to defend strongly its positions.

    Merkel has insisted that the United Kingdom should pay the bill when it leaves the bloc and staunchly defended the EU freedom of movement principle, stressing that the United Kingdom could not enjoy the advantages of the European Union if it rejected some of its demands.

    The Green Party also backs strictness in Brexit negotiations.

    Schulz, formerly European Parliament President, appears to hold a similar position. In June, the SPD leader went so far as to suggest that the United Kingdom owed its economic power to the membership of the single market.

    "After Brexit, Germany will be the most powerful European country, economically and also politically," Altvater said, adding that it was, however, unclear whether Frankfurt would be able to overtake London as the European financial center, since many global factors would be at play there.

    Doctor Filipa Figueira with University College London said that Brexit would help "consolidate" the status of Germany, "already the most powerful EU country," as it "reinforces the importance of the Franco-German EU driving force."

    Altvater also noted that the turmoil created by Brexit might lead to new alliances.

    "In Germany [there] are strong tendencies to improve the relationship with Russia and not to follow the hard NATO-line of the Atlantic coalition. The European coalition is becoming stronger," the expert said, stressing, however, that it is almost impossible to make any predictions now as the situation is likely to change.

    Two-Percent Defense Spending Debate

    The relationship with NATO is one of the key components of Germany’s foreign policy, but there has been some friction lately over the suggested defense budget.

    The target spending for NATO members is set at 2 percent of each country’s GDP, but according to the alliance’s June report, only six states adhere to this requirement. Germany is not only below the target, but quite significantly so, with only 1.22 percent of its GDP allocated for its defense budget, which puts it roughly in the middle of the list.

    The US administration under President Donald Trump has expressed dissatisfaction with alliance members’ contributions. In March, Trump directly referenced Germany in a Twitter message, saying that Berlin owes "vast sums of money" to NATO.

    "I doubt the current government commitment for 2024 on 2% of GDP will change. There may be efforts, however, to widen what ‘defense spending’ really means to include other types of spending, say development aid and the like," Hallerberg said.

    According to Altvater, the resistance to Washington’s pressure on defense spending was strong in Germany.

    "But the political parties in Parliament will not be strong enough to prevent the 2% increase of the military budget unless the peace movement organizes popular resistance against the madness of a new armament spiral," the expert said.

    Merkel said in April that Germany remained committed to raising its defense spending and added that she intended to request the increase during her next term.

    The SPD, on the contrary, has voiced opposition to the two percent target. Schulz and his fellow SPD member Thomas Oppermann argued in an August op-ed that boosting the defense spending to the level desired by NATO would make Germany the largest military power in Europe and "nobody can want that," not only because of Germany’s past but also because it would make no sense for its future. SPD members also spoke out in favor of a European army and developing common European security and a common defense policy.

    The Green and the Left parties also oppose the increase of defense spending with the Left repeatedly calling for the complete dissolution of NATO.

    The FDP, on the contrary, stresses its commitment to NATO and supports raising the defense spending to reach the two percent target.

    The AfD criticizes NATO in its current form, stating it believes the Alliance must be turned into a purely defensive organization. It also rejects the use of German forces for the defense of "foreign interests."

    Future Relationship With Ankara

    Mending the relationship with Turkey, which took a downward spiral this year will be a serious challenge for the next German government.

    The CDU/CSU have said in their manifesto that they welcome deepening ties between Turkey and the European Union, but are against its EU accession. The SPD said in its manifesto that it wants to maintain regular talks with Turkey, but also feels that the time for the accession has not come. The SPD also said that the accession talks should be ended if Turkey introduces the death penalty.

    The AfD is also against Turkey’s accession and wants to halt the talks, while the Green Party does not oppose the idea in general, but is concerned about the failure of Ankara to meet the criteria for membership in the European Union.

    The FDP says that Turkey could be accepted in the European Union, but not if Erdogan remains the country's president.

    According to Hisyar Ozsoy, the deputy chair of the Turkish opposition pro-Kurds Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the German federal elections will probably have little influence on the further development of the relationship between Berlin and Ankara, which is likely to depend more on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s actions.

    "Germany has a very clear position against Erdogan and it is not about the elections, it is about Erdogan destroying relations with Germany and Europe over the last 2-3 years. Erdogan is a pragmatic leader … If Erdogan changes his position I think that Germany will be open for negotiations," Ozsoy told Sputnik.

    However, according to Ozturk Yilmaz, a deputy chair responsible for foreign relations at the Turkish opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), some thorny issues could be sorted out after the elections.

    "I expect change in Germany’s stance on Turkey after the German elections. There are issues that we can sort out after the elections," Yilmaz told Sputnik.

    According to Yilmaz, the tensions usually run high during political campaigns and German politicians might be playing up certain issues to wangle more votes.

    "If Merkel secures her position, the tension between Germany and Turkey will go down, but will not disappear at all. Trust has been shaken and we will see a trust re-building process after the elections if there is the desire of both parties," Yilmaz said.

    During their first televised debates on September 3, Merkel and Schulz clashed on Turkey: the SPD leader took a hardline approach, promising to halt negotiations on Turkey’s EU membership, while the incumbent chancellor pointed out that Berlin alone could not make the decision on behalf of the bloc. Nevertheless, Merkel said that Germany could put economic pressure on Turkey.

    According to Altvater, the German parties are "unanimously critical with regard to the Erdogan government."

    On one hand, Ankara, having agreed to take back migrants who attempted to reach Greece without proper documents, secured an important bargaining chip. The 2016 deal on refugees stymied the flow of migrants and refugees to Greece and, as a result, to the rest of the European Union.

    On the other hand, Berlin and Ankara have had their differences over the last year. Following the attempt at a coup in Turkey in July 2016, Ankara accused Berlin of preventing the perpetrators and accomplices from being brought to justice, while Berlin strongly criticized the detention of German journalists and human rights activists in Turkey.

    The estimates of Germany’s population of Turkish origin range between 2.4 and four million, with many among them holding Turkish passports, which makes them eligible for voting in Turkish elections. In March, a row broke out between Ankara and several European countries, including Germany, over the cancellation of several pre-referendum rallies for Turkish expats.

    Ties to Turkey may play a role in how some of the voters cast their ballots in German federal elections, and the Turkish government has already seized the opportunity to let its position be known. In August, Erdogan urged his countrymen in Germany not to vote for the CDU, the SPD or the Greens, accusing them of animosity toward Turkey.

    German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, a member of the SPD, promptly hit back at the criticism, calling Erdogan’s speech unprecedented interference, while the German government said it expected other countries to refrain from such meddling.

    Tags:
    election campaign, Free Democratic Party (FDP), Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), Die Linke, Alternative for Germany (AfD), Angela Merkel, Martin Schulz
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