Open Europe Blog

Peer Steinbruck laid out his foreign policy in a talk at Berlin’s Free University

Peer Steinbrück , leader of Germany’s centre-left SPD Party, and Merkel’s main opposition in September’s elections, laid out his foreign policy in a speech yesterday. It could have been a bit of ‘a non-event’. Germany’s Europe policy can hardly be expected to change in terms of substance, regardless of whether or not Steinbrück seizes the chancellery from Merkel come September. 

Although Steinbrück is critical of elements of Merkel’s vision for Europe, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of substance he mostly agrees. This can be put down to the fact that the traditional conservatism of the German public is more deeply rooted than its occasional impetus for grand reforms.

Against this background, we were expecting a lot of rhetoric, but no grand revelations. But then Steinbrück said something interesting.

Discussing Europe’s role in the world, he called for a Franco-German-Polish axis to shape its future. “This triad of Germany, France and Poland must take the initiative for a new beginning of European foreign and security policy,” said Steinbrück.

The first point to make here is that while the Franco-German alliance in European affairs is nothing new (strained though that partnership may be at the moment) the allusion to Poland as European leader on the world stage is. (And is one that will please a certain Polish Foreign Minister.)

However, the most interesting part of Steinbrück’s speech was the country he did not mention when discussing Europe’s role in the world: the UK.

Whilst Angela Merkel has gone out of her way to point out the importance of the UK playing a leading role in Europe, Steinbrück said the future lies in a Berlin-Paris-Warsaw axis. A signal to London and David Cameron as the Conservative seek new EU membership terms? Possibly.

As we’ve argued before, if Steinbrück became Germany’s next chancellor, the general thrust of Germany’s eurozone politics will likely remain. That’s not big news. The real significance of a centre-left German coalition after the September election for the future of Europe may instead be Berlin being far less interested in striking a new Anglo-German bargain.

We dare to guess that Number 10 wasn’t entirely happy about Steinbrück’s remarks.

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