What Will the Post-Merkel Era Mean for the EU’s Russia and Eastern Neighbourhood Policy?
Soso Dzamukashvili, Contributing Researcher, Central and East European Studies Specialist, M.A. from the University of Glasgow (UK)
The relationship between Germany and Russia has always played a crucial role in the EU’s policies towards Russia and its Eastern Neighbourhood. In a little over a decade, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has made 20 diplomatic trips to Moscow, becoming the primary representative of Europe in the Kremlin. Due to her importance, she has also played a crucial role in shaping the EU’s foreign policy. But the 67-year-old Chancellor, who has been in office for 16 years, is now leaving the political stage.
Merkel will be succeeded by Olaf Scholz, whose Social Democratic Party (SPD) emerged with a slight lead (25.8 per cent) over Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (24.1 per cent) in the national elections in September. The Greens finished in third place, followed by the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). After two months of negotiation, Scholz managed to secure an agreement to govern with the Greens and Free Democrats. Hence, by Christmas, Germany is expected to have a new government, with Scholz taking over the Chancellor’s position. With one of Europe’s most significant leaders, one who has played a pivotal role in shaping EU’s Russia and Eastern Neighbourhood policy, now leaving the political stage, the new government’s influence on the Union’s policies might be witnessing important changes.
Merkel’s pragmatic ambiguity
Traditional German Ostpolitik has always seen Russia as an important economic partner. In the past few years, the relationship between Germany and Russia under the Merkel administration became a bright spot amid deteriorating relations between the West and Russia. These relations also largely impacted the EU’s Russia and Eastern Neighbourhood policies. Merkel’s foreign policy was based on pragmatism, namely economic and financial interests. This approach did not change even after the Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014. While human rights issues and political security, such as the detention of Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny and the Crimea crisis, have led to the lowest point in EU-Russian relations, the German Chancellor persisted in promoting dialogue with Moscow and kept up “selective engagement” with the Kremlin.
At the same time, Merkel took an important part in the political settlement on Ukraine in the framework of a new summit - the Normandy Format, which, together with the leaders of France, Russia, and Ukraine, she set up to de-escalate and end the war in Donbas controlled by Russia-backed separatists. However, as Merkel’s attempts were not in line with Moscow’s interests, she then insisted on sanctions against Russia at the EU level and pushed the Union to link sanctions with the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Merkel also played a key role in the Navalny affair, and she was personally involved in offering treatment to the Russian dissident in Berlin.
Despite that, Germany remained pragmatic due to its economic interests, and strengthened coordination with Moscow through diplomatic exchanges. Berlin has sought to resolve multilateral conflicts through bilateral dialogue, looking for the broadest common ground with Russia through third-party issues. Even on her last trip to Moscow, Merkel once again sought direct contact with President Vladimir Putin amid steadily worsening EU-Russian and German-Russian relations. She was the only one in the EU who would and could do this, maintaining at least a direct channel of communication in an increasingly confrontational relationship.
Russian President Vladimir Putin presents flowers to German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their meeting in the Kremlin on August 20 (Source: Voice of America)
Berlin’s stance toward Moscow has always been crucial to the EU’s Russia and Eastern Neighbourhood policies. Germany has strongly influenced the evolution of the EU’s policy towards Russia, resulting in the Five Guiding Principles which were outlined by the Council in March 2016. Even though the Council agreed to act tough on Russia’s infringements of international law, and to contain its hybrid warfare, it agreed to selectively engage with Moscow on issues of interest to the EU. Like Merkel’s foreign policy, the EU’s five principles also encompassed the interests of Eastern Partnership countries, among them Ukraine and Georgia, highlighting the need to assist Eastern Partnership states in strengthening resilience to Russian malign influence operations. Recently, these principles were further developed in an EU policy along three lines: “push back, constrain and engage,” which once again echoes Berlin’s pragmatic but ambiguous foreign policies towards Moscow and Ukraine.
What to expect?
Merkel’s successor Olaf Scholz was part of the previous governing coalition, serving as Vice Chancellor and Minister of Finance. Before the elections, Scholz had signalled that he would not veer far from Merkel’s approach of separating diplomatic criticism from economic cooperation. While Scholz has been critical of Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s borders and its attempt to undermine security in Europe, he has proposed a renewed European ‘Ostpolitik’ to Russia and the EU’s eastern partners. In September, then-German Finance Minister Scholz made a statement on the necessity for a new strategy for dealing with Russia. While Scholz underlined the need for “bridges and channels for dialogue” for a better relationship, he emphasized that Russia needs to accept that “European integration will continue”. This statement shows that Germany’s future Russia policy will probably be similar to that of Merkel’s and will be influenced by pragmatic approaches. Furthermore, the Social Democrats who are to lead Germany’s coalition government have a friendly attitude towards Russia, rooted in Willy Brandt’s ‘Policy of Rapprochement’ towards the Soviet Union. Scholz has also supported the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has the capacity to deliver 55 billion cubic metres of Russian natural gas to Germany every year. This is another signal that continuity is to be expected.
The Green Party, which is a coalition partner in the new government, is significantly more hawkish towards Moscow. According to the party, its candidate, Annalena Baerbock, who opposed the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, has been targeted by a Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign. The Greens could potentially influence Berlin’s foreign policy, should they gain a high-level position in the country’s foreign ministry, by spotlighting human rights and domestic developments in Russia, rather than economic interests.
Olaf Scholz (second from left) with the leaders of the Free Democrats, Greens and Social Democrats (Source: BBC)
What might distinguish Scholz from his predecessor is his willingness to work together with the EU and its member states “to further develop the Eastern Partnership.” According to the roadmap ‘Dare to Make More Progress: Alliance for Freedom, Justice and Sustainability,’ which was recently agreed between the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, states such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia that are striving to join the EU “should be able to move closer through consistent reforms based on the rule of law and market economy”. This new stance could be a breakthrough for the Eastern Partnership countries, especially Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, which need more tangible incentives to continue their commitment to democratic reforms.
While Scholz aims to simultaneously construct bridges with Russia and Eastern Partnership countries, it is expected that the interaction between Germany and Russia will continue to be based on pragmatism. Since former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, Germany and Russia have been connected through practical cooperation. Diplomatic dialogues between Moscow and Berlin have never been disrupted, despite a series of events that had some negative impacts on the bilateral relationship.
After Merkel leaves office, the fundamentals of Germany’s as well as the EU’s relationship with the Kremlin are unlikely to change. Judging from the need for economic recovery in the post-pandemic era, Scholz will not find it easy to drastically shift Merkel's policies on Russia, and the new government will continue seeking a balance between security and economic interests. However, a noteworthy difference with the Merkel administration could be a renewed push for closer cooperation with the EU’s neighbours and a more critical stance towards Russia on its internal repressions and aggressive foreign policy. Strikingly, a more critical attitude was emerging even when Merkel was at the helm. The only question that remains is how important the value basis will be for the new government, and whether it will prioritise democracy and human rights over pragmatic relations with Russia remains to be seen.
- Moldova’s challenges alongside the war in Ukraine
- Is Israel's New Government Shifting its Policy towards the Russia-Ukraine War?
- What does Russia want from Georgia?
- The Ninth Package of Sanctions - in Response to the Russian Escalation and Missile Attacks
- The Danger Russia’s Neighbors May Face after the Russo-Ukrainian War
- Belarus and Russia deepen trade and economic relations with occupied Abkhazia: A prerequisite for recognition of Abkhazia's “independence”?
- "Captured emotions" - Russian propaganda
- A Looming Winter Energy Crisis in Europe: Can Azerbaijan Become the Continent’s Next Large Energy Supplier?
- The Eighth Package of Sanctions - Response to Russian Annexation and Illegal Referendums
- What’s next for Italy’s foreign policy after Giorgia Meloni’s victory?
- Lukashenko's Visit to Occupied Abkhazia: Review and Assessments
- War in Ukraine and Russia’s declining role in the Karabakh peace process
- What issues were discussed at the Putin-Erdogan meeting?
- The Russian Exclave of Kaliningrad and the Lithuanian "Sting"
- Seventh Package of Sanctions and Embargo on Russian Gold
- Czech Presidency of the EU: Time for Re-orienting EU Foreign Policy?
- What could be the cost of “Putin’s face-saving” for European relations
- In line for the candidate status, Georgia will get a European perspective. What are we worried about?
- The break-up of the Hungarian-Polish coalition - an opportunity for the EU
- Failed Tskhinvali Referendum
- The War and Georgia
- "Autocratic Peace"
- “Rural Orbanism”- Polarization as a determinant for Hungary's political future
- Illegal Presidential Elections in the Tskhinvali Region: Why Bibilov Lost and What to Anticipate in Future
- How to Respond to Russian Ultra-Orthodox-Historic-Hegemonism?
- The War in Ukraine and the UK’s New Role in Eastern Europe
- What Will the Abolition of the OSCE Minsk Group Bring to the South Caucasus?
- The Presidential Election in France and Europe’s Political Future
- Will Pashinyan Be Able to Make a Drastic Turnaround in Armenian-Azerbaijani Relations?
- Why Has the Abkhaz Side Become More Active on Social Networks?
- Why a Neutral Ukraine Is Not on Putin’s Mind (Ukraine’s Neutral Status Is Getting Closer, but What Does It Mean to Putin?)
- Europe's energy future - challenges and opportunities
- Uncontrolled Mass Immigration and the Position of the Georgian Government
- Changes in Putin's propaganda narratives since the Russian invasion of Ukraine
- Ukraine will soon embark on a path of practical integration into the European Union. What about Georgia?
- Positions and Actions of Turkey in the Russo-Ukrainian War
- NATO’s possible expansion in Northern Europe and its significance for Georgia and Ukraine
- Political Winter Olympics in Beijing
- What Is behind Putin’s Sudden Gambit in Ukraine?
- Abkhazia in 2021: Energy Crisis, New “Minister” and Political Controversy
- L'Europe pourra-t-elle éviter le “déjà vu” ? (France, President of the Council of the European Union, and the Tensions in Eastern Europe)
- US-Russia Relations and the Issue of Ukraine
- The New Targets of Ramzan Kadyrov’s Regime
- What are the Prospects of the Eastern Partnership Summit Set on 15 December?
- The Upcoming EaP Summit - Why the Trio Initiative Should Finally Find Its Way
- What Lies Behind the Growing Cooperation of the Georgian and Hungarian Governments
- “Doberman” as a Minister: Inal Ardzinba’s Prospects and Challenges
- The Belarus Crisis: How to Enhance Our Resilience Against the Russian Strategy for Its Near-Neighborhood
- Moldova’s Gas Crisis Has Been Russia’s Yet Another Political Blackmailing
- EU-Poland’s worsened relations and what it means for the EaP
- Lessons From Germany on Political Culture: What Georgia Can Learn From the German Parliamentary Elections
- Belarus One Year On: An Insecure Regime Under Russian “Protection”
- Why Did Iran-Azerbaijan Relations Become Strained?
- Russia’s Parliamentary Elections - What Can Be Said About the Regime’s Stability
- Six Key Takeaways from State of the Union Address - Too Little on EU Enlargement?
- An Emerging Foreign Policy Trend in Central and Eastern Europe: A Turn from China to Taiwan?
- Vaccination: “To Be, or not to Be”…
- Can Georgia use China to balance Russia?
- Sharia Patrols in Kabardino-Balkaria: A Growing Trend or a Local Conflict?
- Belarus’ exit from the Eastern Partnership and what to expect next
- Pacta Sunt Servanda: Agreements must be kept
- The West vs Russia: The Reset once again?!
- Associated Trio, What is Next?
- Formation of a New “Political Elite” in Abkhazia - Who Will Replace the Old “Elite?”
- The symbolism of the EU flag and why a true Christian would not tear it down and burn it
- The Cyber-Dimension of the Geneva Summit
- Securitization of the Arctic: A Looming Threat of Melting Ice
- Europe in Anticipation of the Results of a “Harmful Deal”
- The Issue of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali Region in the Context of NATO and European Union Membership
- (Re)Mapping the EU’s Relations with Russia: Time for Change?
- USA, Liberal International Order, Challenges of 2021, and Georgia
- The Political Crisis in Moldova: A Deadlock without the Way Out?
- Russia's Testing or Bullying?
- ‘Vaccine Diplomacy’: A New Opportunity for Global Authoritarian Influence?
- Deal with the ‘Dragon’: What Can Be the Repercussions of the China-EU Investment Agreement?
- Georgia’s Application for European Union Membership
- The End of the Russian Natural Gas Monopoly in Balkans
- Who did the judge sentence: Navalny, Putin or Russia?
- Biden’s Conundrum
- 2020 Developments in Abkhazia: “Elections,” the Pandemic and Deeper Integration with Russia
- The Hungarian Crisis: Is the EU Failing against Authoritarianism?
- Could Belarus Become a Prelude to the Great Polish-Swedish War 400 Years Ago?
- Vladimir Putin's Annual Grand Press Conference - Notable Elements and Messages
- COVID 19 Pandemic Economic Crisis and Reducing the Instability of Georgia’s National Currency
- Russia’s Energy Policy in the Tskhinvali Region
- Who Won and Who Lost with the War in Karabakh?
- What Russia has Gained in Karabakh
- What Armenia Did and Did not Lose as a Result of the Ceasefire Declaration in Karabakh
- Protests in Belarus, Lukashenko and the Russian Federation
- Some Thoughts on the Use of the Term „Post-Soviet Space“
- Georgia’s European Way During the Period of Pandemic Deglobalization
- Turkey's Caucasus Policy Against the Backdrop of the Latest Armenia-Azerbaijan Tensions
- Khabarovsk Krai Protests as an Indicator of the Russian Federation’s Stability
- Trio Pandemic Propaganda: How China, Russia and Iran Are Targeting the West
- From Russia with… a Canny Plan
- “Elections” in Abkhazia: New “President’s” Revanche and Challenges
- Georgians Fighting the Same Battle 99 Years Later
- Confrontation between Russia and Turkey in Syria
- Political Crisis in Occupied Abkhazia
- What is the Significance of Killing General Qasem Soleimani?
- What Will the New Dialogue Format with Russia Bring for Georgia?
- On the “Russian Culture Center” in Georgia
- Whither Economic Policy?
- Main Messages of Russian Propaganda
- Massive Cyberattacks On Georgia Calls For Defense And Resilience
- What do we know about the meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation and Georgia?
- New Focuses of the Anti-Occupation Policy
- Georgia's Problems are not Addressed at G7 Meetings: Who is to Blame?
- Vladimir Putin’s Main Messages in his Interview with the Financial Times
- Georgia and Russia’s Post-modern Fascism
- Dugin has Come Out as a Supporter of Georgia – How Did This Happen?
- The Outcome of the European Parliament Elections - What Does it Mean for Georgia?
- Ten Years Since the Establishment of the Eastern Partnership
- Deterring Russia
- On NATO, Russia and Pat Buchanan
- A New Chance for Circular Labor Migration between Georgia and the EU
- Modern Russia’s Own Wars of Religion
- Bolton’s visit to Moscow– what to expect in U.S-Russia relations?
- The Risk of the Renewal of the Karabakh Conflict after the Velvet Revolution in Armenia
- The Situation in Syria’s Idlib Province, Interests of the Parties and Threats
- The Helsinki Summit and its General Results
- Why It Is Necessary to Know the Day the Russo-Georgian War of 2008 Started
- Georgia’s Position in the Westernization Index 2018
- Why Did the Results of the G7 Summit in Charlevoix not Meet Our Expectations?
- How to Win Cold War 2.0
- The Russian “Ambassador’s” Rotation in Abkhazia
- EU Soft Power and the Armenian [R]evolution
- Why did the Foreign Ministers of G7 not remember Georgia during their 23 April 2018 Toronto Meeting?
- Georgia and the American Strategy
- Putin’s Pre-Election Economic Promises: Myth and Reality
- Let Geneva Stay the Way it is
- Turkey’s Military Operation in Afrin – a New Phase in the Syrian Conflict
- Kremlin New Appointments and the Occupied Regions of Georgia
- Who Gets Russian Help?
- Dangers Originating from Russia and Georgia’s Security System
- Eurasian Custom Union and problems of Russian – Georgian FTA
- Is Georgia’s Export Growth Sustainable?
- Russia’s Influence over the Field of Security in Tskhinvali Region is Growing: Support for Full Integration
- What Awaits the People of Gali?
- Growth of Military Spending and Relations with Russia: Azerbaijan trying to Gain Advantage over Armenia
- Disrupt and Distract: Russia’s Methodology of Dealing with the West
- Russian Diplomats in Georgia – who are they, how many of them are there and what are they up to
- Putin’s Visit to the Occupied Abkhazia: Was our Reaction Actually Adequate?
- Pence’s Visit to Georgia: Several Lessons and What We Should be Expecting
- Is it Acceptable for Georgia to Declare Neutrality?
- Georgia’s European Perspective in the Context of EU’s Future Evolution
- Brexit Negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom have been re-launched: What will be their Influence on Georgia?
- How to Stop the “Creeping Occupation”
- Kremlin’s Policy in the Occupied Regions of Georgia Moves to a New Stage
- Syrian Civil War in the Context of Regional Security
- The Winnable Second Round of Russia’s Neighbors’ Struggle against Its Imperialism
- Turkey’s Domestic and Foreign Policy in the Context of Regional Security
- Post-Soviet States – Struggle for the Legitimation of Power
- Parliamentary Elections in Armenia – The Triumph of the Governing Party
- Current Foreign Policy of Georgia: How Effective is it in Dealing with the Existing Challenges?
- Observations on the Agreement Reached with Gazprom
- New Russian Weaponry in the Caucasus and Its Impact on Georgia’s NATO Aspiration