07 October 2020

Germany after 30 years since its reunification

Negoiţă Sorin

30 years after Germany’s reunification, the „East” and the „West” continue to make progresses, and the life and labour modelrs in the two historical regions are trying to reach the same standanrds, but the unification process is not fully completed and the division’s impressions, which lasted more than four decades, are visible even today, whether we are talking about the society, politics or businesses. However, one can notice that, during time and given generations’ alternation, the distinction between the “East” and the “West” becomes less important. Now, when celebrating the 30 years anniversary, there is a special attention given to the German foreign and security policy, which, during all this times, it evolved constantly and depending on the global foreign challenges. Many times, however before assuming “more responsibilities” at a declarative level at least, the Federal Germany acted “selectively and hesitantly” when its involvement was necessary, even when offering ideas or leadership initiatives.

Image source: Profimedia

What is bringing together and apart the Germans today?

October 3rd 1990 is, for the Federal Germany, the moment when the reunification of the two German states was officially made (german Wiedervereinigung), which were previously separated after the Second World War, after the decisions made by the great world powers at that time. Now, after 30 years since Germany’s reunification, the differences between the East and the West are not that big, if we consider the fact that both country’s regions were affected by the same developments, which created similar issues. However, from a different perspective, the differences are present even after 30 years, on one hand given the different development of the lifestyles in the East and West and, on the other hand, due to some developments rooted before the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Recently, a study of the Institute for people and development from Berlin, published by the German agency der Spiegel, offers a general image of what brings together and apart the Germans, three decades after the October 3rd 1990.

According to this study, for a long period of time, the main concern of the German state was the huge unemployment in Eastern Germany’s lands and the lack of perspectives on the labor market. This has cooled down after 2000, when the unemployment’s rate started to decrease and, thus, the number of employed people started to increase in the East as well. Therefore, the unemployment’s rate has reached, in 2019, a historical minimum of 6,4% in the East and 4,7% in the West.

However, there are increasing discussion on the existence of a qualified personnel in the East, which, unlike the West, it is generated by the constant decrease of the population after the reunification. From the perspective of demography, there are huge differences when it comes to people’s development in the two sides of Germany. Thus, in the West, the population has increased with about 5.4 million people in the last decades, reaching a total of 83,4 million German citizens in Germany at the end of 2019, meanwhile in the territories of the former democratic republic, the population decreased with 2.2 million inhabitants. The study also claims that, according to some projections, the federal lands in Eastern Germany will continue to lose an important number of inhabitants until 2035.

In terms of education, one might notice that Eastern Germany is facing huge school abandonment, bigger than in the West. This is a huge problem, because the risk of not finding a job and depending on the social assurances (the so-called Hartz IV reform) on long term is increasing without having a degree or a qualification issued by the German education system. On the other hand, the number of students has strongly increased in the East comparing to the West and this was possible due to the renovation and enlargement of many universities in the new federal territories. This tendency has generated another problem for nowadays’ Germany: the acceleration of the migration from the rural to the urban environment. This is happening because the students, which started to like the life in the big cities, are rarely coming back home, in the province, and so the number of employees to have university degrees is bigger in the big metropolis, both in the East and the West.

The downturn of the Eastern population is the result of the huge decrease of birthdate after the reunification, which is generated by the clear differences in terms of the lifestyles of the two regions, but also their economic development. Meanwhile the kids in Western Germany are born in almost two thirds in married couple families, only a small part of the Eastern couples have a marriage certificate and think of extending their families. Behind this negative aspect there is, according to the Berlin Institute, the church institution, which is increasingly loosing members nationally, as the East has a smaller number of sympathizers than the West.

The study is also highlighting the age of the German people in the two former German states, which, when they were reunified, it was quite similar. However, the constant decrease of the birthrate in the East and the massive migration of the population towards the West, in the middle of the 90’s, have deeply affected it and led to a national aging, which will, according to the study, increase in the following years.

There are huge differences between the two regions also in terms of migration. According to the Berlin Institute study, “Germany was a country of migration for ten years”, precisely Western Germany. Thus, according to the presented information, the extent of residents to have a foreign passport is still very low in the territories of Eastern Germany, except for a few cities.

Another interesting aspect is the so-called “mirage of the West”. What was before the 1990’s something to hate in Germany, capitalism, the free market and the entrepreneurship, has become, overnight, the new life standard for the Eastern people. Thousands of businesses were developed, millions of citizens lost their jobs, and some of them even their identity. An echo of these deep dramas can also be noticed today, as it came out of a poll that shows how the proportion of Eastern Germans who feel insecure with their lifestyle is around 35%, increasingly bigger than the Western one (21%).

Not least, the difference between the East and the West can also be seen in the spread of the coronavirus. If in the territories of the former Federal Germany, like Bavaria and North-Rine Westphalia it was recorded a quite big number of SARS-CoV-2 cases, the states in Eastern Germany did not have a hard time going through the health crisis. The study shows that there are many explanations for this development, but also that population’s density, which is smaller in this region, could play a role to that end.

How does the foreign and security policy look 30 years since the reunification?

A Munich Security Conference team has, in recent months, produced and presented on Thursday, October 1, a special 220-page edition of the "Munich Security Report[1]" suggestively entitled "Changing Times / Time for Change" ("Zeitenwende / Wendezeiten"), which provides an overview of the state of German foreign and security policy 30 years after reunification.

Thus, according to this paper, we are in the midst of a "change of times," the beginning of a new era wherein Federal Germany faces enormous challenges and its foreign political certainties dissipate. However, as Europe's security is threatened, European democracies are on the defensive, and Europe's most important partner, the US, under the current administration, has taken a step back in terms of its international involvement. Along with these issues, the characteristics of the new security environment include the weakening of the international order built over the decades, the rise of China and the return to power policy that defies international norms. To these are added climate change and rapid technological transition, which are having increasingly drastic consequences.

Referring to these issues, in a discussion in Berlin, the President of the Munich Security Conference, German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, referred to an „epochal breach" and stated that "Almost all German foreign policy habits which have become dear to me over the years melt or are being questioned”. Thus, in its assessment, the US protective hegemony is moving away from Germany, EU integration is slowing down, and the dream of trade turning China and Russia into responsible participants in the liberal international system has proved unrealistic.

Thus, Germany seems more affected than other states by the erosion of the liberal international order and, therefore, Europe's largest economy, has recently shown interest in taking on more international responsibilities and joining the world political elite. In fact, this goal was already formulated 6 years ago, at the 2014 Munich Conference, when the German leaders at the time, Federal President Joachim Gauck, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, conveyed in unison the message, later known as the "Munich Consensus", that Germany is ready to take "more responsibility" in international affairs and wants to meet the challenges of security policy "in due time, more firmly and more significantly”.

These commitments were expressed amid dissatisfaction with some states about Germany's attitude to international affairs so far. For some, Germany had become an example of a country that benefited heavily from the international order and was unwilling to make a substantial commitment to maintaining it, while others described Germany as a "nation that says no" ("Nein-Nation ”) and which gladly exports military equipment worldwide, without accepting participation in military interventions to protect the weak. Moreover, in international discussions, Germany was seen as "a lost nation of NATO, whose weakness would have been the Alliance's most important problem", and others saw Germany as a strategic black hole in the center of the Alliance, wherefrom they expect no impulse”.

It is clear, however, that Germany has recently increased its commitment to foreign policy and security in several areas. It has taken the lead in addressing crises, increased defense spending by about 40 percent since 2014, and increased participation in UN, EU and NATO military operations. Thus, after an initial hesitation, Berlin contributed considerably to responding to Russia's aggression against Ukraine in 2014 and played a decisive role in the EU's imposition of sanctions and their subsequent extension. Also, together with France, the German federal government initiated the "Normandy Process", which together with the two EU states includes Russia and Ukraine.

Germany has also become much more involved than before in NATO. Thus, the German state played an important role in promoting the concept of the framework nation, assumed leadership responsibilities in the new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and took command of one of the four multinational battalions on the eastern flank of NATO, as part of the "enhanced Forward Presence" (eFP), thus becoming the only continental European member of the Alliance to assume this. In addition, Germany has offered to host in Ulm the Joint Support Command, one of the two new NATO operational commands decided to be set up at the NATO Summit in Brussels, in July 2018. This command will become fully operational next year.

Outside of Europe, Berlin has participated in or even initiated important security policy initiatives. To that end, Germany, together with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, managed to bring Iran to the negotiating table and persuade it to sign the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in E3+3 format[2], which was supposed to prevent Iran from reaching the nuclear weapon. Moreover, after the US withdrew from this agreement (2018), Germany made considerable efforts, together with France and the United Kingdom, to keep it working.

At the same time, after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Germany hired troops who participated in the coalition against the Islamic State (IS) and provided weapons to the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdish minority in Iraq to defend themselves against IS. The German government has also tried, in the last year, to limit the war in Libya through the "Berlin Trial", with which it was not very successful, but with the intense efforts of discreet German diplomacy led by Minister Heiko Maas, the two warring parties, the internationally recognized Government National Accord (GAN) in Tripoli and the Tobruk House of Representatives, announced (August) an armistice to ceasefire and pave the way for elections.

Last but not least, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel, together with French President Emmanuel Macron, initiated the "Alliance for Multilateralism", which aimed to promote global cooperation at a time of intensifying the behavior of some states towards nationalism and isolationism, an initiative launched in the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, in September 2018.

Based on these considerations, the authors of the study, which is structured in 7 chapters, consider that Germany is currently facing an important decision: on one hand, it could fight resolutely for the imperative of European consolidation, in order to effectively defend the German or European interests or will refrain from change, will “cling” to the existing status quo and imagine an EU-Europe that will evolve into an annex of “Eurasia” dominated by other powers.

Moreover, the authors allow themselves to make some recommendations to Berlin, which, in order to increase Europe's capacity for action, will first have to define its national strategic interests and modernize its foreign policy apparatus, including its decision-making processes. To that end, a document on the national strategy would need to be presented regularly by the German Government, as do Germany's important allies and partners, and debated in the Bundestag, together with annual interim reports, in order to thus contribute to public awareness. In fact, many German parliamentarians have recently proposed a more frequent debate in the Bundestag on basic foreign policy issues.

Foreign and security policy should also be underpinned by enough resources in times of high intensity, and this should also apply equally to diplomacy, development cooperation and defense. The authors note that, in the long run, spending on “international business” has dropped considerably as a share of the federal budget and is no longer appropriate for the current situation. With the reduction of the US military presence in Europe, as announced by President Donald Trump, which, according to the authors, will continue regardless of the outcome of the US elections, requirements will continue to increase and Germany will have to mobilize more resources for Europe to become a fully recognized foreign policy actor.

However, the ability to act on a foreign plan requires internal stability, and the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically highlighted the importance of resilience. So, in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, Germany has demonstrated leadership skills and contributed to the initiation of appropriate measures to maintain a united Europe. The German government, together with its European allies, should also examine whether the EU is enough prepared when it comes to cyber security and other relevant areas.

According to the authors of this study, now is the time to set the course for a German foreign policy that will make the EU a capable and respected player in the world. At the same time, in a globalized world and in an export-oriented country like Germany, there is no economic policy without a foreign and security policy. Some countries use the term "big strategy" and Germany has none yet, but reflecting on such a "big strategy" should be one of Berlin's priorities before the 2021 federal election or ahead new government coalitions.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] The Munich Security Report (MSR) is annually published, in February, before the Munich Security Conference. Each special edition of the SRM is dedicated to an essential and current topic of foreign and international security policy. This special edition "Zeitenwende / Wendezeiten" on German foreign and security policy is the first in this series of publications and will be followed, at occasional intervals, by other studies in the future.

[2] E3 + 3 format - the 3 EU states (2015) - Germany, France, Great Britain plus the USA, China and the Russian Federation, along with Iran and the EU. It is also known as P5 + 1 - the 5 permanent member states of the UN Security Council plus Germany. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/122460/full-text-of-the-iran-nuclear-deal.pdf and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Comprehensive_Plan_of_Action