IA year ago, on February 27, 2022, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Olaf Scholz gave a speech from the rostrum of the Bundestag that was rightly perceived as historic. Believing that the “war of aggression” triggered by Vladimir Putin swung Europe into a ” new era “ (Zeitenwende), the German Social Democratic Chancellor declared that Berlin would get out of its dependence on Russian gas, support Ukraine militarily and invest 100 billion euros to modernize its army.
From a country which then imported 55% of its gas from Russia, had until then refused to supply arms to warring states and had neglected its defense policy for years, these were considerable announcements. As war made its return to Europe, Germany showed that it was ready to leave the comfort zone in which it had confined itself for more than half a century: that of an economic giant coupled with a geopolitical dwarf.
A year later, have the promises been kept? In terms of energy, certainly – and it is a feat. Since September 2022, Berlin no longer imports Russian gas. However, the country has not suffered from a shortage of electricity, and its economy is holding up better than expected: despite high inflation, it has experienced neither a wave of bankruptcies, nor a surge in unemployment, nor a social movement.
Step up a gear
For the rest, the results are more mixed. Admittedly, Germany is, in billions of euros, the continental European country that helps Ukraine the most. But, compared to their GDP, fifteen other members of the European Union are doing better than her. More than its determination, it was Berlin’s hesitation to support kyiv that marked the spirits, in particular for the sending of Leopard battle tanks, decided at the end of January after long procrastination.
Regarding the army, the Bundeswehr, barely a tenth of the special fund of 100 billion euros announced by Olaf Scholz has been allocated to date. If the Chancellor wants, as he says, to give Germany the “first conventional army in Europe”moving up a gear is an imperative.
In mid-January, the German chancellor sent a clear political message, separating from his defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, unanimously considered a weak link. His successor, Boris Pistorius, seems the man for the job. Omnipresent with the troops and in the media, he does not intend to be satisfied with the fund of 100 billion euros but wants to increase by 10 billion per year the current defense budget, currently 50 billion euros.
Will he make it? Within the majority, lively debates are to be expected. Beyond the financial issue, important questions arise: how far does Germany intend to redirect its foreign policy? What role does it aspire to within NATO, particularly in the defense of its eastern flank? What is his vision of European defense policy? On this last point, nothing can be done without perfect coordination with France. But these last few months have shown that, between Paris and Berlin, there are many misunderstandings.
To these questions, Olaf Scholz will have to provide answers. By recording Europe’s entry into a ” new era “, the German Chancellor has set the bar very high. It is now up to him to be at the level of the expectations he raised.