Germany in Europe: The Cautious Leader
Karen Donfried, German Marshall Fund

Washington, DC—On April 10, 2015, Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund, addressed WFPG members and guests on Germany in Europe: The Cautious Leader. Donfried discussed three main elements of German foreign policy: the emphasis on multilateralism; how German foreign policy is operating in the context of Europe; and a case study of Ukraine, which is a fundamental challenge to the post-WWII world order. She also discussed the key role multilateralism plays in German foreign policy. The event was moderated by WFPG President Patricia Ellis.

If Germany’s leadership were to be described in three words, they would be crisis, order and Europe. Donfried discussed Germany’s view of itself as a part of an integrated Europe, rather than an individual leader; this has informed how Germans conduct their foreign policy. The crisis in Ukraine and the Eurozone crisis have each thrust the somewhat reluctant Germany into a leadership position both within Europe and globally. Donfried argues that Germans believe a strong Europe and strong international order are needed to best manage crises; multilateralism is a key part of Germany’s foreign policy approach. Both the Ukraine and Eurozone crises pose a fundamental threat to the European Union, according to Donfried, which undermines one of the key pillars of German foreign policy.

Germany is the largest country in the EU, both in population and economically, which means it has the ability to sway others. In line with Donfried’s argument, Germany seeks consensus with other EU countries on any major decisions. Germany’s commitment to Europe and multilateralism is evident in the ongoing Iran negotiations. Instead of using the American term, “P5 + 1”, the Germans call the negotiations “EU 3 + 3”. The success of the agreement would be a big win for Germany, since it would demonstrate that their multilateral approach to foreign policy is effective and that a military or use of force is not always the best or right solution.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel rose to prominence through her leadership in the crisis in Ukraine. Her close, but complicated, relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin made her a central figure during the crisis and following ceasefires negotiations. Unlike its allies, Germany has been hesitant to commit to military force or additional arms in Ukraine, largely due to its own military history. Merkel has stressed a multilateral, European approach and has leveraged her relationship with Putin. She has aimed, and largely succeeded, in keeping the dialogue open between Russia and the West in the face of sanctions.

Germany has also taken the lead, if somewhat reluctantly, on the Eurozone crisis. There was, and still is, great concern over Greece dropping out of the Euro, which would challenge Germany’s ideas of a multilateral, Europe-focused foreign policy. Germany has made it a foreign policy priority to keep Greece in the Eurozone and in the European Union.

Germany is also looking beyond Europe and to China in particular. Against US wishes, Germany and other European countries recently joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), China’s answer to the WTO. Donfried contended that this falls in line with two of Germany’s foreign policy goals: multilateral cooperation and strengthening the international system. At home, however, Angela Merkel has been accused of going too far and doing too much to involve Germany in world and regional politics. Like others in Europe, the country has been battling rising anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic movements. The influx of refugees from Syria and Iraq have escalated religious and other tensions, especially in the east. Merkel will likely be reelected in the 2017 parliamentary elections and Germany’s reluctant leadership will continue.


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Karen Donfried and WFPG President Patricia Ellis


Karen Donfried addresses WFPG audience


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Tara Leweling of JPMorgan Chase and Bastian Hermisson
of the Heinrich Boell Foundation North America


Patricia Ellis moderates the discussion


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WFPG Board Members Diana Villiers Negroponte
and Gail Leftwich Kitch during the program


Deputy Chief of Mission Peter Kalotai
of Hungary asks a question

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Riccarda Torriani from the Embassy
of Switzlerland during the discussion


Ambassador Marisa Lino of
Northrop Grumman during the Q&A

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Diana Negroponte, Ambassador Lino, and
Karen Donfried after the program


The WFPG audience listens to Donfried