Since the federal election in Germany in September 2017, the perceived relevance of Germany in international politics has declined. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, one of the leading politicians worldwide and significantly raising Germany’s profile, was left weakened by a less than brilliant election result. The rise of left-wing (‘Die Linke’) and right-wing populists (‘AfD’) made the coalition-building process incredibly complicated and resulted in a lack of substantial progress in the ongoing coalition negotiations.
It has now been three months since the election and there are still no indications that a new government will be formed any time soon. German politics therefore has had to focus its attention on its own affairs whilst leaving others, from France’s Macron to the Donald, to dominate the international agenda.
This has already had an impact on Anglo-German relations. When leading British politicians get involved with Europe nowadays, which given Brexit they constantly do, they look to Brussels, Paris and even Warsaw ahead of Berlin. This development is problematic, though.
Germany continues to be the largest and economically strongest EU power as well as a sympathetic and generally like-minded country. The Anglo-German relationship thus remains hugely important and significant actions should be taken by the UK’s government to improve and strengthen them.
Currently, there are three main reasons for such importance: Chancellor Angela Merkel, the two countries’ economic interdependence, and Brexit.
1) Angela Merkel
The German chancellor might be weakened by recent events but she still remains a hugely influential player on the international stage. As one of the longest serving heads of government in the Western world she has the experience, expertise and standing needed to be successful and influential in international relations. She might not be the “Chancellor of the Free World”, as Time magazine once called her but she does yield significant influence, and therefore continues to be someone the UK would like to have as a friend and ally over the coming years.
2) Economic interdependence
Germany and the UK have a very close and symbiotic economic relationship. The UK is Germany’s third largest export partner, with 7.5% of all German goods exports going to this island. Investments, jobs and exports mean that the economies of two of the strongest and wealthiest countries in the world are hugely intertwined and interdependent.
Brexit might put this at risk but the level of interdependence should nevertheless incentivise the leaders of both countries to seek strong political ties to prevent the economic bonds from severing. Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, and the future legal and political framework in Europe, mutual economic interests ought to lead to a relationship of trust and friendship.
Most importantly, however, is the dominating political issue of our time: Brexit. Leaving the European Union will inevitably change the Anglo-European relationship as well as individual relations with all 27 remaining member states. It seems very probable that Brexit will have a negative impact on political, economic, social and cultural ties between the UK and the continent.
This, though, makes it only more important to build strong bilateral relationships, especially with the UK’s influential and historically close allies and friends of which Germany undoubtedly is one. Even more pressing are the Brexit negotiations themselves. The British negotiation tactic of talking to the member states, and going behind the EU’s back, has so far arguably failed. With the upcoming second phase of negotiations, however, individual member states, first and foremost among them Germany, will become ever more influential.
Especially should the negotiations become more complicated and protracted, the role of member states will gain in importance. The EU27 have more to lose from a ‘hard Brexit’ than the EU itself. If this situation arises, and the current complications make this seem fairly likely, having a sympathetic partner and friend in Berlin will drastically improve the chances of the UK government achieving a positive Brexit deal.
Following Brexit Anglo-European, and by extension Anglo-German relations, will undergo significant change over the coming years. The ardently pro-European Germans will continue to view the UK’s decision to leave with suspicion and disappointment. It is vitally important however that Britain builds strong bilateral relationships with as many EU member states as possible.
Among these Germany takes a leading role, making her the most obvious target for a British campaign to get more involved with its former EU colleagues. It is in the British interest to invest into furthering the Anglo-German cooperation and friendship wherever possible. Only then will Brexit be able to be the success its advocates promised it to be.