Germany is looking for its role on the world stage. But the dispute between Kramp-Karrenbauer and Maas shows that the coalition lacks a common line – but why is that?
By Christian Feld, ARD-Hauptstadtstudio Berlin
On the wall behind Heiko Maas hangs a larger than life heart, which consists of innumerable other small hearts. The Foreign Minister is visiting Malteser Hilfsdienst in Budapest earlier this week. Contemporary witnesses present photos from the days when they supplied fleeing GDR citizens here. That's 30 years ago. It is laughed. Big words. The dispute at home with the Minister of Defense seems far away.
It's a quarrel that makes cracks in the grand coalition visible. The governing parties agree in principle that Germany should become more involved on the world stage. In 2014, the then Federal President Joachim Gauck had demanded that.
But how exactly? How much does the Federal Government want to get involved in the many crises and conflicts worldwide? What can it oppose to the demonstration of power by Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who have created facts in Syria according to their rules of the game?
Noise in the cabinet
For a good three weeks, German foreign policy has been a subject of intense debate. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer of the CDU had been poaching with her protection zone thrust for northern Syria on the ground of the foreign minister. Not a fine move, especially since she had informed him extremely short notice and only by SMS.
The SPD man Maas was first publicly announcing his mood in Germany. Then he traveled to his Turkish counterpart. There he called – asked by a reporter – again the thrust of the cabinet colleague as "theoretical" and "unrealistic". Maas would have spared a lot of criticism had he simply left the question in Ankara unanswered.
For Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference, this conflict reveals the "level of frustration within the coalition," which struggles to find a common line on such issues. Apart from the concrete implementation, Kramp-Karrenbauer earned praise for trying to "bring some life into the shed and make a suggestion", says the former top diplomat in an interview with the Report from Berlin,
Foreign Minister defends his policy
Germany is looking for its role in the world, and the federal government does not speak with one voice. On the one hand there is Maas, whom many critics consider a weak foreign minister with a lack of initiative. Even politicians of the governing party CDU recently railed in public.
Maas holds against it: "The German foreign policy is at the moment in a way internationally active, as that has not been so long zusammengeballt." Libya, which he recently visited, is just one example. Maas tries to forge alliances, stirs the drum for multilateralism and international cooperation: Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan – the processes are laborious and rarely make headlines.
Minister of Defense on the offensive
Defense Minister and CDU leader Kramp-Karrenbauer has been actively seeking the limelight. The proposal for a protection zone in Syria was followed by a keynote speech at the University of the Bundeswehr on Thursday – cleverly placed before the US Foreign Minister's visit to Germany.
Sometimes their suggestions are not entirely new, sometimes they remain vague. But Kramp-Karrenbauer wants to send an offensive signal, demands the courage to assume the "role of the power of shaping" and the readiness to "exploit the range of military means – if necessary – together with our allies and partners." With their own people in the Union faction such sounds are well received.
But do they also help against the recent sharp decline in approval ratings in the population? In the youngest ARD Germany Trend Only 18 percent of Germans are satisfied with Kramp-Karrenbauers work.
And Angela Merkel? Although rejected the diagnosis of the French President, the NATO "brain death" certified. And US Secretary of State Pompeo promised her on Friday in Berlin an "active role" of Germany. The Chancellor publicly left the conflict between Kramp-Karrenbauer and Maas uncommented. She spoke no word of power.
Skeptical coalition partner
In the case of increased deployment of the Bundeswehr, the Union must at least expect resistance from parts of its coalition partner SPD.
Example: the use in the fight against the terrorism IS. Foreign Minister Maas had already signaled early on that he considered an extension of the mandate necessary. Group leader Rolf Mutzenich gave up his negative attitude until much later.
Ischinger says: "If it is true that the threat or use of military power by parts of your own government coalition is actually excluded most from the outset, then this is of course not a vitamin boost for the power of German foreign policy."