Opinion: Germany ‘cannot’ chancellor | Reviews | DW
Earlier this week, I blinked, and something Olaf Scholz had spent weeks insisting was impossible suddenly became possible. Germany will start delivering anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine.
Like so many other German policies on the war in Ukraine, including the initial decision at the end of February to send any weapons, the announcement came unexpectedly: a few hours before, prominent members of the Social Democratic Party of Scholz had given interviews saying sending heavy weapons was out of the question. Apparently they didn’t get the memo – or Scholz left them in the dark, as he allegedly did to some of his ministers when he proposed a major budget increase for the Bundeswehr (Germany’s armed forces ) in the days following the Russian invasion.
Before the war and since, Germany’s default position has been that we cannot: we cannot send weapons into a conflict zone, we cannot prevent Russia from accessing SWIFT (system international payment), we cannot embargo Russian energy, we cannot send heavy weapons – the list goes on.
It is true that many of these positions have been (partially) reversed, and while these reversals are going in the right direction, the fact that so many “can’ts” have turned into “can do” reveals a mismatch between the Chancellor’s rhetoric and Germany’s dragging actions.
Does Germany “really do everything” for Ukraine?
DW’s Cristina Burack
Scholz seems to act out of pressure rather than conviction. Over the past few weeks, he has argued that Germany is “doing everything” it can for Ukraine – but is that really the case? The spontaneous U-turns, where the impossible becomes possible overnight, suggest that “can’t” can really be “don’t want” in disguise.
It’s not a flattering look for Scholz, nor Germany’s image among its NATO partners, who have criticized it for its hesitation and blocking tougher sanctions. His behavior may also affect public support in Germany: a Russian energy embargo, backed by the European Parliament and seen by some political pundits as an effective way to cut off Russian war funding, was backed by 55% of Germans at the start. of the war, but more recent polls showed support had fallen to 28%. Scholz and Economy Minister Robert Habeck’s media blitz day after day touting why it can’t be done may have fueled this reluctance.
There’s a lot more that can be done
Admittedly, experts disagree on the extent to which cold turkey on Russian energy would cripple Russian military power. Yet while Scholz and Habeck have repeatedly described a near-doomsday scenario such a move would entail, many economists say the fallout would be far less, with economic growth contracting by around 2.5-6% . During the pandemic, Germany proved adept at handling a 5% recession thanks to its short-time work program and other policies. In other words, the country could resist an embargo – if it wanted to.
Even if the government does not want to give up the Russian energy habit, there are still so many things it can do, and encourage its citizens to do, that can make a palpable difference.
The government should continue to support further direct and expanded transfers of heavy weapons. Germany could cut energy payments to Russia by instituting a 100 km/h (60 mph) motorway speed limit, which 70% of the population supports; introducing alternate driving days or even car-free Sundays, as during the 1973 oil crisis; make teleworking compulsory and encourage carpooling; establishing lucrative trade-in programs for smaller, greener vehicles; and the increase in greatly reduced public transport programs planned for the summer.
Electricity consumption could be reduced, a significant part of which comes from gas; landlords could be subsidized to upgrade insulation and energy-efficient heating units while regulating costs that can be passed on to tenants.
And, above all, Germany could push the EU to introduce tariffs on gas imports. Germany gets about half of its gas from Russia. A tariff would make cheap Russian gas far less attractive, reducing its funds while providing revenue that could be used to offset economic losses in the country. With Germany having paid Russia about 9.1 billion euros ($9.65 billion) for fossil fuels since the start of the war, it is hard to support a continued business as usual approach that fills the coffers Putin’s war at the cost of Ukrainian lives.
It’s time to rally the country
The list of potential actions is long, but at the moment the Germans seem unwilling to make any sacrifices. A poll released on Thursday showed that only one in two Germans was willing to give up things in daily life to help Ukraine. But public support can change.
The Chancellor must do everything in his power to bring about changes, communicate their necessity and rally the country behind him, because time is running out. It must launch an all-out national campaign for what can be done, rather than what cannot. Germany has the tools to do much, much more. The question is whether he has the leader.
Edited by: Rob Mudge