No country in Europe has more neighbours than Germany. It shares its border with nine countries, eight of which are European Union (EU) member states. For Germany, European integration, one of the most impressive political success stories of recent decades, lays the foundations for peace, security, and prosperity. Advancing and strengthening this, particularly in view of complex and in many cases crisis-ridden conditions, remains the main task of German foreign policy. Begun in the early 1950s, the historical project that today is the EU nowadays has over half a billion citizens in 28 member states. German European policy emerged as a driving force in all stages of European unification, and actively helped shape the process of European cohesion following the end of the East-West conflict. This European integration created the world’s largest common market, characterised by the four fundamental freedoms formulated in the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957: the free movement of goods between the EU member states, the freedom of movement of persons, the freedom to provide services within the EU, and the free flow of capital.
The financial and debt crisis which took shape in 2008 left the European unification process facing major challenges. For this reason the banking union, which establishes common standards and control mechanisms for the financial sector in the Eurozone, was a key objective of German European policy. Social cohesion among Europeans, in difficult times as well, enjoys widespread support among the German population. The size and economic output of the common European market make the EU a major player in the global economy. The Eurozone alone accounts for more than a fifth of the gross domestic product generated worldwide – putting it in second place behind the USA. At the same time the Eurozone is the most important importer and exporter of goods and services worldwide. The IMF is expecting growth of 1.6 percent for 2016; in 2013, the European Economic Area was still in recession. As the strongest economy in the EU, Germany has a particular responsibility, not least of all at times of economic and social change.
Franco-German friendship – the driving force behind European unification
Parallel to European integration, after the Second World War France and Germany established a close partnership, which nowadays is often regarded as a model for reconciliation between two peoples. In 1957, both countries were among the six founding members of the European Economic Community (EEC), the core of today’s EU. Franco-German friendship, substantiated by the 1963 Elysée Treaty, is nurtured by close relations between the civil societies and numerous Franco-German institutions. With regard to European and foreign policy issues, both countries cooperate closely and through joint initiatives repeatedly play a role in constructively advancing European policy.
German-Polish collaboration is a more recent element in the European unification process. In the 1970s, Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik achieved initial successes in reconciliation with Poland. This was continued by the recognition of the two countries’ common border in the Two Plus Four Treaty on the external aspects of German Unity in 1990, and with the Border Treaty concluded the same year and institutionalised in the 1991 German-Polish Treaty on Good Neighbourliness. The close relationships with France and Poland are nurtured in the trilateral format of the Weimar Triangle.
More global weight through joint European action
The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon institutionalised the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) still further. The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who chairs the Council of Foreign Ministers, is also Vice-President of the European Commission. Italian Federica Mogherini has held this office since 2014. She is also responsible for representing the EU externally on all CFSP issues. A newly established European External Action Service (EEAS) assists the High Representative in discharging her duties. Through these institutional innovations the EU has considerably strengthened its visibility and efficacy outside its own territory. It has also advanced its crisis management. Under the aegis of the EU, several foreign assignments with German participation have already been conducted.
A focal point of EU policy is to foster relations with the organisation’s eastern neighbours and the countries bordering eastern and southern Mediterranean rim. With regard to this Neighbourhood Policy, migration and the fight against terrorism are increasingly being prioritised. Irregular immigration to Europe is a pan-European issue. To this end, in April and June 2015, the European Council passed a comprehensive programme of measures. In addition to increasing sea rescue operations in the Mediterranean and measures to fight the smuggling and trafficking of human beings, the fight against the causes of people fleeing from and irregular migration in their home countries and transit countries in Africa and the Middle East also plays a role. The question of the more uniform distribution of asylum seekers in the EU still requires a sustainable, fair answer. In 2014, five countries, and among them primarily Germany, absorbed two thirds of all refugees. No country in Europe took in more people from Syria: over 125,000. The solution the European Council reached in June 2015, of re-settling refugees in need of help within the EU on a voluntary basis rather than rigidly in line with country of first registration, is an initial step in this direction.