German media roundup: Stepping onto the world stage

Germany may have successfully claimed a seat on the UN Security Council, but newspapers in The Local’s media roundup on Wednesday have few illusions about Berlin’s importance on the world stage.

German media roundup: Stepping onto the world stage
Photo: DPA

After months of intense lobbying, Germany managed to secure a two-year term in the world’s most important body on Tuesday.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle hailed the show of support for Berlin in the UN General Assembly as proof the world considered Germany a reliable member of the international community.

Westerwelle said Berlin would use its time on the Security Council to promote nuclear disarmament and development. But on Wednesday he dismissed suggestions that Germany’s extra foreign policy clout would require a greater financial and military commitment to the United Nations.

Speaking to broadcaster Deutschlandfunk, Westerwelle also said Berlin hoped to push forward a comprehensive reform of the world body – which would include more permanent members on the Security Council.

The German government has made no secret it would like to have a perpetual spot at the table, but the papers in The Local’s media roundup on Wednesday had few illusions about Berlin’s real foreign policy heft on the world stage.

“Germany is in no way a great power,” summed up the right-wing daily Die Welt succinctly. But the country’s role as the world’s fourth-largest economy still carries some weight among UN members. “And Germany also now provides troops to combat zones, no longer believing it can buy its military innocence by writing fat cheques.”

The paper also said the fact that Berlin won the seat in a first round of voting in the UN General Assembly proved Westerwelle’s lobbying had paid off.

“Westerwelle was successful in the end, but he would be well advised not to tout his triumph too loudly,” wrote Die Welt, explaining Germany’s victory was a result of its support for a multilateral foreign policy.

The left-wing Frankfurter Rundschau said Westerwelle must use Germany’s time on the Security Council to strengthen the United Nations and combat the widening gap between the world’s rich and poor.

“Foreign policy doesn’t end with overly friendly words, abstract agreements and trite declarations,” wrote the paper, arguing Westerwelle must give the UN precedence over more exclusive international groupings like the G8. “Only then could the vote in New York turn out to be great opportunity for Foreign Minister Westerwelle and for Germany.”

The centrist Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel warned Germany’s increased influence would also bring added responsibility.

“A seat on the Security Council is as much a burden as it is an honour,” opined the paper. “The next two years will offer Germany few opportunities to shine, but plenty of trying moments for German diplomats in New York.”

Despite Westerwelle’s attempt on Wednesday to pre-empt calls for greater financial support and troops for UN missions, Der Tagesspiegel said that’s exactly what Germany’s higher foreign policy profile could demand, pointing to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Iran’s contentious nuclear programme and Middle East peace efforts as just a few of the challenges the international community faced.

The Dresden-based regional daily the Sächsische Zeitung wrote that the big boys’ club on the Security Council had no incentive to cede power to other nations, making a permanent spot for Germany unlikely. Therefore it was better to make an effort to empower the UN to act more quickly in a crisis, it wrote.

“Anyone who talks of a permanent seat for Germany after this result ignores the realities of world politics,” it wrote. “To the US, Russia, China, Britain and France, reform would mean a relinquishment of influence in favour of south Asia, Latin America and Africa, whose nations have no voice in the exclusive club.

“It is much more important to give the body more authority to react quickly in crisis situations and make clear decisions during conflicts.”

The Local/mry/dw

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‘We’ll be struggling well into next year’: German borrowing to soar amid pandemic

Germany on Friday passed a 2021 budget that once again smashes its "debt brake" rule, promising to shield businesses and workers from the economic hit of the pandemic as cases continue to rise.

'We'll be struggling well into next year': German borrowing to soar amid pandemic
The seating area of a restaurant closed off in Boltenhagen on the Baltic Sea coast. Photo: DPA

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government plans to borrow €300 billion ($364 billion) across 2020 and 2021 combined after the government pledged more than a trillion euros in aid, including through short-time work schemes (Kurzarbeit) and business support.

“The budget is the basis for everyone to be confident that we can provide the necessary economic and social support to get us through this crisis together,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told lawmakers.

The budget for 2021, which passed with 361 votes in favour to 258 against, provides for a total of €179.8 billion in new loans and nearly €500 billion in public spending.

It means for both 2020 and 2021, Germany will abandon its cherished “debt brake”, a constitutionally enshrined rule that forbids the government from borrowing more than 0.35 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), before planning to return to no new debt in 2022.

Restrictions to curb the second wave of Covid-19 – including shutting the food-and-drink, leisure and cultural sectors – continue to burden the economy, which previously pushed Berlin to amplify its aid to businesses.

Yet case rates continue to climb. On Friday, Germany reported a record nearly 30,000 new infections and almost 600 deaths in a 24-hour period.

Now, Merkel is facing calls to tighten restrictions again.

READ ALSO: Germany mulls three-week lockdown from December 20th

Aid can't be 'endless'

Despite the “ray of hope” of a vaccine rollout, Scholz said, “we know that… we're going to be struggling well into next year with the health, economic and social challenges that are going to follow from this pandemic.”

Businesses hit by the current closures are entitled to claim aid amounting to up to 75 percent of their revenues for November and December 2019, expected to cost the government some 30 billion euros.

However Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said last week that support for pandemic-hit firms implemented through November and December could not go on “endlessly”.

Nevertheless Altmaier on Friday said he aimed to increase the ceiling for aid from January in the case of a harder lockdown.

Germany's debt-to-GDP ratio will climb to 70 percent this year, Germany's central bank said in a report published Friday.

But public finances will likely improve as coronavirus measures come to an end, it said.

The government expects the economy to shrink by 5.5 percent this year, before rebounding by 4.4 percent next year.