Germany is rediscovering Realpolitik. More precisely: weigh which of the options is a greater evil and which is a lesser evil.
A green economy minister, Robert Habeck, is touring the Arab world to negotiate contracts for the supply of liquefied gas, as an alternative to Russian gas.
In recent years, anyone who has dared to make this suggestion on a German talk show has been met with a storm of outrage. Middle East gas? This is despotic gas, bought with the dissidents’ servitude or even with their blood.
The objection was valid then and it is valid today. But when a red-green-yellow federal leadership now dismisses it, it also reveals that the debates were held without alternatives at the time, as the chancellor ruled.
Thought patterns were repeated until they seemed done.
Where the energy sources came from was not a matter of open consideration. Figures of speech and thought patterns were repeated so frequently that they were once considered facts that were no longer in question. Arab gas doesn’t work because it’s bloody. Fracking US gas does not because it is harmful to the environment. And nuclear energy is irresponsible for many Germans; for many other Europeans it is.
Even then, Russian gas was fucking gas. And harmful to the environment given Russian extraction methods. Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea in 2014 and expanded the war to Donbass in eastern Ukraine. In 2018, he cut off Ukrainian Sea of Azov ports like Mariupol from international shipping lanes by blockading the Kerch Strait, Ukraine’s sovereign territory.
The then Justice Minister Katarina Barley (SPD) did not want to condemn the attack by Russian warships on Ukrainian ships in the strait in 2018 as an act of aggression. She rejected Arab gas as an alternative to Russian gas. American LPG too.
Now that Putin has completed the destruction of Mariupol with bombs and rockets, Germany sees the world differently. War is now called war. Given the images of the destroyed cities, who would deny that Putin’s gas and oil are stained with blood.
What is still valid since Scholz declared the “change of era”?
Arabian gas is now seen as the lesser evil, even if little has changed in governance methods in Qatar and the United Emirates. And who of today’s justice ministers would refuse to name who is the aggressor and who is the victim?
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The return to realpolitik’s balance between greater and lesser evils is not limited to energy policy. It covers many areas of life and politics. The world cannot be divided into black and white, right and wrong. It is full of shades of gray.
But as correct and necessary as it is to recognize the full range of options for action and not limit them by excluding them in advance: first of all, widespread uncertainty is likely to spread.
The old regulations gave guidance and support to many citizens. Germany believes in the pacifying effect of economic integration, does not export weapons to war zones, pursues a foreign and European policy based on the defense of human rights and basic values, democracy, freedom of the press and the state of right.
What remains true of this since Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared the start of the war a “turning point”?
Next surprise: Hungary votes in twelve days
The next change is in the treatment of violators of the rule of law in the EU. Here, too, a figure of thought has been established: Poland and Hungary must come to their senses by all means, from criminal proceedings to the withdrawal of EU funds. Because the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press are absolute values.
Even before the Russian invasion, it was questionable whether the EU Commission would be able to stay the course without compromise. Poland and Hungary threaten to block decisions that require unanimity. Those are many.
But can the EU still afford to fight to resolve internal conflicts? Unity is becoming a prerequisite for his geopolitical control over Russia and China. Here, too, the invocation of absolute principles gradually turns into deliberation.
Hungary votes in 12 days. Viktor Orbán is likely to remain in power. In times of war, citizens shy away from the risks of change and trust in continuity. But if Orbán stays, should the EU come to terms with him instead of sparking four years of divisive bickering?
Brussels seeks a compromise with Poland
In Poland, too, there is little currently to suggest a change of power in the next election in 2023. So far, the country has borne the brunt of war refugees.
An agreement has long been negotiated in Brussels on how the dispute over Poland’s judicial reform can be resolved so that EU funds can be paid to Poland. They are necessary to face the costs derived from the war. Blocking them even more would be the greatest evil.
The war is forcing a reassessment and changing priorities in many areas. That seems disturbing. And yet, it also has its good points. Beliefs that have not been questioned for a long time are subjected to a reality test. Sometimes they prove themselves. Sometimes not, and then they are resolved correctly.