Armin Laschet, one of the pioneers to succeed German Chancellor Angela Merkel this year, called for the creation of a national security council as part of a more “proactive” foreign policy.
Laschet made the proposal in his first major foreign and defense policy speech since being selected last month as the center-right candidate for chancellor in the Bundestag elections in September.
Laschet called for a “more strategic” approach to international affairs to improve Germany’s resilience to crises, terrorist attacks and pandemics. It was not enough to “just react to crises – we have to become proactive”.
This could be achieved by creating a National Security Council, headquartered in the Chancellery, which would pool “the expertise of the whole government at decisive moments for our country”. According to his proposal, the council would formulate a “national security strategy” and present it in the first year of each legislature.
Laschet suggested he would be aligned with the Merkel era on most political issues, endorsing his approach to relations with Russia and the United States and expressing support for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany. .
Like Merkel, he stressed the importance of close economic relations with China, which he identified as “a partner, a competitor and a rival”, and he supported the ratification of the investment agreement that the EU concluded with the country at the end of December.
But Laschet also criticized the sanctions Beijing imposed in March on European lawmakers in retaliation for EU sanctions against four Chinese officials implicated in human rights violations in Xinjiang, and hinted that the agreement investment could only be ratified if the measures are lifted.
“If you want to be [our] partner, you have to show mutual respect, ”he said. “So on this issue, I would like to see a movement on the Chinese side.”
Laschet, who was elected leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Union in January, also insisted that Germany must live up to its NATO pledge to spend 2% of its GDP on defense, a target that she constantly missed. The Greens, who poll over 20 percent just behind the CDU, and are expected to be part of Germany’s next government, have long been skeptical of the 2 percent target.
Laschet acknowledged that it would be “very ambitious” to achieve the goal after a pandemic that has left a hole in the country’s public finances. “But our security and the need to arm and equip the Bundeswehr should not be at the back of the queue,” he said.
Speaking at a virtual event organized by the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Laschet delivered a strongly pro-European message, calling for a “Central Europe” of countries ready to pursue a more energetic European foreign policy. This vanguard could initially be formed by Germany and France, he said, although others are free to join.
He also said the EU must develop security ties with post-Brexit Britain and relaunch the transatlantic relationship, calling for a “large free trade area” between Europe and the United States and a common policy on climate change. Echoing the Chancellor, he also made a strong appeal for multilateralism and the reform of international institutions such as the UN.
Laschet described Hungary’s recent behavior in the EU as a “central problem in European foreign policy”. Budapest was the only member state to block a joint declaration calling for the implementation of a ceasefire in the Middle East.
“I think we need to gradually move towards qualified majority voting [EU] foreign policy, ”he said.