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German Election

DW Conflict Zone: German parties tackle foreign policy ahead of election

Less than two weeks ahead of the German election, representatives from six main parties have discussed foreign policy in a DW debate. Turkey and migration were divisive issues, and Brexit made its first appearance.

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Conflict Zone - The Debate

With leading questions posed by audience members, foreign policy was the name of the game at Wednesday night's debate.

As Germany's only English-language debate ahead of the September 24 election, representatives from the six main parties addressed some of the biggest challenges to face German foreign policy since the Cold War.

Read more: Where Germany's main parties stand on foreign policy

Omid Nouripour (Green Party)

Omid Nouripour, Green Party

North Korea 

Just two days after the UN Security Council unanimously backed new sanctions against Kim Jong Un's regime after Pyongyang conducted another nuclear test, North Korea was first on the agenda for host Tim Sebastian.

Read more: North Korea: Germany, China back 'peaceful' dialogue

So what would the representatives say to Kim Jong Un? Answers got off to a shaky start, with the response from Green representative Omid Nouripour sounding more like the start of an awkward breakup: "We have to talk."

Andreas Nick (CDU)

Andreas Nick, Christian Democratic Union (CDU)

But German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly spoken in favor of dialogue and diplomacy over military intervention — something the other representatives also favored, including Ralf Stegner, deputy head of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who sees the UN as the place to keep the discussion alight.

Andreas Nick of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) also stressed the importance of "avoiding escalation to nuclear war by accident." 

One thing was clear: no one on this panel was looking to start a nuclear war any time soon. With or without intention.

Panelist for the far-right AfD Christine Anderson

Christine Anderson, Alternative for Germany (AfD)

The US president

The debate quickly moved on to Donald Trump, with the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) representative Christine Anderson — "the lady in yellow," as SPD's Stegner called her — criticizing the rest of the panel for "not acknowledging" Trump as the US president.

But is the US still a reliable ally with Trump at the helm? "He's endangering the world with his tweets," Stegner said.

Read more:  Merkel: Trump's isolationism risks making US irrelevant, not great

Read more: Merkel's rival, Martin Schulz, claims chancellor is too soft on Trump

Liberal FDP representative Michael Link held a torch for the future of German-US relations, however, saying that "trans-Atlantic relations have been built for stormy weather and not for good weather."

Michael Link, (FDP)

Michael Link, Free Democratic Party (FDP)

"And we have stormy weather now," he said.

Military spending

Next it was on to NATO, and with social equality among some of the leading issues in Germany's election, pledges from Merkel to eventually increase Germany's military spending to 2 percent of its GDP have prompted fears that this could lower spending on the country's social security.

 

Read more: German Defense Minister Von der Leyen dubious about NATO's 2-percent rule

Greens' representative Nouripour took a sidestep from his party's rather pacifist tone, instead calling for a greater role for Germany's military, but not without reform.

Conflict Zone - The Debate (DW/M. Altmann)

Ralf Stegner, Social Democrats (SPD)

Despite Berlin's usual opposition to any military intervention, Merkel's fellow CDU member Nick said more needs to be spent on Germany's military.

But SPD's Stegner was quick to try and score a point against his grand coalition partner, pointing out the Christian Democrats or their Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, had been in control of the military for years — 12, in fact.

Russia and the Crimean annexation

Stefan Liebich (Left Party)

Stefan Liebich, Left Party

On the relationship with Russia, all panelists struggled to overcome the hurdle of the conflict in Ukraine.

The AfD's Anderson prompted gasps around the studio, however, when she said: "We're talking as if Crimea has been taken by the Russians." She maintained the Crimean population had made the democratic decision to join the Russian territory.

Looking ahead, no panelist was able to offer a long-term solution.

After being pulled up by the FDP's Link on why Social Democrat and German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was offering to lift Russian sanctions in the case of a ceasefire, the SPD's Stegner replied that he "doesn't know anybody" who thinks sanctions will work.

Watch video 06:29

Germany ahead of national elections: DW's Charlotte Potts on refugee, AfD issues

Migration and refugees

Addressing the future of one of Germany’' key election issues," there were no surprises from the AfD on the topic of migration, as Anderson spoke in favor of closing Germany's borders.

"This is the answer to our internal security," she said, claiming that she can't go out on the streets any longer, referring to events in Cologne when young migrants molested dozens of women on New Year's Eve 2016, prompting a heated debate.

Asked whether Germany can manage the numbers, Stefan Liebich of the Left Party prompted applause as he answered: "Most of these people are asking for help from poor countries and they are getting the help there."

Nouripour from the Greens added that there are many "dirty deals with dictators" nowadays, such as in Turkey. This shouldn't be the result of the migration problem, he said.

Erdogan

Relations between Berlin and Ankara have continued to deteriorate in recent months

Turkey and President Erdogan

This brings us to the topic of Turkey, where Germany is currently walking one of its most precarious diplomatic tightropes. "How do you insist on human rights in Turkey but avoid alienating a huge and important country?" an audience member asked, dividing panelists over issues such as EU accession talks and the refugee deal, while 12 German journalists remain imprisoned in Turkey.

Read more: EU brushes off Germany's call to end Turkey membership talks

Read more: Cem Özdemir: 'Erdogan wants to establish Turkey in Germany'

The Left Party's Liebich spoke firmly of ending the refugee deal with Turkey — a move also supported by the AfD panelist — but favored only suspending accession talks as opposed to ending them completely. You have to keep in mind the half of the Turkish population who look to the EU for democratic support, Liebich said.

The SPD's Stegner also spoke against ending the refugee deal. "What Turkey is really afraid of is the stopping of economic ties," he added.

Brexit black sheep

But as one country vies to get into the EU, another is on its way out. Brexit has failed to play any significant role in the German election campaign and was completely off the radar during the recent Merkel-Schulz TV debate.

But with German exporters hopeful of maintaining sales to the UK post-Brexit, good relations between Berlin and London will remain key.

Read more: Brexit in Germany: 'Citizenship is not a panacea' for Brits

Read more: Hard Brexit to cost German car industry jobs: study

Angela Merkel and Theresa May at the G20 summit

Brexit: Is Germany really ready to shut the door on the UK?

Echoing the hard stance taken by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, the CDU's Nick said the British government must "learn the hard way" that opting out has consequences. One of the loudest rounds of applause came, however, when the SPD's Stegner said the door should be left open for the UK should there be the chance to rekindle the love lost across the English Channel.  

Closing the debate, panelists were left with the conundrum of who they currently consider their closest ally. After Germany's recent effort to cozy up to France, especially since the election of President Emmanuel Macron, France would have probably been a favorite had the list not been limited to the UK, US, Russia or Turkey.

Read more: Merkron: Macron's EU ideals meet Merkel's mastery

Anderson (AfD) and the Greens' Nouripour both backed the UK — with or without Brexit, the latter added. Stegner (SPD), Nick (CDU) and Link (FDP) both rooted for the US, with Nick adding: "We very much miss President Obama."

Liebich from the Left, however said he would not choose, as international relations are too complex for short simplistic answers. 

Read here: A blow by blow account of the debate as it happened

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