Tuesday

23rd Jul 2019

Merkel caves in on Russia appointment

  • Merkel and Putin have had rocky relationship (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday (9 January) accepted the appointment of a pro-Moscow veteran as special coordinator for Russia policy, a concession made to her coalition partner.

Gernot Erler, who will turn 70 this year, is a close ally of Social Democrat leader and foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, himself a pro-Russian politician.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Erler coordinated German-Russian relations in the foreign ministry at the time when Steinmeier was chief of staff to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Together they secured the construction of a direct gas pipeline from Russia to Germany (Nord Stream) which bypassed Poland and the Baltic states, increasing their vulnerability to Moscow gas politicking.

When Steinmeier took over the foreign minister post in Merkel's first cabinet (2005-2009), Erler was promoted to state secretary and helped draw up the "modernisation partnership."

This was supposed to bring about more democracy to the eastern neighbour through an increased presence of German companies in Russia.

Steinmeier was again sworn in as foreign minister in December and admitted that the partnership programme he championed had not worked very well.

He insisted in coalition talks with Merkel on replacing the current special Russia coordinator, Andreas Schockehoff, who was a vocal critic of human rights abuses in Moscow.

According to Spiegel magazine, there was a row within the Grand Coalition on whether to keep Schockenhoff or replace him with Erler. As for Schockenhoff, he refused to step down, Spiegel reported.

The Erler appoinment can be interpreted as signaling a thaw in German-Russian relations after the release of Putin critics such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the members of the punk band Pussy Riot.

Olaf Boehnke, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, tweeted on Thursday that the appointment will trigger "kind of ease in Moscow for the time being."

And Joerg Forbig, a central and eastern Europe expert with the German Marshall Fund of the US, another foreign policy think tank, tweeted: "Not good: Gernot Erler (SPD) succeeds Andreas Schockenhoff (CDU) as Russia envoy of German gov't. Will Merkel stick to critical engagement?"

The appointment also signals that Steinmeier will be a more powerful foreign minister than his predecessor Guido Westerwelle.

However, Merkel is set to continue to call the shots on major foreign policy decisions - a set-up she has consolidated in her eight years of chancellorship.

Opinion

EU should confront Russia on Ukraine

The Europeanisation of post-Soviet Europe will only happen when Russia is either forced to or decides to let it happen. 

News in Brief

  1. Johnson is next British prime minister
  2. Johnson set to be announced British PM on Tuesday
  3. UK-based owners of .eu domains could keep name
  4. Weyand: EU would respond to US tariffs on cars
  5. UK foreign office minister quits ahead of Johnson as PM
  6. AKK to boost Bundeswehr budget to Nato target
  7. Police arrest 25 after Polish LGBT-march attack
  8. Ukrainian president's party tops parliament election

Analysis

EU should stop an insane US-Iran war

"If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!", US president Donald Trump tweeted on Monday (20 May).

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. Macron: 14 EU states agree on a migration 'mechanism'
  2. As Johnson set to become PM, ministers pledge to resign
  3. Poland's PiS prepares 'failsafe' for October election
  4. Abortion Wars
  5. EU goes on holiday as new UK PM arrives This WEEK
  6. Survey: Half of EU staff 'don't know' ethics rules
  7. Von der Leyen signals soft touch on migrants, rule of law
  8. Timmermans: von der Leyen will be tough on rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us