In recent decades, no state has made such an effort as Germany to radically change itself, disassociating from its past without denying its historical responsibility. Unlike Japan or Turkey, which try to minimize the excesses committed against China and Armenia, the Germans have assumed and studied the policy that led them to provoke the most tragic of the world wars. During the Nazi era (1933-1945) the regime murdered tens of millions of people in Europe, between the occupied nations and Germany itself.
Included in this staggering number of crimes are 6 million European Jews, along with Gypsies, dissidents, democrats, communists, freemasons, principled Christians and the disabled, among many others. Eleven million in all were executed in extermination camps and gas chambers. The Nazi war and genocide resulted in more than 50 million deaths.
Resistance movements were formed in every country. There were civilians and diplomats who managed to save thousands of persecuted people, such as the Swedish Raúl Wallenberg, the Italian Giorgio Perlasca or the Uruguayan consul in Hamburg Florencio Rivas, among many others.
Germany lost a large part of its territory in 1945 and absorbed 13 million displaced persons. With the reunification of 1990, the nation regained its full independence. Today, it is a democratic, parliamentary and federal state. It has 84 million inhabitants in an area of 356,000 km2 (only twice the size of Uruguay). Its capital, Berlin, united in 1989 after the fall of the wall ordered by Moscow, has become a city with a new shine.
Germany consists of 16 federal states called Länder. The German political system operates under the Basic Law. Chancellor Angela Merkel heads the executive branch. The legislative power is vested in the Bundestag, the supreme federal body. It represents the will of the people, votes on general laws and controls the government. It is composed of 598 deputies elected for four years.
The Federal Chancellor can be dismissed by a motion of censure by the Bundestag, which must simultaneously elect a successor. Since 1949, the party system has been dominated by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The Basic Law states that the states must comply with the provisions of the legislature. Federal law prevails over the laws of the individual states. The Bundesrat is the federal body through which the states participate in national legislation. Each state is highly autonomous in its internal organization.
Germany is a member of the Schengen zone and adopted the euro in 1999. It is a member of the UN, NATO, the G7 and adhered to the Kyoto Protocol. It is the world’s fourth largest economy, with a GDP of $51,000 per capita and a high quality of life (HDI 0.95). In absolute terms, it allocates the third largest annual aid budget to development projects in the world. The country has an advanced social security system. It has a key position in Europe and is recognized as a leader in science and technology.
After reunification, Germany turned its capital into a city of the highest social and cultural level. In addition to prestigious projects, the nation is at the forefront of “green building” (solar energy, non-polluting materials such as wood and energy saving). It is the most important country in the European Union in terms of economic strength. Exports represent half of the economy and its companies stand out in world markets, with quality automobiles and industrial machinery.
The Turkish issue has a great weight in Berlin, for economic reasons -German companies have large investments- and because of the Turkish population in Germany. It is estimated that there are more than 3 million people of Turkish origin, being the largest non-German community in the country, as well as the largest diaspora in Ankara.
Since the foiled coup in Turkey in 2016, bilateral relations have been deteriorating. Ankara accused Germany of not taking a clear position on the coup, as well as of doing nothing in the face of exiled preacher Fethulla Gülen, whom Erdogan accuses of being the ringleader of the military uprising. He then began purging military officers, politicians and civil servants accused of having acted against him, many of whom took refuge in Germany, provoking a harsh reaction from Ankara.
Berlin has begun to curb this influence in the country. The Minister of the Interior proposed to limit the presence of Turkish imams. To this end, the state will train its own imams, a policy similar to that of France. The presence of Turkish schools in Germany has also caused controversy, with critics defining them as “satellites of the dictator Erdogan.”
As for the various Turkish military adventures, in Kurdistan or Libya, these have caused alarm bells to ring in Berlin in the face of Ankara’s expansion. However, as is often the case with German foreign policy, statements have not been accompanied by actions. Most proactive has been Operation Irini, the arms embargo on Libya, where the German navy is deployed. With the election of Joe Biden, Germany expects Washington to address the Turkish problem.
A timid policy towards the world
Germany’s foreign policy is based mainly on strengthening its trade relations. Berlin doesn’t play an active role in foreign policy, unlike France, and lacks an ambitious geopolitical project. It doesn’t play a leading role on the world stage or in the rivalry between powers.
The German position vis-à-vis Russia is ambivalent. On the one hand, there is support for Nord Steam 2, and on the other, encouragement for the imposition of sanctions due to the problem with Ukraine. There are three pillars to this policy: trade partnership, solidarity with Ukraine, and support for NATO in its goal of “containment.”
After the Cold War, Moscow became a partner, a position that was strengthened under the Social Democratic government. Angela Merkel inherited this new bond, but became progressively more distrustful of Moscow. In 2014, hostility increased. Berlin led the European response against Russia in the wake of the Crimea and Ukraine crisis, adhering to the U.S. strategy. In this sense, Berlin, unlike Paris, aligned itself with the transatlantic organization.
Angela Merkel was among the main advocates of pressuring Moscow over the annexation of Crimea. She accused Vladimir Putin of violating Ukraine’s “territorial integrity and sovereignty,” stressing that “there must be consequences.” However, in parallel – in a pendulum line – he did not want to affect his own business.
The Nord Stream 2 project is emblematic, as it demonstrates the priority for Germany of its trade policy. It refers to the pipeline whose aim is to transport Russian gas to Western Europe via the Baltic Sea, bypassing Eastern Europe. This will double the amount of Russian gas received.
In total, the investment amounts to 10 billion euros. The European Commission was critical of the agreement, as Brussels argues that it will increase dependency: one third of the gas they consume comes from Russia. In any case, Germany has prevented any country from slowing down the negotiations, assuring its position as leader. Washington has defined the pipeline as a “political weapon of the Kremlin”. The delay in the project was due to the American threats, who have proposed a moratorium on the project.
As for China, Germany is Europe’s largest investor there, as well as its largest trading partner on the old continent. Relations with Beijing are a priority. However, in 2016, the Chinese Midea Group bought Kuka, one of the jewels of the German robotics industry, producing a shake-up in Berlin, which viewed with fear a possible hollowing out of its economic engine. In view of possible new purchases, a law was passed to block possible foreign purchases.
Within the European Union (EU), Germany holds the position of “central power.” The country has the largest representation in the European Parliament by virtue of its status as the most populous state in the bloc. In addition, it is the member with the largest annual contribution to the EU budget.
Germany is also a world leader in canal construction. The Kiel Canal, which links the North Sea to the Baltic Sea, is one of the most impressive. Numerous river canals, such as the Rhine-Main-Danube, the Dortmund-Ems or the Elbe-Seitenkanal, provide the country with a complete network of canals.
Germany’s population pyramid (13 % young, 66 % adults and 21 % elderly) is common in developed countries, with low birth and mortality rates. Generally, this indicates a long life expectancy, high educational level and good medical care. The future projection is that the number of inhabitants will be decreasing.
From the religious point of view, Christianity is the majority faith -in its Catholic and Protestant versions- with 46 million followers. The second is Islam, with 4.3 million followers -most of them of Turkish origin- followed by Buddhism and Judaism, both with 200,000 followers. The number of atheists and agnostics reaches 39 % of the population. The recreation of a German Hebrew community has been promoted by the government, which in turn maintains close ties with Israel.
Germany conducts a permanent marketing campaign on a global scale, in order to promote its current reality. The focus is on its strong democratic institutions, universities, scientific research, health, tourist attractiveness and culture. The country’s image has changed. In surveys around the world it occupies the top positions. Germany’s enormous effort to overcome its past and project a present and future of freedom and progress has paid off.