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From reluctance to resolution

Hertie School and Centre for International Security host public discussion about strengthening Germany and Europe’s role in a new era of global insecurities.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine two years ago brought about wide-ranging transformations in Germany and in the European Union as a whole. On 14 February, the Hertie School and the Centre for International Security hosted the public event “Europe at a turning point: Reckoning with a new era of geopolitical (in)securities”. The discussion centred on the need for Germany and the European Union to come up with a new vision for European security, as well as on combatting populism.

We were honoured to welcome historian Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford University, and Constanze Stelzenmüller, Director of the Centre on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, as our guest speakers for the evening. The discussion was moderated by Anita Gohdes, Professor of International and Cyber Security at the Centre for International Security.

Hertie School President Cornelia Woll gave the opening remarks. She stressed that the “Russian-Ukrainian War has forever changed European security architecture, and the avalanche of discussion around the so-called Zeitenwende has thrown Germany into a crisis of purpose”. Noting other humanitarian crises around the globe, she stressed that “we urgently need to discuss what role Europe can play in this new era of insecurity”.














Outcome of war in Ukraine is crucial both for Ukraine and Europe

Echoing Woll’s remarks, Timothy Garton Ash argued that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had marked the “beginning of a new epoch in Europe”. In Garton Ash’s view, Ukraine and Europe need to win the war against Russia: “[A Ukrainian defeat] would strongly reinforce the credibility of Putin’s narrative that the West is weak and decadent.” He added that a Russian victory would cause great and middle powers to turn more to each other and Russia than to the West. He was also concerned that Ukraine’s defeat would persuade Chinese leader Xi Jinping that China could successfully seize Taiwan.

Considering the real prospect that the United States could reduce or even withdraw its military presence from Europe should Donald Trump be re-elected US President later this year, Garton Ash stressed that Europe would have to come up with a clear vision for its own security. “Be it Biden or Trump […], future US administrations are going to be less Atlanticist, not more,” Ash argued, “which means we Europeans need to get our act together.”


Speakers stress the need to stem the tide of populism in Europe

In view of Europe’s changed geopolitical situation, the panellists emphasised the need to address populism – both right and left – in Europe. Constanze Stelzenmüller was especially concerned about the rise of the far right, who she said are not just populist, but are “hard-right extremists and white nationalists” who are organised and “bent on constitutional regime change”.


Garton Ash criticised that centre-right parties like Germany’s Christian Democrats were “trying to steal the populists’ clothes by adapting part of their rhetoric while not actually having effective policies”. In his view, centrist parties need to both implement successful policies and reject xenophobic views. At the same time, he emphasised the importance of listening to voters’ concerns. “If we’re trying to win the voters back,” he said, we do not have to show respect for populist leaders, but we do have to show “a lot of respect for their voters”.


Germany needs to take on a leadership role in Europe


Concerning Germany’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Stelzenmüller praised the German government for implementing major and unforeseen foreign security changes, as well as weaning the German economy off of Russian oil “at warp speed”. On the other hand, she was deeply concerned about the German government’s “lack of ambition in defining a future for Ukraine and for a Europe that has to defend itself from Russia”.


Garton Ash agreed with Stelzenmüller’s assessment and looked to the German chancellor to fill this void. He noted that past German chancellors’ strategic leadership, as well as their ability to explain their policies to German society, had “very positively shaped [post-war] European history”. He called upon the current chancellor to take on this leadership role. Yet, although living up to this challenge “depends on the people upstairs, in the chancellery and elsewhere,” he addressed the audience, too, saying that “it also depends on you, ladies and gentlemen, demanding it from below”.


“Europe at a turning point: Reckoning with a new era of geopolitical (in)securities” was the fourth Hertie Futures Forum event, a series which celebrates the Hertie School’s 20th anniversary.

Watch the recording here:  

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