“Germany is ready to lead” German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said as she presented the so-called “White Paper” on security policy approved by the cabinet earlier on Wednesday.
When the last White Paper was released back in 2006, the global circumstances were very much different; Russia was a partner, Ukraine and Crimea were not an issue, Syria and Libya were not torn by civil wars, ISIS was not a threat, and of course there was no refugee crisis. Therefore, the world today faces crises in a density and concurrency never seen before, von der Leyen said.
Germany is ready to “assume responsibility”, the document said, and “help meet current and future security and humanitarian challenges”. “Germany is increasingly seen as a key player in Europe” the document also noted.
The 2016 White Paper marks a major shift for the country’s policy. It sees Germany as gradually assuming a larger defense role within the frameworks of NATO and the European Union. It also envisions a future defense union of European states.
The Brexit vote gives the rest of the EU a chance to increase security and foreign policy co-operation without the risk of London blocking proposals, the German defense minister has said in a plea for more joint European military initiatives.
“Europeans are right to expect that the EU tackles the big questions”, Ms von der Leyen said on Wednesday, adding that after the UK’s departure “we now have that opportunity”, which, however, may be premature, as few member states have followed up on promises over military co-operation with action.
The paper calls for “permanent structured co-operation in the defense sector”, which is allowed under the EU’s 2007 Lisbon treaty but has so far not been effectively implemented, partly because of British opposition.
The White Paper, approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, also urges steps that could eventually lead to the creation of an EU army, such as the integration of military capabilities and defense industries. “We are aiming to establish a permanent [European] civil-military operational headquarters in the medium term” it says.
Nevertheless, even at home, the White Paper faces criticism. The opposition and members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), objected key points of the new plan.
SPD parliamentary defense spokesman Rainer Arnold said, among other things, that the paper is not honest regarding funding. The plan pretends everything can be financed, and NATO defense spending goals of 2% of GDP can be reached, he added. “That's an illusion,” he said.
Germany’s Left Party was much blunter: “The White Paper is nothing but a written demand for more money for more soldiers, for more military operations and more military equipment. It's a White Paper for armaments and war”.