The implementation and progress of Germany’s Zeitenwende (A French perspective)

28 février 2024
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and its consequences for Europe, acted as a wake-up call for Germany, heralding the advent of a new era in foreign and defence policy. This so called “Zeitenwende” and its most striking illustration – the implementation of a €100 billion special fund for the modernization of the Bundeswehr  came as a surprise to the German population, as to most European States, especially France. While Paris’ initial reaction was positive, as for years it had been calling on Berlin to assume greater responsibility on defence and hoped for a revival of cooperative defence programmes, it has soon become disenchanted by Germany’s capability choices. Indeed, most of the new fund has been allocated to off-the-shelf procurements from third countries, at the cost of existing or planned Franco-German programmes. This can largely be explained by the difficulties faced by the German administration in coping with a sudden and substantial increase in credit, as well as a difference in threat perception. Thus, while Germany gives priority to short-term objectives such as replenishing its stockpiles and delivering weapons to Ukraine, France regrets a lack of long-term vision that is damaging Europe’s defence industry.

A new distribution of roles in Europe?

However, it is important to recognize the changes and progress made over the last 24 months. Thus, Germany, which initially refused to supply heavy equipment to Ukraine and proposed instead to donate 5,000 helmets, has become Kiev’s 2nd largest supporter in financial and military terms, behind the U.S. Berlin also showed it its ability to be a driving force to unite Member States around common initiatives, such as the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI), yet not without destabilizing France, used to a tacit division of roles between economic leadership (Germany) and military leadership (France). The evolution of the government’s relationship towards the defence industry, after years of disinterest, and its awareness of the need to invest massively, also mark this paradigm shift. However, there is still a long way to go towards a true “Zeitenwende”. Certain taboos remain, as illustrated by Germany’s refusal to deliver Taurus missiles. Germany still lacks a genuine defence industrial policy and long-term financial visibility beyond the special fund, while the modernization of the Bundeswehr is lagging behind.


Published by Hans Seidel Stiftung.
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