Monday, May 25, 2009

Germany's Middle East and North Africa policy: interests, strategies, options

Talking of German interests in the Middle East and North Africa is frowned upon in German policy circles. Preferred is a reference to the normative power and Germany's role in the European Union. Authors of a recent publication (pdf in German) of the German Institute for International Politics and Security are convinced that interests and policy targets need to be made clear and should be embedded in a long-term regional strategy. The study includes articles dealing with Israel and Palestine, Iraq, the Gulf Cooperation Council member states, Iran and the Maghreb as well as with the cross-cutting issues energy, migration and terrorism.

In her contribution about the Maghreb, Isabelle Werenfels writes about a region which was marginalized in German foreign policy until questions of energy security, terrorism and migration appeared on the policy agenda. She concludes that a regional strategy is not existent. Instead, Germany is dealing with each country bilaterally and further actively contributes to the European Mediterranean Policy. The Solar Energy Plan of the EU which was initiated by Germany provides opportunities for a more intensified cooperation.

Steffen Angenendt writes about the pressure caused by irregular and illegal migration from and within the Middle East and North Africa. He calls on the Europeans to take a closer look at migration flows within these regions which are a threat to regional stability. Angenendt also criticizes the European asylum restrictions which make it almost impossible to get refugee status and leaves illegal migration as the only option.

Guido Steinberg summarizes that the greatest German concerns in the Middle East and North Africa are the regional conflicts between Israel and Palestine and the hegemony struggle between Iraq, Iran and Saudi-Arabia. It is in Germany's interest to maintain and improve regional stability. However, this should not lead to the acceptance of autocratic regimes as the best of two evils. It means strengthening democratic change and social transformation processes which are needed to achieve sustainable development. If no room for democratic opposition will be given new conflicts and terrorism will be the consequence.

The appearance of new actors like Russia, China or India as new potential partners for the region without a democratization agenda makes it difficult for Germany and Europe to insist on democratic reforms. Therefore Steinberg makes a plea for an active German role to solve the refugee crisis in the region which will help to overcome the humanitarian drama, minimize the conflict risk and bring valuable influence on the new elite of the region once the refugees return.

by Martin Behrens

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