One year ago, on February 27, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivered a speech in the Bundestag, in which he spoke of ‘Zeitenwende’, a powerful word meaning “change of era”. He promised to revitalize the armed forces with a special fund of 100,000 million euros and increase its defense spending to reach 2% of GDP. This was a significant change for Germany, with the wounds of its recent history, and an enormous challenge.
Public opinion was divided, with 52% of Germans saying last year that they would prefer Germany to continue to act moderately in international crises and 59% having no confidence in its military forces. Despite the structural and political challenges, Scholz’s plan has made some progress. His successor, Boris Pistorius, had to quickly assume functions, including sending arms to a war zone – something Germany has traditionally been very restrictive about.
In addition, the German government has changed its relationship with Russia, a country that Berlin viewed as both a political rival and an economic partner. Before the war, Germany had increasingly deepened its energy relationship with that country, but when the war began, Germany was left vulnerable. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier acknowledged political mistakes and admitted that the government should have taken the warnings more seriously. The chancellor and his cabinet have since taken measures to reduce that dependency, diversify their energy sources and fill up gas reserves.
It has been a relatively successful process, although there have also been problems. The economy suffered from this new reality and energy prices temporarily skyrocketed. In addition, the decision to reactivate coal plants due to the energy crisis raised doubts about the climate commitment of a country that, according to Scholz himself, wants to achieve climate neutrality by 2045.
These issues have made a dent in the popularity of the Government, with 68% of the country worried about a possible deterioration of the economy and only 36% supporting the government’s course in its political decisions on the war in Ukraine. One year after Scholz’s speech about the new era, it is clear that Germany has been transformed, but there is still a long way to go.