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The current Kosovo’s issue

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As from January 14 until a few days ago, a Serbian train was stationing on the Kosovo border. The train is decorated with letters that read “Kosovo is Serbian” in various languages, as well as with a series of figures and insignia of the Orthodox religion and Serbian nationalism. Kosovo’s authorities have so far blocked the train march along the 213 km line from Belgrade to Mitroviça, a city with a Serb majority located within Muslim Kosovo.

The political and military tension is already very high: Serbia can count on an armed force of about 60,000 well-trained and armed soldiers, while the Kosovo security forces can reach a maximum size of 6,000 units. As is well-known, the peace agreement between Serbia and Kosovo dates back to twenty years ago: it was reached after the NATO bombing of the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Today, almost all Western countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, with the exception of Russia and China, which believe that the region is an integral part of Serbia.As, indeed, is still enshrined in the current Serbian Constitution.

It is worth recalling that the Dayton Agreements (or, more precisely, the General Framework Agreement for Peace) of November 1995 envisaged a strategic architecture foreboding countless problems, as often happens when you build States and even peoples in a bureaucratic way.

The Dayton Agreements provided for the establishment of a Croat-Muslim Federation, accounting for 51% of the pre-agreement national territory, as well as 92 municipalities and Republika Srpska, which is sovereign over the remaining 49%.

The two entities are largely autonomous but, as the Agreements read, they are placed “within a unitary State framework”.

A vague phrase and, once again, foreboding strategic and geopolitical dangers we can easily imagine.

The Presidency rotates every eight months by alternating a Serb, a Croat and a Muslim Head of State.

As often happened – and this applies also to Italy – the peace reached after the US victory led to fully dysfunctional political and constitutional systems, with internal mechanisms of block and overrepresentation not even allowing the normal functioning of the institutions.

Obviously this weakens forever the State that lost the war or the nation which is “engineered” in such a way as to block any decision or postpone it indefinitely.

Republika Srpska is also equipped with an autonomous single-chamber Parliament, while the Croat-Muslim Federation is characterized by a two-chamber legislative Assembly.

Therefore, every four years, 42 members are elected, 28 of whom are voted by the Federation and the remaining 14 by the Serbs, while the “House of Peoples” counts 5 Serbs, 5 Croats and 5 Muslims.

Hence clear overrepresentation of Balkan Islam and an equally clear political mechanism punishing the Serb population, as well as a State political apparatus made on purpose to be ineffective and dysfunctional.

Furthermore, between 2012 and 2015, at least 250 Muslims from Bosnia-Herzegovina alone moved to the Middle East to wage the jihad – a significant number considering that the total population amounts to 3,800,000 people.

Weapons of war are still widespread and Islamist and jihadist terrorist groups are mostly concentrated in mountain villages.

Bosniac media speak of at least 64 paradzemate, namely autonomous jihadist and terrorist groups spread over peripheral villages and mountains.

Furthermore the President of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodic, is currently under investigation on charges of money laundering, but he has scheduled a referendum in 2018 to declare the Serbian side’s independence.

Kosovo is a country with one of the highest rates of political corruption in the world, while the Serbs present in the Kosovo Republic have recently been authorized to have large territorial autonomy from EU supervisors.

With the Western winners’ silly nationalistic engineering, the crazy Balkan wars of the 1990s have created a powder keg which is bound to burst at any moment.

In Macedonia, a notoriously corrupt government has exacerbated tensions with the local Albanian minority, accounting for approximately 25% of the population, who wants to achieve independence through the federalization of Macedonia and, in the future, of all the Balkan States created by the ill-omened Dayton Agreements.

Albanians, as well as Muslims, are everywhere in the Balkans.

Applying the criterion of ethnic or religious status means no longer set logical or territorial limits to the Balkan hyper-fragmentation.

In Croatia, the United States has supported the local armed forces against the Serbian Krajina’s military, in a geopolitical cupio dissolvi that – instead of rebuilding a strong Serbia, capable of acting as a bulwark against jihadist Islam – has generated a long series of small and irrelevant ethnic republics – often religion-based – thus creating the tension which is currently emerging in the Balkans.

The same holds true for Kosovo, where the US support was in Albanians’ favour.

Why? If the United States had blocked the smuggling of weapons on the border between Kosovo and Albania, by condemning the violence of Kosovo’s forces and the equally harsh violence of the Serb forces, the agreement would have been easier and more stable.

Once the US threat to bomb the region had become clear, the Serbian population of Kosovo was left alone and unarmed, in the grip of violence perpetrated by KLA and the other Kosovo-Albanian paramilitary organizations.

Pain and fear are still a recent memory, embedded in the minds of many Serbs and other groups that have been inevitably underrepresented in the mad Western post-Yugoslav system of divide and rule.

Therefore, the first and – we could say – the last war, waged by the United States in their new role as single global superpower, has led to an irrational and unstable situation.

It seems that today “humanitarian” wars are no longer fought to define a new strategic balance, but to perpetuate instability and military conflicts in the places in which they occur.

Just think of the Lebanon – which is now a long-standing case of “geopolitical usucapion” – or of Central Africa.

Where we reason in terms of “stabilization forces”, certainly stabilization is reached, but it is the stabilization of the military, humanitarian and geopolitical crisis we initially wanted to solve.

Hence making the Balkans porous, pervious and unstable – possibly to destabilize also the EU in the future and give the whole region to Islamism – was certainly not a good idea.

Furthermore, at the time, although being opposed to ethno-religious separatism, Russia did not want to fully support the Orthodox and Slavic Serbia, for fear that the separation of Serbs from the rest of former Yugoslavia favoured the application of the same principle to Chechnya.

Conversely, Turkey fully supported the US stabilization of the region, which favoured the Islamists and, in particular, brought peace to Turkey’s main economic axis to penetrate the EU.

Certainly, after Daesh-Isis’ siege of Mosul, many jihadist foreign fighters will go or come back to the Balkans, namely the closest, most Islamized and most unstable Eurasian region, as well as a buffer between a weak and listless European Union and the new great Islamic political-military ummah which is being built.

Salafism is also increasingly widespread in the Balkans, lavishly subsidized by Saudi Arabia. Until the late 1990s, thousands of jihadists went to fight, in Kosovo and Croatia, to defend their fellow Islamists in many post-Yugoslav wars.

So far approximately 900 Albanian, Croat and Bosnian jihadists have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq and about 300 of them have already come back and – as we can easily imagine – will not stand with their arms folded.

Last year a video developed by Daesh-Isis “advertised” a Balkan “regional caliphate”, calling Albanian and Bosniac militants for the jihad.

The reduction of rights and territories of the Serbian and Slavic Orthodox Christians – namely the target of many recent Balkan wars – was only aimed at reducing the Russian influence in the region, but gave us the Bosnian-Albanian jihad.

In my opinion, it is not a brilliant result.

Reverting to the Serbian train, in all likelihood, if it gets across the Kosovo border, it will be attacked by Kosovo security forces. Hence the casus belli – that the Serbs are seeking to redefine borders to their advantage, as well as to take back Albanian Republic’s regions which, inter alia, are traditionally Serbian – will materialize.

It should also be noted that Kosovo’s Parliament is currently discussing whether and when to build a real army.

Currently its Security Forces consists of 2,500 soldiers with light weapons and 800 reservists.

On the contrary, Kosovo’s politicians think of a real armed force with 5,000 soldiers and 3,000 reservists.

Certainly Kosovo’s new military will not stay idle and will undoubtedly facilitate the Salafist penetration and help the networks of jihadists coming back from Syria and Iraq.

Hence, after ending operations in Syria, the next permanent destabilization region will be the Balkan Islamic, Kosovo, Bosnian and Croat region.

This will lead to currently unimaginable pressures on the EU, which will have a huge reservoir of jihadists at its side, who will surely close the buffer area between the European Union and Central Asia, as well as definitively destabilize the continuity between Europe and the Russian Federation.

Moreover, China itself will be locked in its “passage to the West” with the Belt and Road Initiative, which will stop where desired by the jihadists who occupy the “middle region” between the EU and Eurasia.

It is currently hard to imagine the economic, strategic and geopolitical impact of the Balkans’ future destabilization, but I fear it will be huge, thus distorting Europe’s military and strategic posture, as well as its economic development.

Meanwhile, instead of blindly following the US “policy line” in the Balkans – well remembering Bill Clinton’s big   statue in the Kosovo’s capital, Pristina – the EU should think about a strategy, including a military one, to face the current crisis of all Balkan countries.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Europe

Iceland’s Historic(al) Elections

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The morning of September, 26 was a good one for Lenya Run Karim of the Pirate Party. Once the preliminary results were announced, things were clear: the 21-year-old law student of the University of Iceland, originating from a Kurdish immigrant family, had become the youngest MP in the country’s history.

In historical significance, however, this event was second to another. Iceland, the world champion in terms of gender equality, became the first country in Europe to have more women MPs than men, 33 versus 30. The news immediately made world headlines: only five countries in the world have achieved such impressive results. Remarkably, all are non-European: Rwanda, Nicaragua and Cuba have a majority of women in parliament, while Mexico and the UAE have an equal number of male and female MPs.

Nine hours later, news agencies around the world had to edit their headlines. The recount in the Northwest constituency affected the outcome across the country to delay the ‘triumph for women’ for another four years.

Small numbers, big changes

The Icelandic electoral system is designed so that 54 out of the 63 seats in the Althingi, the national parliament, are primary or constituency seats, while another nine are equalization seats. Only parties passing the 5 per cent threshold are allowed to distribute equalisation seats that go to the candidates who failed to win constituency mandates and received the most votes in their constituency. However, the number of equalisation mandates in each of the 6 constituencies is legislated. In theory, this could lead to a situation in which the leading party candidate in one constituency may simply lack an equalisation mandate, so the leading candidate of the same party—but in another constituency—receives it.

This is what happened this year. Because of a difference of only ten votes between the Reform Party and the Pirate Party, both vying for the only equalisation mandate in the Northwest, the constituency’s electoral commission announced a recount on its own initiative. There were also questions concerning the counting procedure as such: the ballots were not sealed but simply locked in a Borgarnes hotel room. The updated results hardly affected the distribution of seats between the parties, bringing in five new MPs, none of whom were women, with the 21-year-old Lenya Run Karim replaced by her 52-year-old party colleague.

In the afternoon of September, 27, at the request of the Left-Green Movement, supported by the Independence Party, the Pirates and the Reform Party, the commission in the South announced a recount of their own—the difference between the Left-Greens and the Centrists was only seven votes. There was no ‘domino effect’, as in the case of the Northwest, as the five-hour recount showed the same result. Recounts in other districts are unlikely, nor is it likely that Althingi—vested with the power to declare the elections valid—would invalidate the results in the Northwest. Nevertheless, the ‘replaced’ candidates have already announced their intention to appeal against the results, citing violations of ballot storage procedures. Under the Icelandic law, this is quite enough to invalidate the results and call a re-election in the Northwest, as the Supreme Court of Iceland invalidated the Constitutional Council elections due to a breach of procedure 10 years ago. Be that as it may, the current score remains 33:30, in favor of men.

Progressives’ progress and threshold for socialists

On the whole, there were no surprises: the provisional allocation of mandates resembles, if with minor changes, the opinion polls on the eve of the election.

The ruling three-party coalition has rejuvenated its position, winning 37 out of the 63 Althingi seats. The centrist Progressive Party saw a real electoral triumph, improving its 2017 result by five seats. Prime-minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir’s Left-Green Movement, albeit with a slight loss, won eight seats, surpassing all pre-election expectations. Although the centre-right Independence Party outperformed everyone again to win almost a quarter of all votes, 16 seats are one of the worst results of the Icelandic ‘Grand Old Party’ ever.

The results of the Social-Democrats, almost 10% versus 12.1% in 2017, and of the Pirates, 8.6% versus 9.2%, have deteriorated. Support for the Centre Party of Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, former prime-minister and victim of the Panama Papers, has halved from 10.9% to 5.4%. The centrists have seen a steady decline in recent years, largely due to a sexist scandal involving party MPs. The populist People’s Party and the pro-European Reform Party have seen gains of 8.8% and 8.3%, as compared to 6.9% and 6.7% in the previous elections.

Of the leading Icelandic parties, only the Socialist Party failed to pass the 5 per cent threshold: despite a rating above 7% in August, the Socialists received only 4.1% of the vote.

Coronavirus, climate & economy

Healthcare and the fight against COVID-19 was, expectedly, on top of the agenda of the elections: 72% of voters ranked it as the defining issue, according to a Fréttablaðið poll. Thanks to swift and stringent measures, the Icelandic government brought the coronavirus under control from day one, and the country has enjoyed one of the lowest infection rates in the world for most of the time. At the same time, the pandemic exposed a number of problems in the national healthcare system: staff shortages, low salaries and long waiting lists for emergency surgery.

Climate change, which Icelanders are already experiencing, was an equally important topic. This summer, the temperature has not dropped below 20°C for 59 days, an anomaly for a North-Atlantic island. However, Icelanders’ concerns never converted into increased support for the four left-leaning parties advocating greater reductions in CO2 emission than the country has committed to under the Paris Agreement: their combined result fell by 0.5%.

The economy and employment were also among the main issues in this election. The pandemic has severely damaged the island nation’s economy, which is heavily tourism-reliant—perhaps, unsurprisingly, many Icelanders are in favor of reviving the tourism sector as well as diversifying the economy further.

The EU membership, by far a ‘traditional’ issue in Icelandic politics, is unlikely to be featured on the agenda of the newly-elected parliament as the combined result of the Eurosceptics, despite a loss of 4%, still exceeds half of the overall votes. The new Althingi will probably face the issue of constitutional reform once again, which is only becoming more topical in the light of the pandemic and the equalization mandates story.

New (old) government?

The parties are to negotiate coalition formation. The most likely scenario now is that the ruling coalition of the Independence Party, the Left-Greens and the Progressives continues. It has been the most ideologically diverse and the first three-party coalition in Iceland’s history to last a full term. A successful fight against the pandemic has only strengthened its positions and helped it secure additional votes. Independence Party leader and finance minister Bjarni Benediktsson has earlier said he would be prepared to keep the ruling coalition if it holds the majority. President Guðni Jóhannesson announced immediately after the elections that he would confirm the mandate of the ruling coalition to form a new government if the three parties could strike a deal.

Other developments are possible but unlikely. Should the Left-Greens decide to leave the coalition, they could be replaced by the Reform Party or the People’s Party, while any coalition without the Independence Party can only be a four-party or larger coalition.

Who will become the new prime-minister still remains to be seen—but if the ruling coalition remains in place, the current prime-minister and leader of the Left-Greens, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, stands a good chance of keeping her post: she is still the most popular politician in Iceland with a 40 per cent approval rate.

The 2021 Althingi election, with one of the lowest turnouts in history at 80.1%, has not produced a clear winner. The election results reflect a Europe-wide trend in which traditional “major” parties are losing support. The electorate is fragmenting and their votes are pulled by smaller new parties. The coronavirus pandemic has only reinforced this trend.

The 2021 campaign did not foreshadow a sensation. Although Iceland has not become the first European country with a women’s majority in parliament, these elections will certainly go down in history as a test of Icelanders’ trust to their own democracy.

From our partner RIAC

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EU-Balkan Summit: No Set Timeframe for Western Balkans Accession

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From left to right: Janez JANŠA (Prime Minister, Slovenia), Charles MICHEL (President of the European Council), Ursula VON DER LEYEN (President of the European Commission) Copyright: European Union

On October 6, Slovenia hosted a summit between the EU and the Western Balkans states. The EU-27 met with their counterparts (Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo) in the sumptuous Renaissance setting of Brdo Castle, 30 kilometers north of the capital, Ljubljana. Despite calls from a minority of heads of state and government, there were no sign of a breakthrough on the sensitive issue of enlargement. The accession of these countries to the European Union is still not unanimous among the 27 EU member states.

During her final tour of the Balkans three weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that the peninsula’s integration was of “geostrategic” importance. On the eve of the summit, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz backed Slovenia’s goal of integrating this zone’s countries into the EU by 2030.

However, the unanimity required to begin the hard negotiations is still a long way off, even for the most advanced countries in the accession process, Albania and North Macedonia. Bulgaria, which is already a member of the EU, is opposing North Macedonia’s admission due to linguistic and cultural differences. Since Yugoslavia’s demise, Sofia has rejected the concept of Macedonian language, insisting that it is a Bulgarian dialect, and has condemned the artificial construction of a distinct national identity.

Other countries’ reluctance to join quickly is of a different nature. France and the Netherlands believe that previous enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania in 2007) have resulted in changes that must first be digested before the next round of enlargement. The EU-27 also demand that all necessary prior guarantees be provided regarding the independence of the judiciary and the fight against corruption in these countries. Despite the fact that press freedom is a requirement for membership, the NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the EU to make “support for investigative and professional journalism” a key issue at the summit.”

While the EU-27 have not met since June, the topic of Western Balkans integration is competing with other top priorities in the run-up to France’s presidency of the EU in the first half of 2022. On the eve of the summit, a working dinner will be held, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, called for “a strategic discussion on the role of the Union on the international scene” in his letter of invitation to the EU-Balkans Summit, citing “recent developments in Afghanistan,” the announcement of the AUKUS pact between the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which has enraged Paris.

The Western Balkans remain the focal point of an international game of influence in which the Europeans seek to maintain their dominance. As a result, the importance of reaffirming a “European perspective” at the summit was not an overstatement. Faced with the more frequent incursion of China, Russia, and Turkey in that European region, the EU has pledged a 30 billion euro Economic and Investment Plan for 2021-2027, as well as increased cooperation, particularly to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Opening the borders, however, is out of the question. In the absence of progress on this issue, Albania, North Macedonia, and Serbia have decided to establish their own zone of free movement (The Balkans are Open”) beginning January 1, 2023. “We are starting today to do in the region what we will do tomorrow in the EU,” said Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama when the agreement was signed last July.

This initiative, launched in 2019 under the name “Mini-Schengen” and based on a 1990s idea, does not have the support of the entire peninsular region, which remains deeply divided over this project. While Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro are not refusing to be a part of it and are open to discussions, the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, who took office in 2020, for his part accuses Serbia of relying on this project to recreate “a fourth Yugoslavia”

Tensions between Balkan countries continue to be an impediment to European integration. The issue of movement between Kosovo and Serbia has been a source of concern since the end of September. Two weeks of escalation followed Kosovo’s decision to prohibit cars with Serbian license plates from entering its territory, in response to Serbia’s long-standing prohibition on allowing vehicles to pass in the opposite direction.

In response to the mobilization of Kosovar police to block the road, Serbs in Kosovo blocked roads to their towns and villages, and Serbia deployed tanks and the air force near the border. On Sunday, October 3, the conflict seemed to be over, and the roads were reopened. However, the tone had been set three days before the EU-Balkans summit.

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German Election: Ramifications for the US Foreign Policy

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Image source: twitter @OlafScholz

In the recent German election, foreign policy was scarcely an issue. But Germany is an important element in the US foreign policy. There is a number of cases where Germany and the US can cooperate, but all of these dynamics are going to change very soon.

The Germans’ strategic culture makes it hard to be aligned perfectly with the US and disagreements can easily damage the relations. After the tension between the two countries over the Iraq war, in 2003, Henry Kissinger said that he could not imagine the relations between Germany and the US could be aggravated so quickly, so easily, which might end up being the “permanent temptation of German politics”. For a long time, the US used to provide security for Germany during the Cold War and beyond, so, several generations are used to take peace for granted. But recently, there is a growing demand on them to carry more burden, not just for their own security, but for international peace and stability. This demand was not well-received in Berlin.

Then, the environment around Germany changed and new threats loomed up in front of them. The great powers’ competition became the main theme in international relations. Still, Germany was not and is not ready for shouldering more responsibility. Politicians know this very well. Ursula von der Leyen, who was German defense minister, asked terms like “nuclear weapons” and “deterrence” be removed from her speeches.

Although on paper, all major parties appreciate the importance of Germany’s relations with the US, the Greens and SPD ask for a reset in the relations. The Greens insist on the European way in transatlantic relations and SPD seeks more multilateralism. Therefore, alignment may be harder to maintain in the future. However, If the tensions between the US and China heat up to melting degrees, then external pressure can overrule the internal pressure and Germany may accede to its transatlantic partners, just like when Helmut Schmid let NATO install medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe after the Soviet Union attacked Afghanistan and the Cold War heated up.

According to the election results, now three coalitions are possible: grand coalition with CDU/CSU and SPD, traffic lights coalition with SPD, FDP, and Greens, Jamaica coalition with CDU/CSU, FDP, and Greens. Jamaica coalition will more likely form the most favorable government for the US because it has both CDU and FDP, and traffic lights will be the least favorite as it has SPD. The grand coalition can maintain the status quo at best, because contrary to the current government, SPD will dominate CDU.

To understand nuances, we need to go over security issues to see how these coalitions will react to them. As far as Russia is concerned, none of them will recognize the annexation of Crimea and they all support related sanctions. However, if tensions heat up, any coalition government with SPD will be less likely assertive. On the other hand, as the Greens stress the importance of European values like democracy and human rights, they tend to be more assertive if the US formulates its foreign policy by these common values and describe US-China rivalry as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. Moreover, the Greens disapprove of the Nordstream project, of course not for its geopolitics. FDP has also sided against it for a different reason. So, the US must follow closely the negotiations which have already started between anti-Russian smaller parties versus major parties.

For relations with China, pro-business FDP is less assertive. They are seeking for developing EU-China relations and deepening economic ties and civil society relations. While CDU/CSU and Greens see China as a competitor, partner, and systemic rival, SPD and FDP have still hopes that they can bring change through the exchange. Thus, the US might have bigger problems with the traffic lights coalition than the Jamaica coalition in this regard.

As for NATO and its 2 percent of GDP, the division is wider. CDU/CSU and FDP are the only parties who support it. So, in the next government, it might be harder to persuade them to pay more. Finally, for nuclear participation, the situation is the same. CDU/CSU is the only party that argues for it. This makes it an alarming situation because the next government has to decide on replacing Germany’s tornados until 2024, otherwise Germany will drop out of the NATO nuclear participation.

The below table gives a brief review of these three coalitions. 1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism and 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism. As it shows, the most anti-Russia coalition is Jamaica, while the most anti-China coalition is Trafic light. Meanwhile, Grand Coalition is the most pro-NATO coalition. If the US adopts a more normative foreign policy against China and Russia, then the Greens and FDP will be more assertive in their anti-Russian and anti-Chinese policies and Germany will align more firmly with the US if traffic light or Jamaica coalition rise to power.

Issues CoalitionsTrafic LightGrand CoalitionJamaica
Russia213 
China312 
NATO132 

1 indicates the lowest level of favoritism. 3 indicates the highest level of favoritism.

In conclusion, this election should not make Americans any happier. The US has already been frustrated with the current government led by Angela Merkel who gave Germany’s trade with China the first priority, and now that the left-wing will have more say in any imaginable coalition in the future, the Americans should become less pleased. But, still, there are hopes that Germany can be a partner for the US in great power competition if the US could articulate its foreign policy with common values, like democracy and human rights. More normative foreign policy can make a reliable partner out of Germany. Foreign policy rarely became a topic in this election, but observers should expect many ramifications for it.

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