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Biopolitics of Border: EU Security Challenges and the Future of Schengen

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The Schengen system was one of the most unique and post-modern ideas the reimagined borders in the International Politics. The idea of weakening of borders and handing it to a supranational entity where the Nation-States that for centuries had waged wars for its borders seems a newer imagination of taking integration to the next level. The Schengen that came into effect around 1995 had the idea of harmonization of states. Post the Arab Spring, there were concerns by the states especially Italy and France to have temporary mechanisms to have internal borders and have some control and checks over the situation. The crises of Mediterranean and various other challenges like terrorist attacks made the Schengen System precarious. The paper aims to look at the ideas of border migration and security through a theoretical perspective and indulges in the debates of security on whose security is more important and then dives into the concept of biopolitics and irregular migrants and tries to relate it to concepts such as biopolitical borders and EU’s security and the future of Schengen.

Debates on security challenges in European Union, Whose security anyway?

The prominent understanding with regards to Europe’s migration problem is found across the understanding of non-academic and critique through the academic and problematizing the uncertainties amongst the neo-liberal policies of EU towards irregular migrants more of rhetoric of a humanitarian policies than actually understanding the violent realities. In the recent times issues relating to the International migration has been one of the most contested area and is boxed in the idea of ‘New Security Agenda’ and has been under the radar of security studies since the 1980s.  There are debates that are explored on whether migration is considered as a security issue or not. There needs to be a better understanding when talking about Migration as security issues, as it is important to know if it is a security issue to the Nation-State or Humans. Since the times of early civilization, the idea of other always has brought in a kind of suspicions and also hatred, the incoming international migrants to the Europe bring in new lifestyle, culture, values and traditions and it is taken as a threat and they are although associated with crimes, terrorism and health threat and Khalid Koser in his article points out that these threat perceptions are usually overestimated. The Nation-States idea of security threat comes from the managing the borders and things that may weaken the states sovereignty hence the threat to states sovereignty seems like a justifiable reason for large surveillance systems, detention centres and deportation of these irregular or illegal migrants. The two contesting ideas of National Security versus the human security is always debated. Does the security of the state outweigh the security of humans or the irregular/illegal migrants then?  Kerwin contests these ideas and figures out that these debates of National Security and Human Security are not exclusive to each other but a proper policy of national security should only further human security.

The other side of the security debate is of the migration is only from South to North and the idea of most of the irregular migrants ending up in Europe is untrue as most irregular migrants are situated in developing countries as transit or destination and these developing countries take most burden of migrants in the crises of Syria or Iraq. These Eurocentric arguments focus on only developed countries where as the situation of developing countries carrying the un-proportional burden of irregular migrants is ignored. In 2014 the crisis through Mediterranean came into the mainstream, as irregular migrants through the boats tried to seek asylum in the EU. According to European agency on border security reported that almost 90% of irregular migrants came from the Mediterranean and made ways into European through Italy. The response of the European Union towards this situation brought out the discrepancies between the National Security and the Human Security approach.  The changing public opinion and the rise of right-wing governments in the European Union points out to the impact on the balance of the national security versus human security approach towards irregular migrants.

The Biopolitics of Border:

Foucault Biopower and irregular Migrants

Aristotle imagined the spheres of ‘life’ and ‘politics’ as different arenas but the shift to look at life as the primary domain of politics was emphasized by Foucault. Biopolitics marks a significant shift from the politics of sovereignty to the politics of society. For Foucault the power is fluid and it cannot be acquired, it can be seen through the relations in which they function. He argues that sovereign had a right to decide over the life and death, this derived from the idea of patria potestas roughly translated to the power of the father to dispose children and slave in Roman family. So, placing this as central the sovereign has the power to kill, that means to save its own life the sovereign can kill and it derives its power through that. He promulgates two forms of power one is biopower and other is disciplinary power and according to him disciplinary power was needed to enhance the rise of modern capitalism and due to this he suggests that the older idea of sovereign of ‘to kill’ was replaced by either to ‘to make live and let die’. Liberalism at its core has a complex relationship with freedom that means that the freedom is produced but this production of freedom means also production of limitations, forms of coercion etc. This idea of producing the limitations to the freedom is referred by Foucault as security. 

The tools to maintain the equilibrium of the state that does not disturb its produced freedoms. Taking the discussion forward towards the writings of Rose and the concept of ‘biological citizenship’ they infer it as the way through which citizenship is formed through considering the prominent characteristics of human beings. This then brings into the factors like who is a proper citizen and who are non-citizens. The idea of Denizens that derived from ancient Rome where the foreigners who resided in the Rome were not given all rights and their citizenship not limited. A Denizen is someone who has limited range of rights than the actual citizen, the modern Nation-States system has risen a similar rise into a new form of precariousness into the lives of irregular migrants that can be named as Neo-Denizens and they are victims of state violence and have been portrayed as other and the enemy by the sovereign.

Biopolitical Border Security in Europe

The idea of border control before the Schengen agreement was more dependent on the prevention of movement and the changes in this now is focused on indispensable need for capitalism to thrive is on mobility and to govern the then citizens on a never-ending space i.e, European Union. In Foucaultian notions the emerging ideas of these have newer challenges rather than controlling their movement from one place to the other there is cancellation of circulation is ruled out. The biopolitical border is not to limit the territory but to instead govern the de-territorialized. These newer borders function on freedom but it is not without conditions, these are governed by security practices and conditional movements to regulate citizens.

The biopolitical security mechanisms need to get knowledge of the other life in order to properly secure it, in this case it is the irregular migrants. The knowledge of these lives areunknown then it is considered to be danger. The biopolitical idea of security is through the knowledge of the known and therefore subjects unknown or outside this perceived knowledge are considered through profiling of the population. The European idea on biopolitical security tends to intensify the urge to better this knowledge in order to therefore maximize security through attempts of improving the identification of these irregular migrants. The notion of biopolitics is to increase and optimize life through recent biopolitical governance. These notions can be applied in the context of the European Union where there is significant increase of knowledge towards these irregular migrants in order to not only save them but also empower them.

Due to the development of these ideas there is an emergence of humanitarian borders as written by William Walters.  Foucault idea and the biopolitical borders and migrant management policies creates hierarchies in lives between those of irregular migrants and others who are regular migrants. There are although debates where Foucault’s claim if the idea of biopolitics is to further and optimize life then why does the sovereign or the political power kill? Then he notes that there a notable shift in discourse with the rise of the ‘racist state’, where he claims and points out ‘what must live and what must die’. This doesn’t mean that the death to inferior race ensures one’s safety but the death of that race makes one more healthier and purer and this idea of racist biopolitics was furthers by Hitler as written by Foucault. This analysis is furthered by Fassin who understands the idea of life worthy and unworthy. This racist biopolitical notions is now furthered by the deaths of lives in the Mediterranean due to European Union’s rejection.  The Foucaultian biopolitics has its inherent paradoxes like how can the same irregular migrant bodies be a threat to security but also the need of lives to be saved in the same? Esposito furthers this idea where he connects that and talks about immunization and gives the concept of autoimmunity where it seems that Europe like an autoimmune condition starts ‘killing’ in order to protect but functions on the contrary.

Future of Schengen System

The series of debates on the Schengen have emerged especially looking at the refugee crisis, terrorist attacks and Brexit and there are states that have acted on their own to create other internal border the inflicts on the idea of free movement in the European Union. The various crises contributed to raising of internal borders even amongst the states that did not have any border restrictions like Sweden and Denmark. Schengen system have although come into light due to these crises by the European Council of Foreign Relations shows that almost 22 out of the 28 countries in the EU have shown promising commitments towards it. The idea for these promising commitments is due to the economic benefits for the states. Despite of terrorist attacks the notion of borderless zone is strong as states believe that the way to tackling these issues are through a combined effort and as European Union.

All’s not well is paradise as having economic benefits there seems to have consistent increase in checks and rise in internal borders. Austria has introduced checks on all of its borders, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Sweden are other states that have introduced some kind of border checks on either side of their border. Emerging from the debates of Biopolitics and the otherization and there has been increase in fear of these irregular migrants as these reflect in the opinions of public as pew research shows that about 82% of the population in Lithuania believes that irregular migrants bring crimes and disturbs the public order, these show 60% in Estonia and 54% in Germany. As the biopolitics of racist states tend to increase and has been reflected in the rise of extreme political ideologs getting into power the near future although seems fine but newer threats like the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors are contributing to a situation that may seem likely changes in the Schengen systems. As Esposito argues that through biopolitics the states turn into immunization and due to these immunization the conditions of autoimmunity becomes real and this condition reflects in the borders and migration policies of Europe where the right to kill and give a death by the sovereign is seen in Europe’s uncertain balance of National security and human security and this imbalance is resulting in costing lives and moving into a phase where humanitarian security needs to largely debated, emphasized and ruled upon. There have been possibilities like Mini Schengens, Small Schengens or remaining with the status quo that has been debated by the academia.

Bio: Bhagya Raj is a post-graduate student of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.

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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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