Tensions in the German coalition as junior partners face Scholz over Ukraine

  • Scholz’s partners are demanding that he show tougher leadership
  • He has already switched to a more confident foreign policy
  • Says he exhibits ‘some’ leadership
  • Junior liberal, green partners want even stronger attitudes
  • Arms supplies to Ukraine, energy supply is at stake

April 14 (Reuters) – Frustration is growing among German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s junior coalition partners over what they say are flaws in his leadership over Ukraine, an internal rift that risks undermining Western unity against Russia.

After a dramatic political turning point at the beginning of the crisis, when Scholz stopped the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia days before the country’s invasion of Ukraine, and then promised a big jump in defense spending, his partners accuse him of shaking.

“I have the impression that Mr Scholz is not aware of the serious damage he is doing to Germany’s reputation in Central Europe, in Eastern Europe, basically throughout Europe,” Anton Hofreiter, chairman of the Greens’ parliamentary committee, told Reuters.

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Seven weeks into the war, the younger Green and Liberal Free Democratic (FDP) parties in Scholz’s coalition are annoyed that Berlin is not responding to Ukrainian requests to send it more heavy weapons, amid warnings from Kiev that Russia is about to go up in a major offensive in Ukraine’s south and east. Read more

Some in the three-way coalition with Scholz’s left-wing Social Democratic Party (SPD) also want him to do more to reduce German energy dependence on Russia. Read more

“He must finally show leadership,” Hofreiter said.

Last week, Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin accused the German government of half-hearted support for Kiev, saying his country had fallen victim to Germany’s “shameful” dependence on Russian oil and gas. He also demanded more heavy weapons. Read more

When asked by rbb24 Inforadio on Wednesday if he showed leadership, Scholz replied: “Of course …, and a lot.”

Government sources said the soft-spoken Chancellor sees it as part of his role to stick together on the heterogeneous coalition of his SPD, the Greens and the FDP, and that he is not much bothered by short-term declines in popularity and does not respond to them.

Scholz also said in the radio interview that Berlin sent Ukraine anti-tank weapons, air defense missiles and other weapons. He quickly added: “We will make sure that NATO, the NATO countries and … Germany do not become parties to the war.”

BALANCELOV

Scholz must balance the pressure from the Greens in particular to increase arms supplies to Ukraine with some restraint in elements of his SPD, which long advocated Western rapprochement with Russia ahead of the war in Ukraine. Read more

To underscore the Greens’ resilient stance, Secretary of State Annalena Baerbock, a member of the Ecological Party, this week called for the delivery of more heavy weapons, adding: “Now is not the time for apologies, but for creativity and pragmatism.”

Hofreiter went further, calling for a coal and oil embargo against Russia “as a minimum”.

The European Union on Friday overcame some divisions to adopt new comprehensive sanctions against Russia, including a ban on imports of coal, wood and chemicals.

However, oil and gas imports from Russia – the economic lifeline of its war machine, critics say – are still untouched, with Berlin’s leading opposition to the move.

Germany, Europe’s largest and richest economy, gets about 25% of its oil and 40% of its gas from Russia. Russian gas accounts for 40% of total EU imports of this energy source. Read more

“I am of the opinion that even a complete energy embargo is possible,” said Hofreiter, who this week visited Ukraine with the SPD’s Michael Roth and the FDP’s Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairmen of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Mujtaba Rahman, CEO of Europe at Eurasia’s Political Risk Advisory, expects Germany to eventually tighten oil sanctions so that Western unity does not collapse.

“The cracks are really starting to show in the coalition, but the top and bottom of it is (that) Germany’s policy towards Russia and Ukraine is completely unsustainable,” he said in an email to Reuters. “In terms of oil sanctions, on EU fiscal support, Berlin’s position will be forced to evolve.”

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Further reporting by Reuters TV and Andreas Rinke Editing by Mark Heinrich

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