OSW Report

Making up for lost time

Germany in the era of the Zeitenwende
Cover of the report

Main points

Introduction. What are the origins of the Zeitenwende, and where is it heading? (Anna Kwiatkowska)

I. The energy Zeitenwende: Germany’s successful separation from Russia (Michał Kędzierski)

II. De-risking is enough. The German economy and the Zeitenwende (Sebastian Płóciennik)

III. A limited breakthrough. The Zeitenwende in Germany’s foreign policy (Lidia Gibadło)

IV. Germany’s Zeitenwende and the future of the European security architecture (Justyna Gotkowska)

V. Fear of change. The social costs of the Zeitenwende (Kamil Frymark)

The Zeitenwende, the ‘new era’ in German policy which Chancellor Olaf Scholz proclaimed after Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2022, is usually associated with a radical U-turn in the areas of energy and security. However, these connotations are imprecise at least on two levels. Firstly, over time it has turned out that the shift in Germany’s political strategy has not been so decisive, as can be seen in the steps that have been taken with regard to the reform of the Bundeswehr. Secondly, the SPD-Greens-FDP government wants the Zeitenwende to encompass many other key areas of politics and the economy.

This volume contains not only an analysis of the strategic mistakes that forced Germany to declare a ‘new era’ and a description of the changes that have already been implemented; it also identifies those changes which, despite the government’s pledges, are unlikely to be carried out, and attempts to answer the question about the reasons for these omissions.

The authors also predict that the government will incorporate both the term Zeitenwende and the idea behind it into its project for a thorough reform of the state. Germany’s repackaged priorities (achieving a zero-carbon economy, accelerating the digital transformation and reducing investment & export dependencies) will be touted as the driving force for building Germany’s economic (and by extension political) strength. This intention is based on the conviction that any crisis is a good pretext for carrying out onerous and costly changes. The unprecedented rise in the polls of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) shows how onerous and costly those changes really are, and how strongly they polarise society.