Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling party emerged victorious in the recent German parliamentary election, but the winning of a large number of seats by a rightist party will make her party's hold on power less stable than in the past.

The Asahi Shimbun interviewed Volker Perthes, the head of a respected German think tank, to ascertain what the election results mean for Germany's role in Europe and the world.


In Germany, we see leadership like a soccer game where you have people who are the leader on the team but they have to make sure that the right people get the ball at the right time.

Maybe they get the ball more often than others, but they also have to kick it on to the next in line in order to score a goal. That's the German idea about co-leadership.

That is the only type of leadership that would be accepted among the other 27 members of the European Union.

If Germany is only seen as actively promoting its interests at the expense of others, such as the sovereign debt crisis in Greece, you would immediately see these pictures in Greek tabloids of (Chancellor Angela) Merkel with a small mustache (like Hitler).

In a historical sense, Germany was a country that tried to dominate the rest so Germans are very cautious when others say we should lead more strongly. I'm not sure German citizens would expect Merkel to assume a moral leadership role.

Germans are much more reluctant than the French or the British to consider the use of military force. This has been replaced by a certain realism that there are dangers out there in the world and it needs democratic countries to intervene in order to prevent the worst from happening, such as in Mali.

With Britain becoming more absent from German-French-British cooperation (due to Brexit), Germany and France will have to serve as co-leaders.

There will be slight differences here as to the course, mainly as to the course in Europe, depending on coalition partners. The main question is whether Germany would be a good, trusted, effective partner of France.

The decision by Merkel is not to oppose (U.S. President Donald) Trump head-on. There are certain things, such as NATO cooperation, which we cannot do without the United States, so practically you cooperate.

The relationship between Merkel and Trump will never become like the relationship between (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe and Trump. She wouldn't develop a personal relationship through playing golf. Golf diplomacy wouldn't cross her mind.

Regarding the South China Sea and freedom of navigation, these sea lanes are important for German-Chinese and European-Chinese trade. Because of Germany's very strong economic relationship with the Chinese, we would urge the Chinese to play to international law.

Germany has some skills and experience in long-term multilateral silent diplomacy regarding the Iran (nuclear agreement).

We are one of the few countries that has both North and South Korean embassies in Berlin. North Koreans don't see us as an enemy. If our role in a diplomatic process is asked for, we should be ready to do that.

Post-1945, Germany went the way of regional integration and regained its sovereignty through integrating with the European Union.

For Japan, it was the bilateral relationship with the United States that brought you back into the world.

German soft power is about a story of integration and a quite open attitude toward our own history. Every foreign visitor can come to Berlin and learn about the crimes of the Nazis. We were bad people and a bad country. Then we decided to make friends with our neighbors, to integrate, and it's much better now.


Volker Perthes is director of Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), a German think tank that deals with foreign policy and national security issues related to Germany and Europe.

(This article is based on an interview by Asahi Shimbun London Bureau Chief and European Editor Tsutomu Ishiai.)