Germany is set to press for a federal European Union after Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party was named as foreign minister in the incoming government.
Ms Baerbock, a noted Europhile, will preside over a foreign policy that is being described as a blueprint for a “United States of Europe”.
Olaf Scholz’s new German government has already called for the EU treaties to be rewritten to turn the bloc into a federal European state.
The coalition agreement unveiled this week calls for the European Parliament to be given real power and a federal foreign minister to represent the bloc on the world stage.
“A strong German foreign policy can only be a European one,” Ms Baerbock said on Friday, hours after she was confirmed as foreign minister in the incoming government.
Mr Scholz is expected to be sworn in as chancellor in a little over a week after securing a deal to head postwar Germany’s first three-party coalition.
The EU reforms that his government is seeking would need unanimous support from member states – something it will struggle to get in the current climate.
However, the new approach from Berlin will be welcome by France’s Emmanuel Macron, who has long pressed for such reforms and done little to hide his frustration at Angela Merkel’s reluctance to embrace them.
The first woman to serve as German foreign minister, Ms Baerbock is a noted Europhile who was Green candidate for chancellor in September’s German elections.
During the campaign, she said that if she won, her first foreign trip as chancellor would be to Brussels.
The Greens have long been the most pro-EU party in German politics and will now take control of Europe policy.
However, their federalist approach appears to have the full backing of Mr Scholz’s centre-Left Social Democrats (SPD) and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
‘We don’t have the Brexit shock in our bones’
“Germany needs to send a signal in which direction the German government would like the European Union to develop,” Udo Bullmann, the SPD’s Europe negotiator in the coalition talks, told Der Spiegel magazine.
“We are not despondent, we don’t look back and we don’t have the Brexit shock in our bones. We want to take courageous steps towards integration because we know that time is short and people are waiting for them.”
Mr Scholz has previously described the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund as the bloc’s “Hamilton moment”, a reference to Alexander Hamilton, the American founding father who set up the US’s central bank and a federal treasury to take on the states’ debts.
However, the coalition deal stops short of embracing further shared EU debt, something which has long been a taboo in German politics and a stumbling block to further integration.
The FDP in particular is wary of signing up to anything it sees as German taxpayers signing up to more profligate member states’ debts.
Christian Lindner, the party’s leader, has been named as finance minister in the new government and is likely to veto any such moves.
The coalition deal calls for a much tougher line with member states that ignore EU laws or European court rulings, such as Hungary and Poland.
Specifically, it calls for the European Commission to withhold funds, including coronavirus relief. However, Ms Baerbock held out an olive branch to Poland in an interview with Der Spiegel.
“Warsaw, Berlin and Paris are crucial for Europe. And even if we have many controversial issues with the Polish government, one thing is clear: we need close cooperation with our Eastern European partners,” she said.
Ms Baerbock, a known hardliner on Russia and China, has been an outspoken opponent of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the past.
However, she dodged questions on the issue on Friday, in a sign she may have to be more circumspect in coalition under Mr Scholz, who supports the pipeline.