A bimonthly magazine on international affairs, edited in Germany's capital

What Germany Needs to Do Next … On Three Top Priorities

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Reform education by halving class sizes, cancel the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, and be honest about strategic realities.

Cover artwork: © Mitch Blunt

Congratulations, Madame Chancellor,

Voters have given you another term as the leader of Germany, and since no one expects you to run again in 2021, you are free now. You can do daring things without giving too much heed to the latest poll numbers. Here are my three suggestions for an agenda that will make you my hero. If that’s not motivation enough, it has the additional advantage of making a real difference for Germany, Europe, and the world.

Domestic politics first: go on a spending spree for education. A really big one. The goal is very simple: cut class sizes by half in elementary and secondary schools by 2025. Make 15 pupils the norm, not thirty. No other education reform will be nearly as effective in promoting individual learning, inclusion, and academic performance. This means, among other things, hiring a veritable army of new teachers, upgrading school buildings, and expanding teachers’ training in universities. It’s a massive undertaking, but its effect will be overwhelming 10 to 15 years down the road. Buy out the federal states and hold the Social Democrats to their education-related campaign slogans. I can’t think of any single policy item that would have a longer-lasting positive effect on Germany than this one.

Second, bury Nord Stream 2, the Russian-German pipeline project, and bury it quickly. That you have let this poisonous project sit and fester has been one of the great puzzlements of your last four years. It undermines everything the re-unified country needed to do in order to ease the lingering suspicions of its neighbors about its size, power, and geopolitical reliability. No other German foreign policy stance (including our notorious unwillingness to get serious about military affairs) is as corrosive as this economically unnecessary project that undermines European unity, smacks of strategic recklessness vis-a-vis our Central European neighbors, and rightfully worries Washington.

Finally, explain the real nature of Germany’s and Europe’s strategic situation to the strategically hapless people of Germany. Use all the credibility, respect, and stateswoman-ly weight that you have accumulated over the last twelve years to make them realize what is at stake, and why Germany will have to do very painful things in the near future.

Explain to them that without the United States, Europe will be unable to remain free and at peace. Explain to them that without military power, diplomacy cannot work in the Balkans, in the Middle East, in North Africa, or facing Russia and China. Explain to them that without allowing some sort of transfer union (in return for strict budgetary oversight), the euro will crash, causing economic mayhem. Explain to them that a technological mega-revolution is unfolding as we speak, and that it will change every aspect of human life, from work to learning, to politics, to health care, to the way we protect, pay, feed, entertain, and love each other. Few countries are better prepared to succeed in that coming world than Germany, but the journey will not be for the faint-hearted.

Preach all of this, restlessly, fearlessly, again and again. For twelve years as chancellor you relied on your aides to be honest with you and speak truth to power. Now spend the last few years of your chancellorship to do what has previously been neglected: explaining strategic realities to a country that prefers to have nothing to do with them. Among the many examples of fine leadership that you have given us, this is the one that’s missing. Sie schaffen das! Good luck and godspeed.