500+ participants / 80+ speakers / 20+ panels


German Zeitenwende: The U-turn is real, but more leadership is needed  

October 13, 2023 by BSC


The panel “Zeitenwende: A U-turn Nobody Predicted” examined the internal political situation in Germany and its policies towards the war in Ukraine and foreign and defense policies, after the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Olaf Scholz announced a “180-degree course correction” in Germany’s traditionally cautious foreign and defense policy in his Zeitenwende speech in 2022. The moderator of this panel was Anna Kuchenbecker, Senior Director, of Strategic Partnerships, European Council on Foreign Relations. 




Christoph Matschie, Former Member of the German Bundestag and chairman of the Board, of the Ernst Abbe Foundation, commenced by analysing the first part of Scholz’s speech and pointed to three things. First is the fact that Germany was able to support Ukraine from the beginning of the war and that there is “no doubt Europe will continue to extend this support”. Second, Germany managed to free itself from energy dependence on Russia, find new partners, and roll out additional renewable sources. Lastly, he reminded the audience that it was necessary to step up German defense capability and that there were still many obstacles, but that good political decisions were made. As for long-term relations with Russia, he stated that it would depend on when the war ends, stressing that there will be no cooperation with the current regime in Russia. 



Rachel Tausendfreund, Senior Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States, followed up on the previous statement and pointed out that Germany has become the second-largest supplier of arms to Ukraine, and that there was also a shift in public opinion. She stressed that the Zeitenwende was real but more leadership is needed. According to Tausendfreund, Germany is dealing with challenges of decoupling, enlargement, and security only getting bigger. “I do not get the sense of urgency within the coalition that was reflected in Zeitenwende speech. In part, because of AFD far-right party”. 



Answering the moderator’s question of what he sees as the lessons learned, Florian Bieber, Professor of Southeast European History and Politics and Director, of the Centre for Southeast European Studies at the University of Graz, emphasized that the EU enlargement process needed to be re-imagined, more German leadership was needed, and the question of post-conflict challenges would need to be addressed. The word Zeitenwende opened up a space for debate. He expressed his belief that the logic of the Zeitenwende was a willingness to take risks.