The Foreign Office appears likely to regain some of the ground it lost to the Chancellery during the last government. Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier is more effective and much better respected than his predecessor, and personnel changes in the ministry’s leadership are likely to strengthen its position vis à vis the Chancellery.  One of the most significant changes was the unexpected move of State Secretary Emily Haber from the Foreign Office to the Interior Ministry.  Haber is close to the CDU and to Chancellor Merkel, who reportedly values her independent views. Haber also worked closely with Merkel’s foreign and security policy advisor, Dr. Christoph Heusgen, providing him a channel for direct contact with the Foreign Office bureaucracy.[1]

Select leadership positions in the Foreign Office (changes shown in blue text).

Auswaertiges Amt Organization Chart

Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) returns from his opposition role as head of the SPD parliamentary group to take on a second term as Foreign Minister, a post he held during Merkel’s first grand coalition government from 2005 to 2009. Steinmeier acknowledges that he cannot simply take up where he left off four years ago and points to changes in the world, such as the conflict in Syria and increased instability in the Middle East, Africa, and eastern Europe, that have brought crises closer to Europe’s borders. He has argued, often together with new Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, that Germany needs to assume greater international responsibility and be willing to increase its level of engagement with these problem areas.[2]

Steinmeier is a foreign policy realist who argues the necessity of engaging with difficult leaders and accepting that there are regions of the world that operate on different principles than those of western democracies. In a recent interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung, he criticized the practice of making strong statements of indignation or moral outrage without a clear appreciation of the possibilities—or lack thereof—for influencing developments in a positive direction. He also complained that the time cycles of modern media coverage, which fuel demands for immediate action, are ill-suited to effective diplomacy, which can take years or decades to produce results.[3]

Steinmeier is assisted by two ministers of state—the term used for parliamentary state secretaries in the Foreign Office—and by two civil service state secretaries, all four of whom are new to their office. The state secretaries hold daily discussions with the heads of the ministry’s various directorates on important developments in the world and the operational consequences for German foreign and security policy.[4] New coordinators (Beauftragter) also have been appointed for transatlantic relations with the United States and relations with Russia, Central Asia, and the EU’s Eastern Partnership countries.  The selection of these coordinators was made jointly by the Chancellor and Foreign Minister.

Michael Roth (SPD) replaced the FDP’s Michael Georg Link as Minister of State for Europe and also serves as the government’s coordinator for Franco-German cooperation. His areas of responsibility include security policy, Europe, Eurasia, arms control, regional issues in the Middle East and North Africa, and the countries of East Asia.  He previously served as European policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, where he worked closely with parliamentary group leader Steinmeier.[5]  As coordinator for Franco-German relations, Roth works with his French counterpart Harlem Désir to develop close consultations and intergovernmental cooperation between France and Germany and to promote cross border cooperation between civil societies.[6] He accompanied Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier to Paris for the new government’s first meetings with French leaders on 18 December.[7]

Roth claims a strong personal as well as professional commitment to the European idea (“Europa ist mein Herz- und Magenthema”) and hopes to use his new office to help build a better Europe in cooperation with Germany’s EU partners.[8] He is a member of the Europa-Union Parliamentary Group in the Bundestag, a non-partisan group associated with the European federalist organization Europa-Union Deutschland. In a speech during the Bundestag’s debate on the EU Commission’s work program for 2014, Roth stressed the importance of working with all EU member states—small, medium, and large—to bring forward the European integration project, but he also insisted that especially close cooperation with France and Poland is essential to the project’s success.[9]

Dr. Maria Böhmer (CDU) is the other Minister of State in the Foreign Office, replacing Cornelia Piepers of the FDP. Böhmer served in the Federal Chancellery as Minister of State and coordinator for migration, refugees, and integration (of foreign residents) from 2005 to 2013, and reportedly was brought into the Foreign Office because that position was given to the SPD’s Aydan Özoğuz as a consequence of the coalition negotiations.[10] Böhmer’s primary responsibility reportedly will be foreign cultural and education policy—promoting Germany’s image in the world. This involves coordinating the work of organizations like the Goethe Institut, Humboldt-Stiftung, and Deutsche Welle.[11] Other areas of responsibility include the UN and global issues, economic and development issues, international law, and protocol. Böhmer is a close confidant of Chancellor Merkel and has been Chairman of the CDU women’s organization Frauen Union since 2001, as well as a member of the CDU’s national executive committee (Bundesvorstand), since 1994.[12]

State Secretary Stephan Steinlein has assisted Steinmeier for the past 14 years and had served as his office director since 2002, moving with Steinmeier from the Chancellery to the Foreign Office and from there to the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag.[13] As state secretary, his area of responsibility mirrors that of Minister of State Böhmer—UN and global issues, economic and development issues, international law, and protocol. Steimeier noted that Steinlein will be responsible for large themes associated with globalization, energy and the environment, climate change, and resource scarcity. He also asked Steinlein to focus on the Foreign Office’s involvement with government policy as well as the ministry’s structure and resources.[14]  

State Secretary Dr. Markus Ederer is a professional diplomat who served as head of the Foreign Office’s Planning Staff during Steinmeier’s first term as Foreign Minister from 2005 to 2009. From 2002 to 2005, he headed the sub-directorate for political and economic analysis at the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), and his most recent assignment was EU Ambassador to China and Mongolia from 2011 to 2013.[15] Steinmeier said that Ederer will deal with a number of international hotspots, including the conflict in Syria, Iran, the Near and Middle East, and Central Africa, but that his most important task will be the future of transatlantic relations with the United States.[16]

Foreign Office Political Director Hans-Dieter Lucas remains in place for now. As political director, Lucas represents the Foreign Office in bilateral and multilateral contacts at his level with other countries and international organizations and advises the Foreign Minister on foreign and security policy issues covered by his directorate.[17] The directorate headed by Lucas analyzes, plans, develops, and coordinates German foreign and security policy positions, including those pursued within the EU, NATO, and OSCE. It is also responsible for relations with the United States and Canada; Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia; and non-EU states in Europe, including the western Balkans and Turkey.[18]  Despite his close association with the FDP, Lucas enjoys the trust and confidence of Steinmeier, who in 2006 recruited him away from his position as chief Russia expert in the Chancellery to work in the Foreign Office.[19] During the Georgia-Russia conflict of 2008, Steinmeier sent Lucas to Georgia as Germany’s special envoy working within the delegation of EU and OSCE representatives to mediate an end to the conflict.[20]

Finance Minister Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble’s chief spokesman Martin Kotthaus reportedly will take over the Foreign Office’s Europe Directorate, which is responsible for the European Union and relations with EU member states, as well as matters related to the EU’s external relations. During his time at the Finance Ministry (2011-2014), Kotthaus dealt mainly with the European debt crisis and efforts to shore up the euro zone. He previously served as the spokesman for Germany’s Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels from 2005 to 2011.[21]

New Coordinators and Commissioners

Gernot Erler (SPD) replaced the CDU’s Andreas Schockenhoff as Germany’s Coordinator for Cooperation with Russia and was given additional responsibilities for cooperation with the countries of Central Asia and the EU’s Eastern Partnership (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, and the South Caucasus). Erler is a close confidant of Foreign Minister Steinmeier. He served as Minister of State in the Foreign Office from 2005 to 2009 and as deputy chief of the SPD parliamentary group from 2009 to 2013.[22] A Slavicist and fluent Russian speaker, Erler is comfortable with all elements of Russian society, both in the government and among civil society and human rights groups.[23]  However, in contrast to Schockenhoff, whose public criticism and calls for a more confrontational approach toward the Kremlin strained bilateral relations, Erler argues the need to take Russian interests into account and work cooperatively with Moscow.[24]

Philipp Mißfelder (CDU) replaced the FDP’s Harald Leibrecht as Germany’s coordinator for transatlantic cooperation with the United States and Canada, but he gave up the position in early April after only three months and will be replaced by Jürgen Hardt. Mißfelder serves as foreign policy spokesman for the CDU/CSU parliamentary group and is chairman of the parties’ youth organization Junge Union.  As coordinator for transatlantic cooperation, he reportedly had planned to focus primarily on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and building relations with Jewish organizations in the United States. Mißfelder had expressed concerns about the damage to mutual trust in U.S.-German relations caused by revelations of NSA surveillance activities and was critical of Washington’s refusal to negotiate a no-spy agreement with Berlin. Mißfelder is a committed transatlanticist. In 2013, he was named to the board of directors of Atlantik-Brücke, an association dedicated to building trust and mutual understanding on both sides of the Atlantic.  He also believes it is necessary to improve relations with Russia and find ways to cooperate with Moscow on international problems. In 2011, Mißfelder took the entire 30-member executive committee of the Junge Union to Moscow in an effort to build ties with the next generation of Russian leaders. [25]

Christoph Strässer (SPD) became Commissioner for Human Rights and Humanitarian Assistance on 29 January, replacing Markus Löning of the FDP. His task is to monitor political developments and advise the Foreign Minister. He also serves as liaison with institutions active in this field, including other ministries, the Bundestag, and non-governmental organizations, as well as international organizations such as the OSCE, Council of Europe, and United Nations.[26]  Strässer has served as human rights spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group in the Bundestag since 2005 and was a special rapporteur on political prisoners in Azerbaijan for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He has demonstrated a strong commitment to speaking out on human rights issues throughout his political career.[27]

Brandenburg’s Minister-President Dr. Dietmar Woidke (SPD) also serves as the new Coordinator for relations with Poland, a position previously held by FDP General-Secretary Cornelia Pieper. The position was created in 2004 at the suggestion of Woidke’s predecessor Matthias Platzeck, who resigned his position as Brandenburg’s Minister-President for health reasons in July 2013. Although Woidke said he views the 29 January appointment mainly as an honorary title, he already had engaged in talks on 25 February with Polish Foreign Ministry officials on ways to unlock the potential of German-Polish border areas and promote bilateral cooperation. Woidke’s priorities reportedly include transportation infrastructure and youth cooperation.[28]

Reassignment of Key Ambassadors

After naming most of the new leadership at the top of the Ministry, Steinmeier announced a shuffling of Germany’s ambassadors at key posts abroad. Ambassador to the United States Dr. Peter Ammon will become the new Ambassador to the United Kingdom. He will be replaced in Washington by Dr. Peter Wittig, currently Germany’s Ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Former Foreign Office State Secretary Harald Braun will take over the UN post.[29]

Former Ambassador to Poland Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch-Seerhausen, who served as Vice President of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) from 2004 to 2007, has moved to Moscow as the new Ambassador to Russia. He will be replaced in Warsaw by Rolf Nikel, currently Germany’s Commissioner for Arms Control and Disarmament and former deputy foreign and security policy adviser to Chancellor Merkel in the Federal Chancellery from 2006 to 2011.[30] Nikel’s assignment to Warsaw is an indication of the growing importance the German government attaches to its relations with Poland, and is a sign that it intends to work closely with Warsaw on important foreign and security policy matters.

 

Stephan Wallace is a defense and security policy analyst following political, military, and economic developments in Europe. He has worked more than 33 years on this area for the U.S. government, most recently for the U.S. Department of Defense. He can be contacted by email at wallace.stephan@gmail.com. The views expressed are those of the author alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS).


[1] Majid Sattar, “Steinmeier und das Auswärtige Amt – Eine kurze Unterbrechung namens Westerwelle,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 16 December 2013; Majid Sattar, “Emily Haber – Kleine Revolution am Werderschen Markt,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 May 2011; Ralf Neukirch, “Schämen für Westerwelle,” Der Spiegel, 23 April 2011.

[2] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Es wird zu Recht von uns erwartet, dass wir uns einmischen,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30 January 2014; interview with Foreign Minister Steinmeier conducted by Stefan Braun and Stefan Kornelius, reprinted by the German Foreign Office.

[3] Ibid.; Stefan Braun and Stefan Kornelius, “Einmischen statt zurückhalten – Steinmeier über deutsche Außenpolitik,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30 January 2014.

[4] “Leitung: Minister, Staatsminister, Staatssekretäre,” Auswärtiges Amt, 21 January 2014.

[5] Stefan Von Borstel, Jan Dams, Claudia Ehrenstein, Martin Greive,  and Daniel Friedrich, “Dies sind Merkels einflussreichste Nebe-Minister,” Die Welt, 2 January 2014.

[6] “Staatsminister Michael Roth zum Beauftragten für die deutsch-französische Zusammenarbeit ernannt,” Franco-German Internet Portal, 10 January 2014.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Michael Roth wird Staatsminister für Europa,” Frankfurter Rundschau, 16 December 2013.

[9] Michael Roth, Rede von Staatminister Michael Roth in der Bundestagsdebatte zum Arbeitsprogramm der EU-Kommission 2014, Auswärtiges Amt, 17 January 2014.

[10] Hans Monath, “Politik im Gefolge des Ministers,” Der Tagsspiegel, 19 December 2013.

[11] “Maria Böhmer künftig Staatsministerin im Auswärtigen Amt,” Frauen Union der CDU, 16 December 2013.

[12] “Böhmer wird Staatsministerin im Auswärtigen Amt, Die Welt, 15 December 2013; “Prof. Dr. Maria Böhmer, Staatsministerin im Auswärtigen Amt,” Auswärtiges Amt, December 2013.

[13] “Stephan Steinlein, Staatssekretär des Auswärtigen Amts,” Auswärtiges Amt, January 2014.

[14] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Rede von Außenminister Steinmeier bei der Amtsübergabe der Staatssekretäre,” Auswärtiges Amt, 23 January 2014.

[15] “Dr. Markus Ederer, Staatssekretär des Auswärtigen Amts,” Auswärtiges Amt, January 2014.

[16] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Rede von Außenminister Steinmeier bei der Amtsübergabe der Staatssekretäre

[17] “Politischer Abteilung 2,” Abteilungen, Auswärtiges Amt.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ralf Beste, “Operation Ost,” Der Spiegel 36/2006, 4 September 2006.

[20] Florian Hassel, “Auf dem Vormarsch,” Berliner Zeitung, 12 August 2008.

[21] “Schäuble-Sprecher wechselt zu Steinmeier,” Handelsblatt, 3 January 2014.

[22] “SPD Politiker Erler wird Russland-Beauftragter,” Die Zeit, 9 January 2014.

[23] Benjamin Bidder and Matthias Schepp, “Liebesgrüße nach Moskau,” Spiegel On-line, 10 January 2014.

[24] Majid Sattar, “Ost-West-Konflictlösung,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13 January 2014; Gernot Erler, “In Sachen Ukraine gibt es in der EU zu viele Fehleinschätzungen,” Internationale Politik (interview), 12 December 2013.

[25] “Der Koordinator für die Transatlantische Zusammenarbeit, Auswärtiges Amt,” January 2014; Hans Monath, “Sollen wir mit den USA in Genf treffen?Der Tagesspiegel, 17 January 2014; “Philipp Mißfelder bleibt außenpolitischer CDU-sprecher,” Westdeutscher Allgemeine Zeitung, 15 January 2014; Philipp Mißfelder, “No-Spy-Abkommen und Konsequenzen,” Interview mit Philipp Mißfelder (CDU), DW Journal, 15 January 2014; Philipp Mißfelder, AICGS At Issue Interview Series: Philipp Mißfelder, 12 July 2012; repeated in “Mißfelder Named Coordinator for Transatlantic Cooperation,” AICGS, 9 January 2014; Philipp Mißfelder, “Wir brauchen Russland,” WDR 2 (interview) 24 Dec 2013; “Deutsch-Russische Beziehungen: Neue Entwickungen und Perspektiven,” Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 27 June 2011; “Mißfelder gibt Amt als Amerika-Beauftragter auf,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 3 April 2014.

[26] “Beauftragter für Menschenrechtspolitik und Humanitäre Hilfe,” Auswärtiges Amt, January 2014.

[27] “Christoph Strässer, SPD,” Deutscher Bundestag; Daniel Friedrich Sturm, “Beauftrager für Menschenrechter kritisiert Moskau,” Die Welt, 7 February 14.

[28] “Woidke soll die Polen-Beziehungen verbessern,” rbb (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg), 21 January 2014; “Talks on Polish-German cross-border cooperation,” Press Office, Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 25 February 2014.

[29] “Außenminister Steinmeier sortiert wichtige Posten um – Deutschland wechselt Botschafter in USA,” n-tv, 15 January 2014; “Wechsel auf Diplomatenposten,” Spiegel On-line, 15 January 2014.

[30] Ibid.