Diplomacy and politics: A German Perspective

a discussion with Knut Abraham, German Diplomat in Poland.

For this event, German diplomat Knut Abraham joined the discussion about diplomacy and foreign politics. Knut Abraham is currently serving at the German Embassy in Warsaw, Poland. He has worked as a German diplomat for over a decade in German Embassies in Europe and the US, and has also worked in the German Federal Chancellery of Angela Merkel in Berlin. He is now standing as a candidate for the Bundestag elections in 2021. 


During the discussion, we touched upon many topics relating to diplomacy and foreign politics. Here are some of the most interesting points that were made.


1) Geography shapes and defines foreign policy. This is especially true for Germany, since it is in the center of Europe. Therefore, strong European institutions are crucial for German foreign policy, and many policies are therefore defined and coordinated through the EU. This is also why the largest players in the EU meet regularly and heads of missions from different embassies set in motion joint demarches on for example issues relating to the rule of law. Also, coordination between France and Germany is especially important when it comes to foreign policy-making. 


2) However, Germany’s tradition for cooperation with its European partners has been undercut when it comes to the North Stream 2 project, where Russia and Germany are cooperating on building the new gas Pipeline. It is an underwater pipeline that would transport natural gas from Russia directly to Germany. The project has been characterised by unilateral action and and lack of coordination from Germany, which stands in contrast to the country’s usual methods on issues that influence European foreign and security policy. 


3) Diplomats play a large role in forming and maintaining good foreign relations. Therefore, knowledge of languages is crucial to conduct public diplomacy and engage with the host country. When a diplomat stays in a host country for a longer period, one risks the temptation to interfere into that country’s country politics, and distance themselves from the politics and internal affairs of their home country. The relation between politics and diplomacy is therefore often a fine line. 


4) Angela Merkel’s 15 years as Chancellor is characterised by many a period of good governance and stability - to a point that some even call it boring! 


5) Germany’s decentralised system is also reflected in how its foreign policy is formed. It may requires more coordination and internal persuasion within a government to reach a common position, as opposed to more centralised systems such as France. 


6) The bilateral relation between Poland and Germany can be described as two-faced. One the one hand, the two countries have good economic relations. Poland is Germany’s 5th largest trading partner, and there is a lot of cooperation across civil society and regions between the two country. However, issues relating to rights of the LGBTQ+ community and the role of public history are examples of points of contention. 


7) China is on the one hand an extremely important market for Europe, and on the other hand the country often stands in stark contrast to many of the human rights standards in Europe. Europe must emphasise that there is not a “Chinese” way of practicing human rights – there only exists a common standard derived from the Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights law.