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The future of German cultural foreign policy after a global historic shift

“A changed reality”: Helmut K. Anheier outlines soft power scenarios in event co-hosted with ifa.

Given the changing geopolitics among major powers and divergent global scenarios for foreign affairs, what future soft power approaches could Germany use in terms of narratives, strategies, goals, policies, programmes and activities?

On 9 December 2022, the Hertie School hosted a presentation and panel discussion on possible future German cultural policy strategies in partnership with cultural institute ifa – Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen to answer these questions. The event followed the launch of ifa’s External Cultural Policy monitor (ECP) earlier in the spring, a foresight study led by Senior Professor of Sociology Helmut K. Anheier which analysed the external cultural policy strategies of 45 countries.

International cultural relations after the invasion of Ukraine

Vice Secretary General of ifa Sebastian Körber opened the event by emphasising the importance of research and data on the status quo of international cultural relations. Senior Professor of Sociology Helmut Anheier then shared the results of the study, which outlined four scenarios for future German cultural policy in the context of what Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared a historic shift – Zeitenwende – after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Germany “is not at all a bellicose country, but it now has the uncomfortable task of coming to terms with a changed reality,” said Anheier of the country’s sudden shift in military spending after the start of the war. The foresight project compares Germany’s soft power – with its international exchanges, language education, higher education networks, science diplomacy and media – to that of the European Union, the US, the UK, Russia, China and India. The researchers considered the role of soft power in the context of a country's hard power (military and coercive force) and sharp power (using dependencies to inflict pain on other countries).

Predictions for the future

Ultimately, Anheier and the other researchers predicted that while US-China tensions will increase and bloc rivalries will likely emerge, our globalised world will not totally fall apart. “We must prepare ourselves much better to leverage soft power tools in a geopolitical environment that has radically changed,” said Anheier. Noting Germany’s success in smart sovereignty – giving up some aspects of national autonomy to achieve greater collective autonomy, for example in the European Union – he posed one final question: “Can we come up with a notion of power that matches smart sovereignty?”

Deutsche Welle’s senior political analyst Melinda Crane moderated the discussion that followed with panellists Thorsten Benner, co-founder and director of the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi); Ute Frevert, director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development; Peter Kettner, German Federal Foreign Office; and Judy Dempsey, nonresident senior fellow at Carnegie Europe.

Watch the recording of the event on our YouTube channel.

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