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Politics

SPD candidate Steinbrück pledges to pacify German foreign policy

No drones for the German Bundeswehr, no weapons for anybody in Syria and fewer weapons exports to the world in general; Social Democrat candidate for chancellor Peer Steinbrück has outlined his foreign policy proposals.

Peer Steinbrück on Tuesday outlined a series of foreign policy proposals more likely to please his audience of students than German weapons manufacturers.

"I have reached the conclusion that Germany does not need any drones," Steinbrück said at the FUB university in Berlin, quickly touching on a topic that's caused a headache for Chancellor Merkel and her defense minister, Thomas de Maiziere.

De Maiziere last month announced that a government project to develop unarmed surveillance drones would be scrapped, after at least half a billion euros ($655 million) had been spent on the project. In parliament on Tuesday, the government suddenly announced there would be a one-hour discussion on the topic of drone usage by the Bundeswehr, prompting opposition accusations that this was a ploy to prevent the defense minister from facing a scheduled and unscripted one-hour question-and-answer session on Wednesday.

Despite ditching the "Euro Hawk" surveillance drone project, which Steinbrück called "a budgetary disaster," the German Bundeswehr is still seeking to acquire armed drones, most likely from manufacturers in the US. Steinbrück questioned the legality of using weaponized drones to kill.

'Weapons do not create peace'

The former finance minister and Social Democrat also said that European countries needed to work more closely to establish a common foreign policy, saying that otherwise the EU would stay "in the wake of the US," without exerting real influence. He pointed to divisions over the issue of Syria as an example, shortly after the EU reached a compromise deal allowing some member states to export weapons to opposition fighters. Countries including Britain and France had hoped for EU endorsement of the practice, which was opposed by Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and others.

Steinbrück said that the war-torn country was too volatile already and that it was not really possible to know "what the various Syrian movements really stand for."

As for the German arms exports, the Social Democrat similarly appealed for a reduction in sales.

"Weapons do not create peace," Steinbrück, criticizing in particular a 2012 deal to sell tanks to Saudi Arabia that prompted protests in Berlin. "The guidelines [on who Germany sells arms to] remain in place, but the practice has changed." Under German law, weapons exports require approval by a special government panel of top politicians.

In 2012, Germany's weapons exports to the Gulf region more than doubled compared to the previous year with global small arms exports also doubling.

Finally, the 66-year-old took aim at Chancellor Merkel for asking too much of debt-laden European partners, saying that the imposed austerity measures were creating a "vicious circle." He spoke of the need for a modern "Marshall-Plan" for Europe, a reference to the post-war economic push to rebuild the continent after World War II.

Germany votes on September 22, and opinion polls currently suggest neither Merkel’s current center-right coalition nor Steinbrück’s center-left grouping are likely to win a majority.

msh/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)