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June 30, 2022

What kind of Germany in Europe?

In the last few months, not to say years, once the global economic and financial recession became acute and the salvaging of the euro zone from disappearance, and, together with it, of the European Union a question of global concern, we have become used to having in Germany ‘a lifebuoy’, everyone regarding its attitude as crucial. The common wisdom has understood this fact as a natural one: it was the strongest economy of the continent, one of the most dynamic on the entire planet and Berlin’s authority in the area of European economic and financial affairs was unchallengeable.

It was the more natural that every word coming from Berlin in respect of European level action was carefully listened to an evaluated as such, in keeping with the major weight of the author in the EU leading structures, as well as a ‘prescription’ for the euro zone and, in a broader sense, for the entire organisation. If the word was ‘austerity’, it was immediately embraced as the miracle solution for rescuing Europe and all states rushed to implement programmes down the same line. If the word was ‘cut’ in connection with any forbade expenses unless financed from revenue either in the sector of education or healthcare, it was equally followed.

When the public opinion in Greece was made aware by suggestions coming from the German press regarding the selling of Greek islands to the rich North of Europe in exchange for loans granted to avoid the country’s default, no one in the EU was outraged. Although it touched the sacrosanct heritage of a country with historic and territorial identity, the suggestion was deemed normal because it was consistent with the neo-liberal principles: you’ve overspent, you need to pay with what you’ve got. Moreover, when expert opinions suggesting solutions to the ’European crisis started flowing in from the other side of the Atlantic, actually going against Berlin’s solutions, everything was regarded as a quarrel between experts not to the understanding of the general public. Either it was renouncing economic ‘austerity’ or the setting up of a ‘common European bond’, all those solutions rejected by Berlin were seen by the European public and governments, influenced by Germany, as inappropriate. When Italian PM Berlusconi stepped out to say something like ‘the hell with austerity!, the incident was immediately labelled as exotic attitude and moved into a derisory category.

However, some recent German press articles indicate a different reality than the one generally accepted by the common wisdom. A certain feature published by ‘Der Spiegel’ at the end of August read as follows: ‘Germany’s neighbours and allies are growing increasingly concerned about Berlin’s foreign policy direction. Some even fear that efforts to export its fiscal ideas could mean the prosperous country has lost sight of the European idea. Or worse yet, that it wants to dominate the currency union.’ In the context, the authors ask themselves a question long heard down the corridors of world politics in general and Europe in particular: ‘Is Berlin turning away from the European Union, or is it the opposite, that it wants to use the currency to gain control of the entire continent — something it couldn’t do with weapons?’ The authors continue to highlight a few realities hard to ignore and well known to experts, such as the fact that, to Washington, Germany is no longer a safe ally, that many other capitals are already using the phrase ‘Germany-Russia axis’, ascertaining the stronger Eastbound orientation of Berlin, and trying to identify Germany’s exact target by scrutinising the recent 20th century.

Evaluating the German position in the case of the UN Security Council resolution on Libya in March this year, where Berlin voted alongside BRIC states and not its traditional allies in the West, a former French high-ranking official said ‘Germany has returned to an organic egotism and is, like France, mainly concerned with its own national interests.’ But it was not exactly the first time that Germany was making public such attitude. Some did recall that, at the 2010 G-20 Summit in South Korea Berlin had taken China’s side against the US on the matter of reducing the export surplus. A certain fear is beginning to spread in Europe that Germany may have lost its attachment to Europeanist orientation. As the press articles I was quoting above notes, also quoting a Spanish expert on international relations ‘Berlin wants the rest of Europe to follow its example and become more German (…). The trust of Europeans in Germany’s solidarity has eroded. Germany is forcing its economic model on other EU nations ‘with the logic of a conqueror against the conquered.’

But these are obviously opinions and their authors can be influenced by the current state of incertitude characterising the international system of states, events of high systemic impact happening simultaneously – the ‘Arab spring’ and the international economic crisis – and driving a continuously changing landscape of the international arena, as well as by the very fierce competition among emergent economies which anticipates a large-scale system change.

On the other hand, in such a fluid environment, why wouldn’t Germany fancy changing its role established after WWII of which it came out defeated?

The reality is that, no matter how qualified they are, being based on the traditional interpretation of ‘moves’ by various important actors on the internationals stage, such opinions can always be exaggerated or improbable. Let’s take the example of the ‘cordial entente’ concluded in the military field by Great Britain and France at the end of last year, involving a major pooling of military capabilities by both allies. Could it mean that the UK and France  are getting ready to answer continental or international threats outside NATO and the EU? Or perhaps that they are taking a distance from the two organisations, choosing a bilateral approach to continental and world issues? We believe not, because that would be the kind of traditional interpretation contrary to the trend of continental integration and cooperative security specific of globalisation.

In Germany’s case today we believe the opinion expressed by the country’s healthy political forces on its European destiny is the valid one. What former German Foreign Minister  J. Fischer openly and eloquently stated in an interview recently granted to the same quoted magazine: ‘We need to work toward the United States of Europe now. That is also completely crucial in light of our history. We are more dependent than others on the faith of our partners and former enemies in Europe and the world. As Helmut Kohl has correctly pointed out, there wouldn’t have been German reunification without this faith, which we should guard jealously. Today, the country seems stuck in an inward-looking provincialism, and that’s risky. We need the political framework for a strong EU now. I hope the crisis will force the current generation to do what’s good for it.’

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