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March 21, 2023

Europe: Fear of Germany?

When, on December 9, 2011, British MP David Cameron took a step back from the solution of the European Council regarding the sovereign debt crisis in the EU, the Eurosceptical British media bloated and started using phrases such as ‘the fourth Reich’, ‘benign hegemon’ etc. They were addressed to ‘the German solution’ to the crisis which, in the opinion of those Eurosceptics, threatens to facilitate a German domination of the continent as well as to precipitate the collapse of the European construction concurrently with the end of the single currency. December 2011 is now in the past, and the UK – experts say – will never allow Germany to dominate Europe. There are moves which can be very interesting from that point of view.

But the European summit came on Monday, February 1, this year, when voices could be heard again, fearing a German diktat in Europe.

German conservative newspaper ‘Die Welt’ was stating in a column: ‘Countries in crisis can’t be transformed into protectorates. An EU fiscal commissioner wouldn’t be able to achieve much unless he had the powers of an occupying statute.’  But what drove the respectable German publication to use the word ‘protectorate’ – readers should be reminded of the fact that the Czech Republic who, during the WWII, was a German protectorate, raised Constitutional reasons to show its reluctance to the provisions of the new European treaty sent to the EU member states to be signed – and write the above? Especially that ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’ was writing, at the same time, that ‘Germany isn’t the hegemon of Europe. It isn’t the hesitant or even steamrolling hegemon who flattens the other members of the EU and/or euro zone. The union of the Europeans doesn’t work that way. It isn’t geared to systematic domination or subordination. /…/ If Germany is to lead, as most partners want it to or say they want it to, this leadership cannot simply consist of giving orders.’ A boost was given to such speculations by the fact that, at the end of January 2012, a new loan to Greece was discussed to claw the country out of the existing impasse, accompanied by the installation of a European commissar in Athens whose job would have been the supervision of the entire financial policy of the Hellenic state. The protest to such a measure deemed seriously offensive to the sovereignty of the member states was ample not just in Greece, and the contemplated measure was eventually dropped. But its mental sequels has a certain inertia over the time…

An useful public opinion indicator regarding this state of affairs is offered by reading the forum of Gavin Hewitt’s blog post, with the title ‘Germany condemned to dominate?’ Hewitt, BBC Europe special correspondent, states that the mutterings are growing about Germany and Chancellor Merkel’s intention ‘to shape the rest of the continent to its own image.’ Among other facts, the author indicates the fact that Merkel had voiced her open support for a second term for French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Such an unusual endorsement by the leadership in Berlin would be justified by the fact that it sees a Socialist victory in the presidential election as threatening to its new pact for budgetary discipline capping the structural deficit of eurozone states to 0.5 per cent of GDP. Romania has endorsed the pact which is now pending ratification via statutory Constitutional procedures.

Hewitt also notes the current situation in Greece, a country where the public reacts against this Berlin’s move to impose a certain financial discipline in the EU. One detractor of this German austerity plan called it ‘straightjacket that will condemn Europe to eternal austerity and stagnation.’ Comments on this post were numerous, some 250, coming from the most diverse corners of the EU. We are selecting a few of the fundamental features of those opinions, without – and I’m saying this again – claiming they represent a genuine public opinion poll.

One first observation refers to what could be called almost balanced views as the number of pros and cons regarding such a benign German domination of Europe. But the really significant part consists of the arguments given for each of the two positions. For the pros: from the fact that German products, technical or even doctrine-related (the social market economy) are precious and justify a prominent role compared, in Europe, to the fact that Germany is characterised by European values – from political-democratic ones to similar social values – which makes the difference from the threat of other hegemonic temptations. An example of the many falling under the category of cons is: ‘If Italy and Greece are unable to solve their internal problems they are supposed to solve themselves, they cover their problems with anti-German resentments from the past.’ There are also opinions calling for special attention. Among those, one says ‘the European dream’ can turn into ‘a nightmare having a monster in a leading role’ or that ‘I don’t know about leadership but there are certainly calls for German money and/or guarantees’; or ‘Truth is that EZ (eurozone) needs leadership and resolve and it can only come from Germany, but unfortunately the present political climate in the country provides only a short-sighted watchdog attitude.’

Another quite developed opinion is that this new continental dominance temptation should be opposed by force. From a certain point of view, it is concerning, especially because of what these extremist positions implicitly state: the domination by anyone, not just Germany, but especially Germany, in the EU means returning into the past, actually a very recent past of war and destruction with the two world wars of the past century. The commentators even make calculations about the way in which the German domination in Europe could be stopped – among other options, a ‘blockade’ is also considered – and appreciate the odds of coalitions that could be made in such an unfortunate eventuality. Despite the fact that at least the pact considered is signed by 25 of the EU members states, some of the commentators say Germany’s allies in Europe are just a few states.

In what regards the fear of a certain kind of German leadership in Europe, I am also quoting the following opinion expressed on the forum: ‘Germany stands where it never wanted to stand again… dominant power in the middle of Europe’. Of course it brings back unsettling memories; I don’t think Germany would have chosen this role; rather, it has been foisted upon her. Who else would or could dominate?’

Of course, the comments on BBC correspondent Gavin Hewitt’s blog cannot be regarded as representative for the major currents of opinion in Europe. However, they are a fragment of those which deserve to be known, for they reveal concerns of European citizens which have to be taken into consideration in the construction of Europe.

A construction that has to be durable, democratic and consistent with the will of European citizens.

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