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October 5, 2022

Power shifts in Europe: In which direction?

If we sought an answer to this question, no further than a few months ago, our answer would have obviously been an easily identifiable one. That Europe will head in whatever direction Germany would establish the azimuth. And there were plenty of arguments to back up this answer, regardless of whether the resulting image might have led to the conclusion that thus, the European construction and the principles of equality the European construction was based on were neglected. After all, reality imposed the conclusion that Germany was setting the hour in Europe.

The facts were the following:

First, Germany played an obvious lead role in the management of the crisis in Ukraine, started with the change of regime in Kiev (the end of February 2014) and the annexation of Crimea by Russia (March 2014). Germany was the one that played the role of the “conductor” in the so-called “Normandy format”, which referred to the periodic reunions of the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, destined to prevent the appearance of a major European war as a result of the Ukrainian crisis. Founded in June 2014 as a four-member format destined to deal with the crisis – on the opportunity of celebration in Normandy of over 70 years since the allied forces disembarked in Northwestern France, during WWII – this group had an essential role in closing the agreements “Minsk-1” (September 2014) and “Minsk-2” (February 2015).

The most recent reunion of this format (Paris – October 2015) evaluated the progress registered on the path of peacefully solving the crisis in Ukraine. It was just that this reunion took place under the circumstances that, on the international scene, increasing visibility was gained by two other big crises – that of migrants in Europe, that represented a terrible challenge to the stability of the EU and the military intervention of Russia in Syria, starting on September 30, 2015 – and they both had an overwhelming impact over Europe.

In the first crisis, Germany is the main target of the immigrants, which already strained out the capacity of this country to absorb the successive waves of those who are already in Europe (the most of them from Syria), so that Berlin had requested solidarity from its partners in the EU.

In the second crisis, on one hand, Syria is the main “spring” of successive waves of migrants, and neither the EU, nor Germany have an actual role in solving the civil war in this country. The absence of a “hard power” instrument that could support the impressive “soft power” of the EU (and of Germany) has a decisive impact in this incapacity of both to be active participants in a file they are vitally interested in. The latest discussions with Turkey, by German Chancellor Angela Merkel are an attempt to compensate for this fundamental lack of role in solving the crisis in Syria.

Second, a few months ago, Germany was a genuine sponsor of Europe’s terrible economical challenges. In the first half of the year 2015, Berlin had had the essential role of managing the Greek crisis that ended in July with an agreement by Athens to a plan of rebuilding the Greek economy adapted to German requests, as Germany was the lead payer of the over EUR 90 billion bail-out needed for salvation.

In those months of uninterrupted negotiations and disputes between Athens and Berlin, the international media has immortalized the details of the positions adopted by the two parties – as Athens brought up the argument of the quasi-impossibility to apply the drastic measures required by the rebuilding, and Berlin insisting to demand a financial – economical discipline destined to avoid catastrophe.

The agreed program is presently being applied but it is also true that the present evolution of the refugee crisis – as Greece is one of the front line states facing successive waves of refugees – may bring major changes inside the plan. Not to mention other effects upon the internal cohesion of the EU, created by different positions adopted by the members of the organisation – especially from the East – upon Germany’s appeals of solidarity to the absorption of immigrants.

Third, Germany was positioning itself until a few months ago as the privileged European partner of China, and the connection with the most dynamic emerging economy in the world was obviously adding features of solid perspective to the power-house status of the continental economy owned by Berlin. And now, recently, the United Kingdom implemented a surprising and successful economical and political move by consolidating a preferential relation with China, during the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, made recently to London.

Obviously, it is hard to establish at this point the true impact on Europe and on Germany’s position inside Europe of this genuine “bet” on Chinese cards, assumed by London, as international media named it. Yet, one clearly visible fact is that the EU reveals the existence of competitive political and economical poles that compete with the German pole in European affairs. A few British analysts – such as Gideon Rachman from the paper “The Financial Times” – have evaluated that this “British pact” may have a negative effect upon the relations of the United Kingdom and the United States but it is also similarly true that their influence upon relations and balances of power in the EU will be experienced soon. Actually, the question many people in Europe have asked – and not just in the last few days – is the one formulated on the blog of the European Council of Foreign Relations (http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/2015/10/20/in-for-a-yuan-in-for-a-pound-is-the-united-kingdom-making-a-bad-bet-on-china/): “What exactly is the objection to UK Chancellor George Osborne’s desire for the United Kingdom to be Beijing’s ‘ best partner in the West’ and to have a ‘relationship that is second to none’? After all, there is not a country on earth that does not want to have a robust trade and investment relationship with China, the world’s second largest economy.” And this question was answered by George Osborne himself: “There is no country in the west that is as open to Chinese investment as the United Kingdom. We welcome Chinese investment. There is huge amounts of Chinese investment coming into Britain at the moment. Indeed, we are attracting more investment than Germany, France and Italy put together.” (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/sep/20/osborne-china-visit-beijing-best-partner).

Therefore, we want to reveal that today, the answer is not as easy to identify as before, to the question: “Where are you headed, Europe?” as it seemed no earlier than a few months ago.
The crisis in Ukraine seems to give signs of weakness, because an immeasurable prolongation of this crisis, Russia – by the “move” they made in Syria, they re-positioned themselves on an international scale in the volatile region of the Middle East, vital for the security and prosperity of the old continent, but also lacking it as a top player, and therefore, German economy seems to give signs of… normality.

Expert Daniel Gros, who has also wondering about the present situation of the German economy, pointed out: “Germany is now, for the first time, in the position of having to ask its EU partners for solidarity, as it cannot absorb all the newcomers alone. As usual, however, perceptions are lagging behind reality, which means that Germany is still widely viewed as the eurozone’s most powerful force. But, as the global business cycle accelerates Germany’s return to the ‘old normal’ the power shift within Europe will become increasingly difficult to ignore.” (https://www.projectsyndicate.org/commentary/germany-slowing-growth-by-daniel-gros-2015-10 )

In Community Europe, therefore, a movement of massive proportions is developing in continental power balances, where the German fighters, although in highly influential until not so long ago in the perception of political observes and also of politicians and decision makers, it seems to have entered a descending title.

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