GERMANY AND THE CRISIS OF THE EUROPEAN UNION: A COMMENT
"Europe is haunted again by a German question. Somewhere along the way the old neurosis has been up-ended. The issue that so long vexed Europeans has returned in another guise. Berlin’s neighbours used to worry about an over-mighty, expansionist state straddling the heart of the continent. Now they must grapple with an indifferent, introverted Germany. Angela Merkel’s hostility to a eurozone rescue package for Greece slots into a bigger picture. Whether it is economics or foreign affairs, the German chancellor speaks for a nation that has turned inwards – one that has reassessed, and downsized, its obligations to Europe.
The crisis in the eurozone has crystallised things. Greek profligacy has metamorphosed into a serious threat to European economic integration. On Wednesday, José Manuel Barroso was moved to voice confidence that Ms Merkel would eventually back a bail-out. After all, the president of the Brussels Commission observed poignantly, she was a “committed European”.
Yet the message from Berlin has been at best equivocal. Ms Merkel has insisted on the involvement of the International Monetary Fund as the price of help for Athens. All in all, Germany has made it clear that it will not allow efforts to stabilise the euro to compromise its devotion to financial discipline.
The collision between Germany and its partners reaches beyond an argument about the respective responsibilities of deficit and surplus nations. It touches most acutely on the Franco-German alliance, once the vital motor of European integration. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy still imagines the European Union as a global actor – an institution whose economic strength will be matched one day by serious political clout. Mrs Merkel wants the quiet life.
It was the German chancellor who pressed forcefully for the new, post-Lisbon, role of European Union president to be filled by a political minnow. Herman Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister virtually unknown beyond his country, was chosen by Berlin as the candidate least likely to challenge German caution.
The new Germany has a narrower – some would say selfish – view of its interests. It is unburdened by the guilt that shaped a postwar generation. Berlin no longer wants to pay for the grandiose ambitions of others. Instead of a robust European policy towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it wants its own, untroubled relationship with Moscow....
The passive Berlin sits content under a US security umbrella, but wants to rid its soil of American nuclear weapons. It has bowed to pressure to send troops to Afghanistan, but under conditions calculated to demonstrate that the mission is an unrepeatable exception. Meanwhile, the other, assertive Germany insists that rules of the eurozone cannot elevate the common over the national interest.
All in all, solidarity with allies and neighbours now takes its place in the queue behind German public opinion. Some will say: and why not? Why should Germany play the part of the altruist? We cannot expect Germans to be forever paying reparations. No one would ask Mr Sarkozy, or for that matter Britain’s Gordon Brown, to elevate the European ahead of national interests.
We are merely witnessing an inevitable shift. The second half of the 20th century was the exception. Germany is now a “normal” country. If it chooses a future as Greater Switzerland, what has the rest of Europe to complain about?
For those with an ear to history, it does indeed sound strange to berate Germany for lack of ambition. Do its partners really want the Continent’s most powerful nation to start throwing its weight around? Wasn’t that what the founding fathers hoped to put an end to with the creation of the coal and steel community?
Earlier efforts at coercive containment had ended in catastrophic failure: the first world war had given way to a flawed treaty that sowed the seeds of fascism and a second global conflagration. The cycle was only broken by the division of Germany and European integration – the latter an expression of the rare genius of a generation of American and European statesmen....
None of these squalls, though, challenged the vital underpinnings of the European project: Germany’s willingness to merge its national with the European interest. The deal married German economic power to French political leadership.
This is the bargain that Ms Merkel challenges with a policy not of expansionism but of hiding under the warm bedcovers of German self-interest. There has been much hand-wringing about what sort of Europe will emerge eventually from the present era of tumultuous geopolitical change. The prior question is: what sort of Germany?"
Philip Stephens, "Merkel's Myopia Reopens Europe's German Question," 26 March 2010 in www.ft.com.
"Just as important is the perspective of the Continental European countries like France, Italy and Germany, which served to justify, at the time, their participation in the Kosovo intervention. In expectation of eventual ratification by the Security Council, these countries understood this intervention as an “anticipation”of an effective law of world citizenship - as a step along the path from classical international law to what Kant envisioned as the “status of world citizen” which would afford legal protection to citizens against their own criminal regimes. Already at that time (in an article for the April 29, 1999 issue of “Die Zeit”), I had posited a characteristic difference between the Continental European and the Anglo-American: “It is one thing for the U.S.A. to employ, in the course of what is also an admirable political tradition, human rights instrumentally as surety of a hegemonic order. It is another thing if we understand the precarious transition, from classical power politics to the state of world citizenship, as a learning process to be mastered collectively. This more comprehensive perspective requires greater caution. The self-empowerment of NATO should not become the rule....
Certainly, the patriotic upsurge following upon September 11, had an American character. But the key to the curtailment of fundamental law, which you’ve referred to, to the breach of the Geneva Convention in Guantanamo, to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, etc., I would locate elsewhere. The militarization of life domestically and abroad, the bellicose policies which open themselves up to infection by their opponent’s own methods, and which return the Hobbesian state to the world stage where the globalization of markets had seemed to have driven the political into the wings, all this the politically enlightened American populace would have overwhelmingly rejected, if the administration had not, with force, shameless propaganda, and manipulated insecurity, exploited the shock of September 11. For a European observer and a twice-shy child such as I, the systematic intimidation and indoctrination of the population and the restrictions on the scope of permitted opinion in the months of October and November of 2002, (when I was in Chicago), were unnerving. This was not “my” America. From my 16th year onward, my political thinking, thanks to the sensible re-education policy of the Occupation, has been nourished by the American ideals of the late 18th century.
Jurgen Habermas,"America and the World - Jurgen Habermas in Conversation, (Summer 2004), in www.logosjournal.com
"It is not so much that STRATFOR now sees the euro as workable in the long run — we still don’t — it’s more that our assessment of the euro is shifting from the belief that it was a straightjacket for Germany to the belief that it is Germany’s springboard. In the first assessment, the euro would have broken as Germany was denied the right to chart its own destiny. Now, it might well break because Germany is becoming a bit too successful at charting its own destiny. And as it dawns on one European country after another that there was more to the euro than cheap credit, the ties that bind are almost certainly going to weaken.
The paradigm that created the European Union — that Germany would be harnessed and contained — is shifting. Germany now has not only found its voice, it is beginning to express, and hold to, its own national interest. A political consensus has emerged in Germany against bailing out Greece. Moreover, a political consensus has emerged in Germany that the rules of the eurozone are Germany’s to refashion. As the European Union’s anchor member, Germany has a very good point. But this was not the “union” the rest of Europe signed up for — it is the Mitteleuropa that the rest of Europe will remember well".
Peter Zeihan, "Germany: Mitteleuropa Redux," 16 March 2010, in www.stratfor.com.
What the crisis twin crises of both the Euro (id est., the common currency of the European Union), and, of the European Union, highlight is that as the always insightful if occasionally befuddled by his bien-pensant view of the world, Philip Stephens put it: Germany wants to be merely a 'Greater Switzerland'. Rien plus. It does not, contrary to the occasional paranoia one hears on occasion, especially in the US (viz the article in Stratfor being a parfait example), UK, or in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe, wish to be a 'hegemonic European' power `a la the First or Third Reichs. Quite the reverse in fact: it has become an almost absolutely Kantian, political realm made of of Weltburgers. The only problem with such a country is that 'Weltburgers', tend not to be seriously interested in problems outside of their heimat. To travel yes. To offer gratis, large amounts of financial or other type of assistance (we will not even endeavor to discuss something like military assistance...), that is not something which our Deutsche Weltburger is in the least interested in. Because, au fond, the Habermasian Weltburger is at heart, merely a provincial citizen of his or her heimat. For good or for ill. Regardless, the upshot of this evolution of the German body politic, which has blended into an evolution of the larger European body politic in the last sixty-five years is that one should not have any grand expectations about what can be expected of a Europe in which the provincial, navel-gazing, Germany sets the pace for the rest of the European Union. As the American Secretary of Defence, Mr. Gates recently put it:
"One of the triumphs of the last century was the pacification of Europe after ages of ruinous warfare. But, as I've said before, I believe we have reached an inflection point, where much of the continent has gone too far in the other direction. The demilitarization of Europe - where large swaths of the general public and political class are averse to military force and the risks that go with it - has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st. Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but, on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats".
Secretary of Defence Robert Gates,"NATO Strategic Concepts Seminar," 23 February 2010in www.defense.gov.
The German attitude in the current Euro Crisis, is simply part of a larger problem, which admits to almost no easy solution. At least I do not know of any other than perhaps endeavoring an exercise of mass hypnosis of the German population of Europe and put a little of the spirit of the old Wehrmacht into them...