The Normalisation of Germany (I)

, by Morgan Griffith-David

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

The Normalisation of Germany (I)
Meeting between José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC, and Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor José Manuel Barroso, President of the EC, met Angela Merkel, German Federal Chancellor, in Berlin in June 2010. They discussed about fiscal consolidation and a new financial stability culture in Europe.
Credit © European Union, 2011

Germany, the engine of Europe, is stalling. Since the start of the Euro crisis, we’ve seen a new country emerging. Some are calling it the inevitable “Normalisation of Germany”, a period when Germany starts to act as a ’normal’ country, self-interested and nationally-minded, no longer the guardians of European progress.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy since the start of integration, has been crucial to solving the recent crisis in the Eurozone – but, like with every matter from Greece to Libya to relationships with China and Russia, it has become “incredibly evasive, absent and unpredictable.” Europe, it seems, can no longer rely on her engine.

It is easy to criticise Germany, our dear, ever-reliable Germany. Yet many Germans “feel more like victims than aggressors”. A nation which used to identify with the European ideal, perhaps more than any other, now feels betrayed. The popular press argues that the other European states just take advantage of Germany, its economy, and its size. As Europe waited to be “saved” by Germany, Germany wanted to be “saved” from Europe...

In light of recent developments, the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has launched a new project, entitled Germany in Europe, to analyse the new German assertiveness. The project, led by Ulrike Guérot (Head of the Berlin Office of the ECFR), has released two key documents, “What Does Germany Think About Europe?”, an anthology by several different experts on Germany, and “The New German Question: How Europe Can Get the Germany It Needs”, written by Ulrike Guérot and Mark Leonard. This is all in order to help understand the German perspective on the issue, and in order to avoid, as an ECFR document recently called it, “a dialogue of the deaf”.

In order to break this dialogue, we must understand several facets of German’s situation: its reunification, the temptation to go on alone, the economic factors, the legal debates, and how to deal with it.

Internal change since reunification and the people

Today’s Germany is not the Germany of 20 years ago. Once, European integration was part of Germany’s raison d’état. But as the Bonn Republic transformed into the Berlin Republic, a more assertive and nationalist Germany, and one that became ever-weaker, Germany began to feel that it should be able to be “normal” and talk about its own interests, not be solely bound to the ideal of a European federal state.

While the old Federal Republic of Rhineland capitalism and the social market economy was kept together by a consensus-driven political system and relatively high-quality social equality, today’s Germany is ageing, in fear of immigration, and is lagging behind its peers in gender equality and education. It’s political system has fragmented – only the Green party stays proudly pro-European, the Free Democrats have turned more eurosceptic, the two main parties or Volksparteien (similar to the Big Tent politics concept) cannot depend on any more than 40% of the vote, and new eurosceptic parties have emerged in the Linke (Left) party. Economically, Germany has shifted away from Europe and towards the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Indeed, Goldman Sachs has predicted that by the end of 2011, German exports to China could roughly equal exports to France. The young, those born since 1989, have a social consciousness more formed by 9/11 and the economy, than the Cold War or WWII – they take Europe for granted, not as something that saves them from another devastating war. This is a turbulent time for Germany internally.

In light of these internal developments since reunificaton, we cannot begrudge Germany an open dialogue on Europe, as it struggles to find its place in a post-Cold War world. Germany once anchored itself on the goal of European integration as a method of peace. Europe no longer solely ensures peace in Germans’ eyes, but also costs them. No new narrative, showing that Europe is a way to further German interests (on energy policy, labour or migration), has been proffered by the increasingly-eurosceptic German elite. Rather, they show a distinct lack of ambition and vision for Europe, and populist fears are giving way to a provincial desire to by a gigantic Switzerland, at the centre of Europe.

Despite these ominous starts, the discussion could benefit Europe. As Christian Schmidt, a CSU minister, says, “a backward glance can simultaneously be a constructive forward glance”. The debate can be used to “increase awareness of the need for European collaboration and integration”, at the same time as drawing “attention to the necessity of building a Europe for all citizens rather than an elite project”.

This is echoed by noted philosopher Habermas in his afterword – he finds that, while there is great blame on our politicians and media for not presenting the European project in the correct light, we should also look amongst ourselves.

While he acknowledges that much blame lies with politicians, who “slavishly” chase public opinion in a way in which “the democratic process loses its purpose”, and with the media due to, as Cornelia Bolesch, a journalist, puts it, their desire for simplicity, despite the EU being “a sophisticated ...beast”, their desire to talk about winners and losers in a consensus-driven EU, and their desire for speed, despite the EU working “laboriously slowly”, much blame must also lie with the general public.

He claims that there are two major legitimacy issues with the EU. Firstly, that the Parliament is viewed as being made up of nations, as opposed to parties, and secondly that there is no “emergency of a …social movement for European integration”, something which is utterly crucial. This is to create a European public sphere... perhaps Habermas would agree with Bolesch’s criticism of German media’s lack of coverage for everyday happenings in the rest of Europe.

Of course, I would challenge that there is no social movement for European integration – just look at JEF.

Thinking of the young, Claus Leggewie, director of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut Essen, offers a way to further engage young Europeans – on Green issues and on economic stability. He claims that younger Germans “tacitly approve of Europe” and often take it for granted, mostly over student exchanges, such as the Erasmus network. They are also “less likely than their parents to fear bureaucratic excesses and the loss of national and cultural identity.” Most importantly to Leggewie’s theory is that o ver two-thirds of school leavers agreed that “Prosperity is less important to me than environmental protection and debt reduction” - around 76% of young Germans answering the Shell Youth Study (2010) viewed climate change as a major problem. In short, the young could easily form a pro-European social movement, particularly through their dedication to Green issues and economic stability.

Temptation to go global alone

Before reunification, Germany’s foreign policy hinged on two principles – transatlanticism and European integration. It was crucial in the second, by supporting small member states and the Commission, it cooperated closely with France and it paid disproportionately (financially and in political capital) into initiatives.

However, since reunification, the alliance of the economically-strong, politically-weak Germany and the politically-strong, economically-weak France has been disrupted by growing German political strength, and the economic crisis placing more emphasis on economic strength. Germany also seems to have grown tired of its support of European Commission and Parliament, and since Chancellor Schröder’s era has asserted its interests for example by pushing for greater representation in the European Parliament.

But the other European states are reacting. As its ties with the BRIC countries increase, notably Russia, Poland has aligned itself with Germany, which has helped heal “painful splits”, and the two countries’ foreign ministers, Radek Sikorskia dn Guido Westerwelle, “made a joint intervention before the election in Belarus in December 2010”. France has recently embarked on a joint defence treaty with Britain – overtly to save money, some have interpreted as a way “for France to diversity its political base in Europe.” Even France’s decision to sell Mistral ships to Russia may be interpreted as a method of subverting “Germany’s hold on the bilateral relationship with Russia”, drawing negotiations between European countries and Russia back into the EU’s remit.

Guérot and Leonard make several recommendations, core of which is that the other European powers need to understand the Berlin Republic, instead of mourning the passing of the Bonn Republic. They need to show Berlin that “it stands to gain more from making the development of a European policy its central goal than from succumbing to the temptation of going global alone”. They need to show Germany’s interests lie in forming a colective European approach to regional security, a joint-relationship with emerging powers, and a “new deal on economic governance within the EU” including a pan-European banking regular and euro bonds.

Guérot and Leonard enunciate several strategies that other states could take.

1. Riding the Tiger – Accommodating German power, and using it to their benefit

2. Anti-German Coalitions – Banding together against German power

3. Binding Berlin’s Hands – Binding Germany’s power within international institutions and norms

4. Blackmail – “Attempting to extract concessions from Berlin by threatening it with undesirable consequences”

5. Attrition – Just say no. Or say yes, but do nothing.

6. Blackening Germany’s Name – Attacking German as an illegitimate leader

7. Copying Bad Behaviour – Moving back into concentrating on “national interests”, which would make “the EU ungovernable.”

The second part of this article will be published on August, the 12th.

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