European Council on Foreign Relations

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My first major article for The New Federalist, publication of the Young European Movement, has just been published, as a two-part article. It summarises a new project, Germany In Europe,  published by the European Council on Foreign Relations. It discusses the new attitude of Germany to the European Union, how it now acts like a ‘normal’ state as opposed to merely a motor. Read it here on the Spineless Liberal, in its undivided glory. Enjoy.

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.”

Economy and law

Two of the more interesting debates from the anthology centre on the Economy and Law.

While Michael Wohlgemuth, head of the research department at the Walter Eucken Institut, takes the view of many Germans as he defends the position that “innocent bystanders must not be forced to accept responsibility for the mistakes of strangers” and that Germany was right to insist on its successful austerity model being applied abroad, Henrik Enderlein, Deputy Dean and Professor for Political Economics at the Berlin Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, argues instead that the crisis was caused, not by irresponsibility, but by the architecture of the single currency, in which two blocs developed – one low-inflation bloc with high real interest rates, which leaned towards lower growth and unemployment rates (e.g. Germany) and one high-inflation, very low or negative real interest rates, and high growth and employment (e.g. Spain, Ireland and Portugal). While the bailout of 2010 solved the short-term crisis, it did not solve this disparity.

While some propose a return to national currencies, Enderlein claims this would be “economic suicide” as national debts would not disappear with the re-introduction of the drachma. The only option is to “take the bull by the horns” and confront the issue, at a European level… “The European Commission must be strengthened to become a genuine governance arm of national economic policies”

In the legal debate, three authors present the legal debate following the Constitutional Court’s controversial verdict on the Lisbon Treaty in June 2009, which limited further integration and criticised the EU’s“democratic deficit”. Klaus Ferdinand Gärditz and Christian Hillgrube argue that the court had little choice – claiming that the Basic Law guarantees the permanence of sovereign German statehood, and says that “The Basic Law does not grant powers to bodies acting on behalf of Germany to abandon the right to self-determination of the German people […] by joining a federal state”. The decisison “preserves the primary place of democratic self-determination of German citizens and simultaneously ensures the actions of the EU have the necessary democratic checks and balances to establish sufficient legitimacy. ”

On the other hand, Christian Calliess, is more critical of the verdict. He claims it is a near tragedy that the Constitutional Court focus on international law, which leads more in favour of democratic principles than European integration. He focused more on the flipside interpretation of the court – that the Lisbon Treaty and law approving it were judged constitutional, it was merely proposed simplified amendments to Article 48 of the EU Treaty that required active approval of the German legislative wing, which, is entirely fair – while the EU started as an economic project “the more political the EU becomes, the more it needs broad democratic legitimacy.”

Conclusions

Thus, we can draw some conclusions from these esteemed voices about the current German ’crisis’. Germany is still “feeling the impact of reunification on its political system, its economy and its sociology”, as Guérot and Leonard have shown. However, no new national narrative has coalesced – this is why their debate is necessary.

“Germany needs help to become European again”, but it cannot fulfill the same role. We need to reassure the German public that Europe is not ripping them off. The best way to show Germany that its aspirations are best fulfilled within a European context is by being more European themselves.

Germany’s public is at risk of turning decively eurosceptic. However, as Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, foreign editor at the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, points out

“Denying or ignoring the consequences of growing public scepticism will inevitably lead to a repeat of what happened in France and the Netherlands in 2005, when politicians simply did not know what had hit them. Ordinary citizens often have a keen sense of when the EU is overextending itself and want their “own” democratic regimes to retain some freedom of action in the future…

“Anyone wanting “more Europe” these days must acknowledge that, while it makes sense to transfer power to Brussels in some areas such as budgetary policy, there are limits – if only because ordinary citizens and their governments say so.”

We must remember that public opinion is paramount – while we can urge and offer good, strong arguments in favour of Europe, we cannot force Europe on people, otherwise we risk creating a Europe for the elite.

We must remember that despite this ’crisis’, Germany is not sending any professed anti-Europeans to the European Parliament. This country has not turned eurosceptic, and we can still take time to convince the public of the benefits of Europe. Their politicians and media must play their role, but as Habermas said, it is social movements which determine the course of countries.

One final essay of particular note. Alexander Cammann, a writer who has been published in Die Zeit on German identity, who was born in the GDR, was 16 when the Berlin Wall fell, and become an adult in a reunited Germany, draws attention to the fact that Europe is succeeding… He laments our “colelctive short-term memory loss”. Many of us should be able to remember a time when in Greece, this type of economic instability would have allowed “reactionary colonels” to take power in a coup, the strikes would have“mutated into a communist uprising”, and a country may have fallen into civil war. In Spain and Portugal, not forgetting most of Central and Eastern Europe, the scars of dictatorship are still raw.

While Jürgen Habermas may speak about our democratic deficit, and a lack of a public sphere, and we cannot forget these shortcomings. This is all secondary “given all the upheaval in this blood-drenched continent within an unprecedentedly short period of time?”

“The gains in democracy and freedom – not to mention prosperity – for the vast majority of Europeans are so incomparable that it is tempting to ask whether our poets and thinkers have lost all sense of history. Nothing new could possibly take shape any faster than what is currently occurring in Europe.”

“Europe has become a continent that, historically speaking, is happier than ever. Naturally, we must do everything in our power to ensure it remains that way. But we Europeans certainly have good reason for optimism.”

Catch the originals here - http://www.thenewfederalist.eu/4410

- http://www.thenewfederalist.eu/4411

Greatly looking forward to working with TNF again, very good experience.

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