In Small Circles
Over the years, the German government has organized EU consultations in small circles, sometimes even in bilateral talks. German-French meetings have become legendary. Here preliminary decisions on key issues have frequently been made - most recently during the Euro crisis. The "German-French couple" was usually benevolently described as the EU's indispensable engine; however the consultations between Bonn/Berlin and Paris have, in fact, resulted in a disempowerment of the smaller member countries. In 2003, in view of the EU's eastward expansion that would complicate power relations, the German-French meetings had been supplemented with the "G5," regular meetings of the five major EU countries (Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain). With Poland joining in 2006, the "G5" became the "G6," with the focus remaining on domestic repression and anti-refugee border-management. Berlin occasionally resorted to the "Weimar Triangle" format (Germany, France, Poland), if politically opportune. Allegedly Poland was to become more involved in important EU decisions within the framework of "European reconciliation." In reality, however, Warsaw was given an assumed exclusive position to prevent possible resistance to German policy plans.
No More Veto
Recently, Berlin's reliable control through small circle consultations appears to be waning. States, which have largely been marginalized, are beginning to organize themselves, for example, with the summits of southern European countries. Two of those summits have already taking place - the first on September 9, 2016 in Athens and the second on January 28, 2017 in Lisbon - with the participation of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta. The southern European countries are particularly interested in a common anti-refugee border-management (Greece, Italy, Spain, Malta and in the future possibly also Cyprus) and especially in ending the EU austerity dictates imposed by Germany. In various forms. these countries have been very hard hit by those measures. Until now, these southern European summits have not posed serious problems for Berlin, but this may not always be the case. With Great Britain's exit, the neoliberal oriented EU countries huddled around Germany have been deprived of an important ally for their economic policy. In a dispute, they are thus also losing their necessary quorum for a veto in EU bodies, against resistance to the current austerity policy.
Last summer, Chancellor Angela Merkel had already begun applying measures to break up any possible southern European bloc of countries. August 27 - just four days after the British Exit Referendum - she met with French President François Hollande and Italy's Prime Minister, at the time, Matteo Renzi, for the first time, in a trilateral summit. This trilateral summit has been repeated several times. In autumn, the real reason was to support Renzi in winning a constitutional referendum, scheduled for December 4. The project failed; Renzi was defeated. However, it appears that the prime minister may have sought to greatly enhance his influence through the trilateral summit. In late November, diplomats in Berlin leaked to the press that they had "the impression that Renzi was under the illusion of making the French-German engine into a trio, with Italy." "Renzi seems to have misunderstood something." Possibly Italy's inclusion into the EU's new 'directorate' may suffice to make its participation in a possible southern European counter-bloc unattractive.
Today, Monday, Berlin has again broadened its format. In Versailles, Chancellor Merkel and President Holland will consult with Italy's new Prime Minister, Paolo Gentiloni and Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on the EU's imminent transformation. The Union's further development will be discussed, it was announced. The discussion is supposed to transmit "a signal of unity," according to a government spokesperson. The meeting will particularly prepare Thursday's European Council meeting, Friday's heads of state and government leaders' summit - without the United Kingdom - as well as the 60th Anniversary of the Signing of the Treaty of Rome Summit on March 25. What German diplomats back in November, had leaked to the press about Italy's Prime Minister Renzi, should also apply to Spain's Prime Minister's actual chances of enhancing his influence. Nevertheless, Spain's integration is in Berlin's interests. Without Italy and without Spain, the southern European countries have no chance of politically breaking the grip of the austerity dictate by forming a counter-bloc of countries.
The Two-Class EU
At the moment, Berlin is having more problems with the "Visegrád countries" - Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. Since they signed their cooperation agreement (February 15, 1991) in the northern Hungarian city of Visegrád, they have been consistently working together. For a long time, this format had not been taken very seriously, especially because Germany has repeatedly managed to forge strong exclusive ties with Poland - for example within the framework of the Weimar Triangle. Recently, these four countries have intensified their cooperation. Among other things, they have joined forces to ward off migration and consequently refuse to accept refugees. Following last Thursday's summit in Warsaw, the Visegrád countries presented their positions on reforming the EU. According to these, they do not want to support the rise of a powerful core of integration around a German hub within the emerging "multi-speed EU" that Berlin is promoting, because this would help consolidate an EU of two or three classes. We must "pull in one direction" and "pursue a common objective," it was twittered concerning the contents of the Warsaw position paper. There could be common objectives in the common market, for example, or even in warding off refugees and establishing foreign and military policies.
Europe's Common Denominator
In spite of all its other contradictions, it is in fact, the foreign and military policy, which is emerging as the field, where the EU is most likely to reach agreement. Today, Monday, the EU's foreign and defense ministers will hold consultations on further measures for the Union's militarization. Thursday, the European Council will evaluate recent foreign and military policy measures, which - under German pressure - should be implemented in the summer. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) Whether the EU will be reformed along the lines Germany is proposing, in questions other than the militarization, will depend primarily on Berlin's success in breaking up or otherwise countering the various pockets of resistance in the south and in the east.