german-foreign-policy.com
A Matter of National Interest
2017/04/04
BERLIN
(Own report) - In light of the drastic warnings of the EU's possible disintegration, Berlin seeks to prevent the formation of contending forces. "The European Union is drifting apart to an extent hardly imaginable 15 years ago," according to a recent analysis, written by a board member of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). The "dividing lines" between the north and the impoverishing south, as well as between western and eastern EU member countries are disquieting. To prevent the formation of a southern European bloc opposing the German austerity dictate, Berlin is particularly trying to integrate France into its EU policy. Yesterday, the German chancellor sought closer cooperation with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to undermine an alliance of the Visegrád members against German predominance. At the same time, promotion of the EU has been intensified within Germany. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel explained how Germany ultimately profits from its net contributions to the EU budget: The success of German exports depends on "the people in the other EU countries" being able "to afford" German products - with the help of Brussels' subsidies.
Breaking Points
At times, German foreign policy experts use drastic terms to describe the EU's current crisis. "The European Union is drifting apart to an extent hardly imaginable 15 years ago," according to board member of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Joachim Krause, a political scientist in Kiel. The Euro crisis "has weakened the Union in such a way that the fundamental differences and breaking points of integration have been exposed," he writes. Also the "regulations concerning free circulation and migration, agreed upon in the 1990s, ... have caused Euro-skepticism, today." "Two dividing lines" have emerged, "one between the North and the South and the other between Western Europe and the eastern region of Central Europe."[1] This is giving rise to forces "critical of or hostile to Europe" in numerous member countries. "Today, a popular majority in support of European integration can be found only in a few countries," Krause notes. "Britain's decision to leave the Union" may possibly "be followed by other countries."
The EU as a Basis for Exports
To close ranks, the German establishment is intensifying its efforts to promote the EU at home. Yesterday, Director General of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) Joachim Lang reaffirmed the EU's utility for German industry. "Nearly 40 percent of our direct investments" were made within the EU and "almost 60 percent of our exports" were to EU countries. Hence, the EU is strategically very valuable as a basis for the export-oriented German industry's global growth. "Our companies' value chains function smoothly across the borders," Lang reminds. In fact, companies can distribute their production sites all across the Union to maximize their profits.[2] "It goes without saying" that a "car made in Germany contains numerous parts made in France, Poland or the Czech Republic," the BDI top official explains. "Nearly three-fourths of all intermediate imports in EU countries come from EU countries. Nowhere else in the world is the interregional portion that large."
The Net Winner Country
Recently, Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel had also emphasized the benefit of the EU for the German economy, highlighting the special significance Germany's net contribution has for the EU's budget. "The truth is that Germany is not a European net payer, but a net winner," wrote Gabriel in an op-ed for the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) daily. "Of course, we are making more tax money available to the EU's budget than we are receiving from its subsidies," the text continues. "This is but a minor aspect of the accounting." It must be considered that "nearly 60 percent of our goods and services are being exported within the EU," which, however, presupposes that these goods will also be purchased. "Millions of jobs" in Germany depend "on the fact" that "the people in the other EU countries are doing so well" that "they can afford our products," is how Gabriel explained why contributions to the EU are useful for Germany. "Each euro that we pay into the EU budget multiplies and flows back to us."[3]
Shaping World Order
For Germany, the EU is "a matter of national interest," according to a position paper published by Berlin's chapter of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). "The German economic and political model benefits greatly from the EU, and Berlin continues to believe that with the EU it can best contribute to shaping a world order that serves German and European interest at large."[4]
Integrated
To insure the realization of its interests within the inner-European framework of countries, parallel to the promotion of the union, Berlin pursues the objective of undermining the formation of possible coalitions opposed to German predomination within the EU. One of these is the Southern European Summit, which has twice been convened - September 9, 2016 in Athens and January 28, 2017 in Lisbon - assembling the strongest critics of Germany's austerity policy.[5] To pull the more influential Southern European countries away from this alliance, Chancellor Angela Merkel convened a sort of mini-summit March 6 in Versailles on EU reform with the participation of France's President François Hollande, Italy's Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. In light of the upcoming French presidential elections, she has received the contending candidates in Berlin - with the exception of the EU-critical Front National's (FN) candidate, Marine Le Pen. Chancellor Merkel has reached initial agreements on the EU's future with Emmanuel Macron, the candidate assumed to have the best chance. Therefore, March 16, Berlin rewarded Macron with a prominent appearance at Berlin's Hertie School of Governance, where France's presidential candidate discussed "The Future of Europe" with Foreign Minister Gabriel and the pro-EU philosopher Jürgen Habermas.
"Good Relations"
Yesterday, Chancellor Merkel courted "Visegrád members." Recently, that alliance comprised of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary had intensified cooperation, threatening the formation of a dissident-bloc, for example, to Germany's refugee policy. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[6]) Experts point out, however, that the Visegrád-Group has "numerous internal rifts" - and particularly the Czech Republic and Slovakia are seeking "an arrangement with Germany."[7] Yesterday, Chancellor Merkel received the Prime Ministers of the Czech Republic, Bohuslav Sobotka, and of Slovakia, Robert Fico, in Berlin. As reported, the talks were also focused on the "European Union's future" and the three leaders agreed that the united stance at the Rome anniversary summit on March 25 was "a very, very important step." "The relations between the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and the German Federal Republic are very good," Merkel declared following their meeting.[8] The likelihood that an Eastern European counter-bloc will form has been significantly reduced.
 
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