The New German Question (I)

BERLIN/WASHINGTON |

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - German foreign policy makers are debating whether the "European Order constituted with the Maastricht Treaty" has ended. In Berlin "the impression is growing stronger" that Germany believes it can "advance by itself faster, further and better" rather than in the European network, according to a recently published think tank discussion paper by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). According to the paper, in their struggle for shares of the global market, the "industrial elites" of the former West Germany have "long since turned their attention away from Europe". The European integration paradigm that had formed the basis of West German foreign policy since 1949, has, "except in official rhetoric," greatly diminished in significance. According to the paper, "even sober-minded discussion partners" in other EU countries, have begun to raise the question of, "whether one should be apprehensive about a new nationalist Germany." At the same time, transatlantic ties are losing the cohesiveness they once had. This means that "two coherent peaceful orders, which had been decisive for the 20th Century are in decline," assesses the ECFR. The focus of this shift, according to the think tank, is Germany's rise in power since 1990, which raises the issue of "a new 'German question' for the 21st Century."

According to German Model

The ECFR discussion paper explains, that "the European identity" of the former West Germany has "eroded since the 'normalization policy' applied under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder."[1] From 1949 to 1989, Bonn, "with the support of the USA and driven by the legacy of the Second World War", had consistently nurtured the so-called European integration, and German "financial generosity" in the "European rise in power" paid off. West Germany was able "to a large extent, form the European system along the lines of (its own) socio-economic and legal model - for example the interior market and the Euro." In the final analysis, this is how Germany became "the main pillar of the EU." Today, "the subtle and slow shift over the past two decades has become apparent." "The accent of German European policy has clearly shifted."

Except in Official Rhetoric

According to the ECFR paper, a stronger Germany now openly espouses its own "national interests", while EU nations accuse the German government of "growing unilateralism or obstructionism." "At times," Berlin's policy is even "perceived as a dictate" in other European countries. Though the German foreign minister had only recently reiterated Germany's commitment to European integration, it remains obvious that "except in official rhetoric" Germany's foreign policy paradigm has shifted. The author of the ECFR discussion paper, a foreign policy maker with the best European and transatlantic contacts, detects an "implicit thinking in the new 'united Germany' that Europe is no longer needed."

Faster by Itself

As the paper points out, in their struggles for shares of the global market, the "industrial elites" of the former West Germany had "long since turned their attention away from Europe." At best, they still see the EU as a useful "base for their global market strategies" in relationship to such rising powers as China, India and Brazil. At the same time, they complain "of their unproductive European partners," who drain the German budget. But they usually overlook the extremely beneficial "quasi-parasitic position" that the "German export dynamic assumed in the European interior market," as a result of a persisting weakness of the neighboring countries. In relation to the political establishment, the ECFR paper considers that Germany today disposes "of more economic and political power" than France. Therefore the need to carefully integrate Paris, with its political-military potential, has subsided. "In a nutshell" explained the author, "in Berlin one gets the growing impression that Germany feels thwarted by Europe", it believes that it could "advance faster, further and better by itself."

The End of Maastricht and Yalta

Therefore "two coherent peaceful orders, which had been decisive for the 20th Century, are in decline," writes the ECFR - the "European order set by the Maastricht Treaty" and the "transatlantic order determined in Yalta." While sectors of the German elites were turning their backs on the EU, "the USA was withdrawing from the European continent," whereas Europe was "en route" toward "seeking a partnership of completely new dimensions with Russia."

Media Autism

In light of the impact the current radical changes will have on global policy, the ECFR's Berlin office initiated the program "Germany in Europe" last week, to comprehensively discuss the issues of the developments outlined in this paper. The program will include discussion events as well as the current discussion paper. At the moment, there is no basis in the media for such a debate in Germany, explains the ECFR. "The main German media organs are too focused on 'Berlin' and have therefore developed a certain autism," that foils every "opportunity for discourse with other European countries". And it will "depend above all on Berlin; whether Europe wants to and will fully develop its global potential in the 21st Century." In the EU, "nothing can be done without - let alone, against the will of - Germany". "Germany plays a key role in all of the strategic areas for future development of a global European policy" writes the ECFR author in regards to the initiated debate.

Main Beneficiary

To save the EU, the ECFR discussion paper suggests a "new European sobriety." Berlin must evaluate, on the one hand, "which advantages Germany, in particular, has from Europe" and, on the other, "how much should and can Europe cost." The author suggests that "Germany must decide whether it wants to withdraw alone from the European integration or whether it wants to lead the whole of Europe in a new global role in the 21st Century - as the main actor and main beneficiary." The ECFR paper suggests that the other 26 EU member nations voluntarily accept a subordinate role. "The European partners" she writes, "should do everything to facilitate Germany's making this step toward a Europe of solidarity and power."

[1] All quotations from: Ulrike Guérot: Wie viel Europa darf es sein? Überlegungen zu Deutschlands Rolle im Europa des 21. Jahrhunderts. Ein Diskussionspapier, ecfr.eu 28.10.2010