In the Heart of Europe

BERLIN/VIENNA/BERN/VADUZ/LUXEMBURG | | oesterreichschweizluxemburg

BERLIN/VIENNA/BERN/VADUZ/LUXEMBURG (Own report) - Berlin is advancing its political positions in the middle of Europe by coordinating exclusive meetings of the four German speaking countries' foreign ministers. Last Friday's "quadripartite meeting" of the German foreign minister and his counterparts from Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein was also focused on the political crises in North Africa and the Middle East. Over the past few years, special meetings of ministers of the German speaking countries have been systematically intensified. They are based on the extraordinarily close economic ties, which secure Germany a predominating position. By way of its ties to the media market, Germany achieves a significant ideological influence within the German speaking countries. These meetings of the alpine countries have now been extended to include the participation of Luxemburg. This growing cooperation has been justified with the assertion that these countries constitute a "unitary cultural realm." However, the integration is not determined by culture, but is the result of German domination, supplanting the previously strong French influence in Luxemburg and Switzerland.

German Speaking Cooperation

For decades, ministers of the German speaking countries have been holding exclusive meetings along the lines of their respective sectors. Regular meetings of the ministers of the economy of (West) Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have been taking place since 1976. This year, the minister from Liechtenstein has, for the first time, been included. The ministers for the environment of these four countries have been holding joint annual sessions since 1984. The meetings have been extended to include other sectors, over the past decade. The leaders of the four countries have been meeting annually since 2004. In 2012, the German foreign minister participated, for the first time, in the formerly tripartite meetings, organized since 2006 by Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. In the meantime, Luxemburg has been included in some areas of this cooperation. The finance ministers of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxemburg have been holding joint annual meetings since 2010. This year, a quadripartite meeting of the health ministers is planned, for the first time - with Luxemburg, but without Liechtenstein.

"Unitary Cultural Realm"

Berlin has been particularly insisting on an alleged special bond between German-speaking countries. The German Ministry for Environment, for example, declared after the 2006 "quadripartite meeting" of environment ministers from Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein that the participating ministers see a "particular advantage" in the "exchange of ideas within a culturally unitary European realm."[1] "The common language" make the "meetings particularly stimulating and productive" concluded German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, following the meeting of the finance ministers of the German speaking countries in March of this year.[2] Regarding last Friday's "quadripartite meeting" of the German speaking foreign ministers, Foreign Minister Westerwelle declared: "Our affinity is not only based on our mother language but also on our location in the heart of Europe."[3] The German speaking countries also form an "extraordinarily strong economic realm." Cooperation should be intensified, as declared by the health ministers of Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxemburg following their meeting in late May. "The exchange laid the foundation for the four countries' systematic cooperation in the area of health," it was said in Luxemburg.[4]

Economic Power Germany

The exceptionally close economic interlacing that has been developing over the decades has bound German-speaking countries tightly together - with Germany clearly assuming a dominating role. Germany, with nearly one sixth of its direct foreign investments, is Austria's mot important investor and by far its largest trading partner. This is also of significance because, Austria serves as a base for numerous German enterprises to expand into South Eastern Europe, which has traditionally good ties to Austria.[5] Germany is Switzerland's most important investment location - following the financial centers of Luxemburg, the UK and the USA. As the member of the Swiss Federal Council Didier Burkhalter explained in his speech at the German Swiss Chamber of Commerce in November 2012, this is "particularly due to the fact that Germany is clearly the most important market for Swiss enterprises."[6] For Germany, on the other hand, Switzerland has become the third largest market for its products outside of the EU, following the USA and China. In its foreign trade with Switzerland - with a population of only eight million - Germany, in 2012, had been able to achieve an increase of more than eleven billion Euros. Germany also holds a leading position in the economy of Luxemburg.[7] Even though the Principality of Liechtenstein has no special economic importance to Germany, beyond particularities of its financial sector, Germany is the most important trading partner even for Liechtenstein, according to the German foreign ministry.

Similarities in the Public Debate

Economic strength is being accompanied by growing ideological influence. In terms of German Austrian relations, the German foreign ministry speaks also of "close ties" between the "media markets," alluding to "German publishing companies holding shares in Austrian media enterprises, or co-productions in the fields of radio, television and film, as well as cooperation in 3Sat and Arte TV channels." For example, the German Funke Media Group (formerly the WAZ Group) holds 50 percent of the shares in the Austrian Kronen newspaper, with its extraordinary influence on Austrian public opinion. Consequently, the German foreign ministry notes numerous "similarities in and overlapping of the public debate on political, economic, cultural and social issues."[8] In regards to Switzerland - with the exception of its French and Italian speaking regions - the foreign ministry notes that the "German media is meeting widespread attention in the Swiss public. This is particularly true for the public and private television, with their relatively high audience ratings. German print media is available throughout the country."[9] Regarding Luxemburg, the German foreign ministry has declared, "thanks to the easy linguistic access, German television and German print media is widely diffused in Luxemburg."[10] 76,4 percent of the RTL Group, Luxemburg's most important media company, is in the hands of Germany's Bertelsmann Corporation.

Formerly Oriented on France

That German predominance in a German-speaking "cultural realm" has not always been taken for granted, can be seen throughout history. For example, in the aftermath of World War II, Austria had ostentatiously sought to distance itself from West Germany. Following World War I, Luxemburg entered an economic union with Belgium (Union Économique Belgo-Luxembourgeoise) and was, thereby, considered under France's influence.[11] In November 2012, the Swiss historian, Thomas Maissen described Switzerland in a lecture at the German embassy in Bern as "having been politically and culturally strongly oriented on France, since the late Middle Ages," this was still "the predominating orientation" at the time of the German Empire's founding in 1871. However, an "economic reorientation toward the German Empire" had followed, "which was considered a guarantee for European stability." "The liberal Swiss elites sided with Bismarck on the ideals in the cultural struggle within the free trade policy or on the exclusion of socialist 'demagogues'." In German-speaking Switzerland at that time, "differences of the political order became appreciably more tinged with ethnic chauvinist concepts."[12] Maissen's speech was delivered on the occasion of German Remembrance Day 2012, when Germans commemorate their war dead. The speaker, Thomas Maissen, will assume, September 1, 2013, a post as director of the German Historical Institute in Paris.

Siding with Germany

Parting from a solid economic and ideological base, Berlin is also increasingly drawing the German-speaking countries into its foreign policy plans. Last Friday's "quadripartite meeting," focused not only on themes deemed attractive for public relations - such as a common plea for a global ban on the death penalty - but also on the Egyptian crisis and the war in Syria. Foreign policy cooperation is reinforcing - under German leadership - the already strong economic bonds between the German-speaking countries "in the heart of Europe" (Westerwelle). With the inclusion of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, this cooperation extends beyond the limits of the EU - and reinforces, as Berlin's national project, Germany's standing in Europe, regardless of the development of the European Union. At the same time, it draws previously neutral German-speaking countries into Berlin's expansionist policies. Switzerland already has its soldiers stationed on several foreign fronts alongside Bundeswehr soldiers - in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and in Afghanistan. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[13])

[1] Treffen der Umweltminister von Deutschland, Liechtenstein, Österreich und der Schweiz am 21./22. Juni 2010 in Vaduz (Fürstentum Liechtenstein); www.bmu.de 29.06.2010
[2] Treffen der deutschsprachigen Finanzminister in Berlin; www.bundesfinanzministerium.de 13.03.2013
[3] Außenminister Westerwelle in Salzburg: Offener Austausch mit den Nachbarn liegt mir am Herzen; Pressemitteilung des Auswärtigen Amts 26.07.2013
[4] Treffen der Minister für Gesundheit aus Deutschland, Österreich, der Schweiz und Luxemburg in Münster; berlin.mae.lu 05.06.2013
[5] see also Unheimlicher Anschluss, Die Eurofighter-Mafia and Unheimlicher Anschluss (II)
[6] Herbstvortragsveranstaltung der Handelskammer Deutschland-Schweiz - Rede von Bundesrat Didier Burkhalter; Zürich, 15.11.2012
[7] see also Deutsche Finanzprofiteure
[8] Österreich: Beziehungen zu Deutschland; www.auswaertiges-amt.de
[9] Schweiz: Beziehungen zu Deutschland; www.auswaertiges-amt.de
[10] Luxemburg: Beziehungen zu Deutschland; www.auswaertiges-amt.de
[11] see also Deutsche Finanzprofiteure
[12] Thomas Maissen: Volkstrauertag 2012; www.bern.diplo.de
[13] see also The End of Neutrality (III) and Das Ende der Neutralität (IV)