Sleeping Demons


BERLIN (Own report) - Berlin has launched a new offensive to consolidate its predominance over the EU and strengthen its geopolitical position. On the occasion of this year's national holiday, last week, German President Joachim Gauck claimed that more and more "voices" in Germany and abroad are demanding that his country should play "a stronger role in Europe and the world." Germany is "not an island" and should not "belittle" itself in the future, after all, it is the "fourth largest economic power in the world." As his source of inspiration, he also named the Polish foreign minister, who had called for "German leadership" already in late 2011, and a prominent transatlantic publicist, who had recently called on Berlin to act "more resolutely" in the EU following the elections. Gauck's offensive had been carefully prepared in the foreign policy establishment. Whereas sectors of the elite in other EU countries condone German "leadership," large majorities of the populations in the southern EU countries are criticizing German predominance. The intra-European power struggles are continuing. Already a few months ago, Luxemburg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker had warned that he can see similarities to the period leading up to WW I.

"Voices" Are Demanding

In his speech on the occasion of the German national holiday last week, President Joachim Gauck called for Germany to be more resolute in its hegemonic policy. Reverting to old methods of rhetorical deception, Gauck claimed that Germany - deploying currently nearly 6,000 troops in more than ten countries around the world and dictating, as its most powerful member country, brutal austerity programs to the EU - has been exercising too much restraint and is now being innocently pushed by others to the forefront: "Some neighboring countries" would like to see Germany playing "a stronger role." More and more "voices inside and outside our country are demanding a stronger German commitment in international affairs." Germany is "populous, located at the center of the continent and the fourth largest economic power in the world." This is why Germany should not "belittle itself." He considers his country to be a nation "affirming itself". Germany is "not an island" and it should, in the future, contribute more to the "solution" of global - even military - conflicts.[1]

Europe's Chancellor

Gauck's offensive had been carefully prepared by Berlin's foreign policy establishment. For about two years, editorials in leading newspapers and specialized publications have been openly talking of Berlin's predominant role in the EU. In early 2011 for example, a journalist, with good chancellery connections, described Angela Merkel as "Europe's chancellor."[2] In June 2013, Thomas Bagger, Director of Policy Planning at the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke on the "nature of leadership in Europe" at the "Center for European Policy Analysis" in Washington. He explained that, faced with the "call" for "a more active leadership role," Berlin - because of its history of hegemonic conquest - is quite conscious of the need to use sensitivity in its pursuit of predominance. The British publicist Timothy Garton Ash reported that, behind closed doors, German government representatives admit: "We must pretend to treat France as an equal."[3] However, Germany's economic predominance is evident.

Divided Elites

Sectors of the European elite openly consent to German hegemony in Europe - even aid in its implementation. Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski has taken on a prominent role as a source of inspiration. At the German Council of Foreign Relations (DGAP), Sikorsky explained in November 2011: "I am less afraid of German power than of German inactivity."[4] Since then the open call for "German leadership" has become somewhat accepted within the EU. In August, Timothy Garton Ash published an article in an influential transatlantic journal, on "The New German Question." Pointing to his talks with the German Chancellor and other German government representatives, Ash claims that Germany has not "sought a leadership role in Europe," however, given its economic clout, it has long since had it. Following the German elections, Germany will have to tackle the problems in the EU "more resolutely."[5] In his national holiday speech, German President Gauck, made reference both to Sikorski and to Ash. There are those, who demand "of Germany, a stronger commitment in international affairs," for example "a Polish foreign minister as well as a professor from Oxford or Princeton." Ash is professor at Oxford.

More than 80 Percent Opposed

The sentiment in the overwhelming majority of the populations in those countries suffering under the German austerity dictate is in sharp contrast to the approval of German predominance found among sectors of the European elite. For example an opinion poll in June revealed that 82 percent of the citizens of Italy, along with 88 percent of those of Spain were of the opinion that German influence on the EU is too strong. In France, where Berlin's austerity policy is threatening to have a growing effect, already 56 percent of the population agree.[6] The opinion poll had not included Portugal and Greece, where, for quite awhile there has been clear criticism of German predominance over Europe at demonstrations protesting poverty.[7]

Struggle over EU Foreign Policy

Inner-European power struggles are persisting. Recently an influential French news magazine pointed out that Germany is attempting to transform its economic predominance into a predominance also in EU foreign policy. According to the article published just before the German elections, it has become apparent, latest since the 2008 conflict over the "Mediterranean Union" [8] that Germany no longer supports, but increasingly challenges, French foreign policy and thereby subverts France's position in its traditional spheres of influence. This, in itself, is threatening enough for Paris. Even worse, Germany will consider the whole of Europe, also in foreign policy, "as its own sphere of interest," just as it has been doing for quite awhile in the economic sector, and will thereby further weaken France.[9] EU foreign and military policy power struggles are being waged over Libya, Mali and Syria, where there has been - and still are - hefty German-French disputes.[10] Last week, German President Gauck reiterated Germany's claim to leadership - also in this regard: "One of my predecessors, Richard von Weizsäcker, encouraged Germany to become more engaged for a European foreign and security policy."[11]

Resembling a Century Ago

Insiders are warning against an underestimation of the escalation potential of this sort of power struggle. Already in March, Luxemburg's Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker declared publicly that he sees strong similarities to the period leading up to WW I: "I am struck by the realization, of the extent to which European relations in 2013 are resembling those of one century ago." The speed with which tensions could escalate, have been demonstrated in protests against the German austerity dictates in Greece and Italy. "Suddenly, resentments have been re-ignited that one had believed had been definitely overcome." With unusual bluntness, Juncker warned that "whoever believes that the eternal question of war and peace in Europe will never be raised again, could be sadly mistaken. The demons have not disappeared, they are only asleep."[12]

[1] "Die Freiheit in der Freiheit gestalten";
[2] see also Europe's Chancellor
[3] Timothy Garton Ash: The New German Question; 15.08.2013
[4] "Deutsche Macht fürchte ich heute weniger als deutsche Untätigkeit"; 28.11.2011
[5] Timothy Garton Ash: The New German Question; 15.08.2013
[6] Adults in Five Largest European Countries Have Mixed Feelings on Their Countries' Influence in the European Union; 27.06.2013
[7] see also Only Misunderstandings
[8] see also Schrumpfende Spielräume, In the Shadows and Kein Gegenpol
[9] Le nouveau défi allemand de la diplomatie; 21.09.2013
[10] see also First Time going it Alone, Nur ein erstes Signal and The Rivals' Alliances
[11] "Die Freiheit in der Freiheit gestalten";
[12] Euro-Krise: Juncker spricht von Kriegsgefahr in Europa; 10.03.2013