A German Europe

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Own report) - Yesterday, following fierce power struggles, the EU heads of states and governments nominated Germany's Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen to become the next President of the EU Commission. The most influential position in Brussels' bureaucracy would thus be going to a German politician. Prior to this nomination, also high-ranking politicians from other EU countries had remarked that it is "difficult to explain" that a German should head the Commission, "given the power" Germany exercises in the EU. In fact, not only is EU policy increasingly being shaped by Berlin, but Germans also preside in a growing number of leadership positions within EU administrations, particularly those in the field of finance, but also in the EU-parliament - especially where legislative work is coordinated - and in the field of foreign policy. According to a renowned French EU expert, Germany remains "European" oriented, "because it has created a 'German Europe' solely serving German interests."

"Germany's Power in the EU"

Yesterday, influential politicians initially doubted, whether EU heads of states and governments could be persuaded to vote for Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) as their candidate for the office of EU Commission President. According to reports, already the previous resistance to the nomination of EPP frontrunner Manfred Weber (CSU) as Commission President was based less on him, personally, or his lack of government experience - as was publicly alleged - but rather on the fact that Germany already holds many of the influential posts in EU executive bodies. Referring to the mood in various EU countries, an influential online-magazine warned that "other" EU heads of states and governments could "not explain to their own populations much longer" that "it is finally Germany's turn to head the EU Commission or the ECB," because one could just as well call the EU a "German Europe."[1] Yesterday, a minister of an EU member country was quoted saying that serious resistance against von der Leyen could be expected: "Given Germany's power in the EU, for many it is difficult to conceive a German as Commission president."[2]

Politically Dominant

Germany's power within the EU is no longer expressed simply by politically enforcing its interests. The strict austerity policy Berlin has imposed on Brussels is a prime example - a policy it upholds until today against stubborn resistance from other EU states, such as Italy.[3] Other examples include the successful rejection of French President Macron's major reform proposals that contradict Berlin's plans: ranging from equipping the Eurozone with its own finance minister and a voluminous budget to reduce inequalities in the currency zone, implementing a digital tax, as France is now applying at the national level, to Paris' proposal for a rapid militarization of the EU, which Berlin is sabotaging in favor of a slower but more comprehensive militarization.(german-foreign-policy.com reported.[4]) Most recently, Berlin imposed the EU free trade agreement with Mercosur against the interests of French farmers.[5] France is still resisting. France "is currently not ready to ratify the treaty," a government spokesperson declared.[6] Berlin is certainly working to overcome also this resistance.

Presence among Leadership Personnel

However, Germany has long been dominating the executive boards of the EU and Europe's most important bodies and institutions. This is the case, for example, in the overall field of finances. Since its founding, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which is important for combating crises, has been headed by Klaus Regling, who, in Germany's Ministry of Finances, had helped elaborate the Bonn government's blueprint for the EU's Stability and Growth Pact. Elke König, a former President of Germany's Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) has served as Chair of the Single Resolution Board (SRB) since it was established January 1, 2015. The former EU parliamentarian, Klaus-Heiner Lehne (CDU) is President of the European Court of Auditors' (ECA), while the former State Minister in Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Werner Hoyer (FDP) has reigned as President of the European Investment Bank (EIB) since early 2012.[7] From 1998 to 2011, Germany had placed the leading political economist in the directorate of the European Central Bank (ECB). After all, the ECB is modeled after the Deutsche Bank, and is located in Germany's banking metropolis, Frankfurt am Main. Its strict independence corresponds to German concepts.

Key Positions

Germany also holds prominent positions in foreign policy and the EU Parliament. As its Secretary General, former EU-Parliamentarian, Klaus Welle (CDU) has held office since 2009. His Cabinet Chief, Susanne Altenberg is also German, following her long-time predecessor Christian Mangold, who, at the beginning of the year, became head of the parliament's Directorate-General for Communications. According to the research of French EU expert, Jean Quatremer, two-thirds of the directors, coordinating legislative work in the influential Directorate-General of the EU parliament, and three-fifths of the section chiefs are German.[8] Germans hold also key positions in foreign policy. Helga Schmid, who had been a leading official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Minister Josef Fischer (Greens), has served since September 2016 as the Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS). She is regularly involved with the most important dossiers, such as the Maidan protests at the turn of the year 2013 - 2014, or with the Iran conflict, where she is currently again negotiating. EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier's negotiating team is headed by the German Sabine Weyand, who made her career in the Brussels EU bureaucracy. One of the most influential Germans in Brussels is Martin Selmayr, former Cabinet Chief of Commission President Jean-Claude Junker. He was considered to be the one actually pulling the strings in the Commission. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9]) On March 1, 2018, he was appointed Secretary-General of the European Commission in a highly contested procedure.

"The Parliament is being Bribed"

If also von der Leyen now becomes President of the Commission, this would further consolidate Germany's hold on the EU and its bureaucracy. Last night, protests persisted in the EU Parliament, insisting consequently that one of the top candidates of its groups be elected President of the Commission. However, the parliament's long-time former president Martin Schulz (SPD) assumes that the EU parliament will not consequently reject the proposal made by the EU's heads of states and governments. Schultz reported, "there are attempts to bribe the parliament."[10]

The New German Question

According to EU expert Quatremer, the "extremely tight networking" of German EU bureaucrats and politicians explains not only "why EU institutions never criticize Germany" - not even, for example, for its excessive trade surplus, in open violation of EU norms. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[11]) It should also be noted that Germany remains "European," "because it has created a 'German Europe,' solely serving German interests." Two weeks ago, Quatremer, who writes primarily for the left-liberal daily, Libération, noted that "the battle over European posts turns the spotlight on the new German Question."[12]


[1] Thomas Fricke: Warum nennen wir die EU nicht gleich Deutsch-Europa? spiegel.de 28.06.2019.

[2] Die Option von der Leyen. spiegel.de 02.07.2019.

[3] See also Die doppelten Haushaltsstandards der EU.

[4] See also New Confrontations.

[5] See also Free Trade with Consequences.

[6] Paris sperrt sich gegen Abkommen. tagesschau.de 02.07.2019.

[7] See also Eine nie dagewesene Machtkonzentration.

[8] Jean Quatremer: La nouvelle question allemande. bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr 21.06.2019.

[9] See also The Secretary General's Meteoric Rise.

[10] Der Tagesspiegel: Schulz rechnet mit Von der Leyen-Durchmarsch. presseportal.de 02.07.2019.

[11] See also Die doppelten Haushaltsstandards der EU.

[12] Jean Quatremer: La nouvelle question allemande. bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr 21.06.2019.