One day, I had a dream. I dreamed that I was sitting on the beach in the summer of 2030 and looked back on how German has saved Europe.
The German Chancellor has brokered a European recovery package after the Covid-19 crisis in 2020, with grants and large loans to help the crisis-hit southern European economy, by utilizing joint European loans. It has maintained constructive relations between the European Union and post-Brexit Britain, helped Polish and Hungarian citizens to defend liberal democracy, confused Vladimir Putin seriously committed to a common European energy policy, used the power of EU arrangements to curb Facebook, formed a joint strategy towards China and make a major world example of Europe’s new green agreement.
All this is done by Germany working as “first among equals” with other European countries, while partnering with the US and other democracies around the world. In realizing this ambitious agenda, he maintains a civilized and consensual political style and the support of his own people. What an achievement for Germany and Germany Europe in the early 2030s. What a contrast to the early 1930s.
My daydream was triggered by € 1.8tn (£ 1.6tn), a seven-year European Union budget and recovery agreement mediated by German chancellor Angela Merkel, along with President Emmanuel Macron and European Union institutional leaders, at a marathon summit earlier this month. The door to this breakthrough was opened by a major change in the position of Germany, accepting the need for fiscal solidarity. A year ago I was desperate for so many big changes that came from the big coalition government in Berlin that I was debate that the only way to get important reforms in Europe is to run that government. History proves me wrong in the way history has the habit of proving everyone wrong – through totally unexpected developments.
With what Hegel called the artifice of reason in history, the long overdue German shift was triggered by a previously unknown Asian virus and the decision of German constitutional court. The first even made it clear to the skeptical German public that South European countries were suffering from the disaster that no one could say was their own fault, and therefore deserved economic solidarity. Finally, firing warning shots over the bow of the European Central Bank, making it clear that everything cannot be left to the bank’s monetary policy. Fiscal response throughout Europe is also needed. Exactly as I dare hope in comments earlier this year, Merkel had taken the opportunity with both hands. Take your hat off for him.
But there are also long-term developments that support my hopeful dreams. Berlin now has a critical mass of politicians, officials, journalists, thinkers and foundations who think hard about what a European strategy should be – and not just for the current German president in the EU. If the black-green coalition government (CDU / CSU-Green) emerges from the general election next fall, it will only strengthen Europe’s commitment. In a recent survey in the European Union about surveys of foreign policy professionals, 97% of them asked the word Germany is the most influential country in the EU and 82% identifies it as the “most contacted” country. In Europe, Germany is an indispensable country.
However, awakened from my reverie by the cold rain, something always provided by the British summer, I saw two great difficulties on the road ahead. Since Germany’s first unification, a century and a half ago, the country has grappled with the problem that Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, a federal chancellor in the 1960s, called “critical measure”. His almost close, former US foreign minister Henry Kissinger, put it neater: “Too big for Europe, too small for the world”. The Kissinger formulation is very brilliant but not exact. Germany is too big to be another European country, but not big enough to be a hegemon even in Europe, let alone in the world.
So however wise the German strategy is, it cannot be realized without a set of international partners. The giant challenges of climate change and the rise of China’s authoritarian superpower – leading to the early 21st century world like what Wilhelmine experienced in Germany until the early 20th century Europe – cannot be overcome unless you have the United States under President Joe Biden who returns to internationalism constructive. , and the strategic involvement of forces such as Australia, Japan and India. The European problem itself cannot be solved without active involvement not only from France and Spain but also from Italy (understandably busy with its own internal problems), Poland (currently peddling anti-German ancient lines), the Netherlands and others. For foreign and security policy, Europe also needs British influence – which is a big strategic reason for Merkel to try to broker a Brexit agreement that I believe can still be done this fall.
Another unknown is German public opinion. On that face, there seems to be a solid pro-European international consensus in German society. But below that, there are some worrying trends. The outside world has always been wary of the possibility of a revival of a greater German tendency, but what is more prevalent is still a greater Swiss tendency: leave us alone to be rich and free. German stereotypes about southern Europeans in the Eurozone begging for virtuous and hardworking Europeans did not just disappear. The way election support is soaring for the German Nationalist Alliance (AfD) xenophobia after the refugee crisis is an alarming sign. So well documented report right wing sympathy in military and security services. And contemporary German society has not gone through exams in difficult times at home.
Becomes criticized by Donald Trump as “mischievous” must be annoying, but the emotional extremism of Germany’s alienation from the United States goes far beyond highly rational anti-Trumpism. Real ideological and geopolitical myopia is deeply revealed findings Körber’s recent poll of which only 37% of Germans think having close relations with the US is more important for Germany than having close ties with China, while 36% surprisingly says it is more important to continue with China and 13% other aid equality.
Germany cannot simply juggle the necessary international partners, but this is something that is in its own hands. As the former leading German ambassador to China, Volker Stanzel, had debateForeign policy can no longer be left to the elite. It needs to be anchored in a much broader process of education and democratic debate. That is all the more true because, because of the “critical size” of the country and the shadows of its past, the international role that needs to be understood and supported by the German public is historically unusual, difficult, and carefully balanced. For Germany it can never be a prancing hegemon, only a solid and skilled football midfielder that brings the whole team together – and doesn’t even get a round of applause to score. But sometimes the midfielder is a true hero of the team.
• Timothy Garton Ash is a Guardian columnist
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