Angela Merkel’s victory in mediating a European Union recovery package 19 could mark the rise of a shared political dream.
One day, I had a dream. I dreamed that I was sitting on the beach in the summer of 2030 and looking back at how Germany saved Europe.
The German Chancellor has been a broker of a European recovery package after the 2020 crisis of 2020, with grants and large loans to help the crisis-hit southern European economy, by utilizing joint European loans. European central powers have maintained constructive relations between the European Union and post-Brexit Britain, helped Poles and Hungarians maintain liberal democracy, which confused Russian President Vladimir Putin by seriously committing to a common European energy policy, using the power of EU regulation to curb Facebook, form a joint strategy in China, and make a prime example of the European Green Agreement.
All this is done by Germany working as “the first of equals” with other European countries, while partnering with the United States 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. An extraordinary achievement for Germany and Europe in the early 2030s. What a contrast to the early 1930s.
My reverie was boosted by € 1.8 trillion, seven years of EU budget and a recovery agreement brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with French President Emmanuel Macron and EU institutional leaders, at a marathon summit last month. The door to this breakthrough was opened by a major change in Germany’s position: accepting the need for fiscal solidarity. Last year, I was very disappointed with the big changes that came from the big coalition government in Berlin debate 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 Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel called the logic of reason in history, the long-delayed German shift was triggered by a previously unknown Asian virus and the ruling of the 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 across the European Central Bank arc, 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 many politicians, officials, journalists, think tanks and foundations that think hard about what a European strategy should be – and not just for the current German presidency in the EU. If the black-green coalition government (combining the Christian Democratic Union, the Christian Social Union, and the Green) emerges from the general election next fall, it will only strengthen Germany’s commitment in Europe. In a recent survey of the European Commission for Foreign Relations recently about foreign policy professionals, 97 percent of them asked the word Germany is the most influential country in the EU and 82 percent identifies it as the “most contacted” country. In Europe, Germany is an indispensable country.
However, awakened from my reverie by the pouring rain (something always pleasant provided in the English summer), I saw two great difficulties on the road. Since the first unification of Germany a century and a half ago, the country has been grappling with the problem that Kurt-Georg Kiesinger, a federal chancellor in the 1960s, called “a critical measure”. Henry Kissinger who is almost the same name: “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.
No matter how wise the German strategy is, it cannot be realized without a set of international partners.
So, no matter how wise the German strategy is, it cannot be realized without a set of international partners. The giant challenges of climate change and the emerging authoritarian superpower, China – which is the early 21st century world like what German Wilhelmine experienced in early 20th century Europe – cannot be overcome unless you have the US under President Joe Biden who returns to constructive internationalism; 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 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 mediate the Brexit agreement which I believe is still can 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, underneath, there are some worrying trends. The outside world is always on the lookout for a possible revival of the Greater Germany tendency, but a more general tendency is the tendency of Greater Switzerland: leave us alone to be rich and free. German stereotypes about southern Europeans in the eurozone begging hard-working and pious Europeans did not just disappear. The way election support is soaring for a nationalist alternative to xenophobia for Germany after the refugee crisis is an alarming sign. So well documented report right wing sympathies in the military and security services. And contemporary German society has not gone through exams in difficult times at home.
Becomes criticized by US President Donald Trump as “delinquent” certainly sucks, but the emotional extremism of Germany’s alienation from the US goes far beyond highly rational anti-Trumpism. Real ideological and geopolitical myopia is deeply revealed findings from the recent Körber Foundation poll that only 37 percent of Germans think having close relations with the US is more important for Germany than having close relations with China, while 36 percent say it is more important to continue with China and 13 percent support equality.
Germany cannot simply juggle the necessary international partners, but this is something 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 country’s critical size 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. However, sometimes, the midfielder is a true hero of the team.
Timothy Garton Ash is a Member of the ECFR Board and Professor of European Studies at Oxford University and Senior Member at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.
New edition Magic Lantern, eyewitness accounts of the 1989 revolution, recently published in a number of languages.
The European Council for Foreign Relations does not take a collective position. This commentary, like all European Council publications for Foreign Relations, only represents the views of the author.
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