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Friday, 27 April 2012

The Isolation of Germany … again?



Is history repeating itself one more time? While I was studying history for the Foreign Ministry entrance examination, current EU politics seem to mirror the incidents of late 19th and early 20th century history. Back then, in the prequel to World War 1, the German Empire under its Emperor Wilhelm II. was isolating itself through unreasonable naval rivalry with the British Empire, being entirely surrounded by the Triple Entente (France, Great Britain, and the Russian Empire), and implying ridiculous foreign policy actions – like the failed attempts to isolate France though the two Morocco crises or its rhetoric failures during the Buren wars.

Now, in the year 2012, Germany seems to repeat the same unintended isolation mistakes. While the French presidential election is going into its second round between incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and its socialist rival and top favourite François Hollande, German chancellor Angela Merkel accuses Hollande’s reluctance to austerity policies in the EU as “Anti-European behaviour”.

On the 6th of May, the second round of the elections will take place, and it its likely for Hollande to claim victory to become the first socialist President of France since François Mitterrand. For Europe, this would simply mean that the “Merkozy” alliance for austerity between Germany and France will cease to exist. With overall austerity programs in the EU prevailing over other fiscal and monetary policy strategies, Hollande calls for a re-opening of fiscal negotiations. Also, Hollande is seeking for allies in the Euro-Zone, calling for a new strategy which offers more than solely austerity. Apparently, it cannot be denied that this austerity strategy is leading Greece and Spain into economic and social depression – newest unemployment numbers in Spain are grim and the recent down-grading by Standard & Poor’s from “A” to “BBB+” is a dead-give-away for the limits of austerity.

If Hollande wins and manages to gather partners for his alternative way to fight the Euro crisis, Merkel and Germany will be all on their own. Merkel is aware of this and attacks Hollande’s electoral program, while the election campaign is still running and the elections are not even over yet. This verbal attack is crucial for various reasons:
First of all, the current centre-right government is interfering in inner French politics, which could be interpreted as foreign intervention, which is thereby a violation of international law.
Secondly, Germany’s imposed austerity command for Euro-States in crisis is highly unpopular in the affected countries and other EU member states. While France and Germany have been the only member states to promote austerity to others, other member states felt overwhelmed with this top-down policy implementation.
Thirdly, With France leaving, Germany will be the only one to follow the previous anti-crisis strategy. Since no one else seems to be willing to follow, Germany will be all on its own. For the moment it does not seem clear how Merkel will react to this potential new situation. The 6th of May will be an unpleasant awakening for Merkel.

Maybe it seems a bit drastic to compare 2012 with the pre-World War I situation in Europe, since an armed conflict is simply out of the question for contemporary Europe to occur. However, it does not change Germany’s dilemma to drop into political and fiscal strategy isolation.
A “Merkollande” coalition seems highly unlikely at the present time, but it is up to Germany and the Merkel administration to do a thorough rethink of their policy towards austerity all over the Euro-zone. Facing this imminent isolation, Germany will have no other choice than returning to overall negotiations and consensus with ALL member states, and withdrawing from the top-down policy implementation.

The only notable difference between 2012 and the early 20th century is the fact that none of the actors is actually applying policy enforcement by force, literally. However, it should be pointed out that political, economic, and fiscal isolation is not any better. And Merkel is unlikely to behave like Wilhelm II.

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