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Thursday, 11 October 2012

Germany for the lead – a potential but silent global power

While German chancellor Angela Merkel was visiting Greece this week, there has been a dominating discussion in international and European affairs, specifically in the view of the crisis: can Germany be considered as a lead-nation and should it take more leadership responsibility, even on a global scale?

The question for German leadership is filled with historically based prejudices and fear. Fear of a strong Germany attempting to regain domination in Europe – economically and politically. In GDP terms, Germany is currently the strongest country in the EU, and unlike many other EU member states, it remained relatively spared by the crisis. Also, it is undisputed that modern Germany is enjoying an overall positive reputation and image in contemporary society. In the prequel of the celebration of this year’s “Reunification Day” on 3 October, German radio stations made a survey on the Germans’ image in the world. As you can imagine, the positive aspects reach from punctuality, diligence, a love for details, and discipline.
On the negative side, however, Germans are regarded as inflexible, picky, cheap, and are severely suffering from a lack of humour. These negative aspects are prevailing in some European countries, specifically the ones that are most hit by the crisis, i.e. Greece and Spain.

During her visit, Chancellor Angela Merkel was demonized in the Greek population and media, as expected. Greek authorities were so seriously concerned about her safety that they set a security force of approximately 7,000 security personnel for her personal protection. To many Greeks, she was the impersonated evil, the very embodiment of the evil Germany, the Germany that wants to dominate Europe – again. With Greece spinning more into economic and social disaster, and Greeks unable to cope much longer with the increasing social cuts, the Greek population spill their personal rage towards Merkel and Germany. They specifically blame Germany for opposing the Eurobonds and an increase of financial bail-out mechanisms for Greece; but above all they blame Germany’s alleged indifference to the Greek misery and fate.

As a result of this, combined with the popular communication of the “return of the evil German”, Germany is struggling with its potential leadership role in Europe. It is not only related to historic events or the Greek case that nations and other actors are resentful towards a strong Germany, it is in fact a matter already articulated by some individual EU member states – above all by the UK and some newer members. Claiming for leadership ambitions themselves, they accuse Germany to regain domination in Europe through the artificial back-door of what they call “pseudo democratic” European institutions, in close alliance with France. Those are in fact the very words of notorious anti-EU critic and Member of the EP, Nigel Farage, who does not miss any opportunity to attack Germany and the EU as a whole.

On the other side, although Germany is one of the main initiators of the European integration process and economically a de facto leader, it is also reluctant to actually take over a bigger share of international responsibility and a consistent and sustainable leader role. Germany is still suffering from a severe inferiority complex caused by its self-limitation for more collective and international responsibility. This can significantly be seen in international conflict resolution for Syria or the boiling Israeli-Iranian conflict. But most of all it can be seen in Germany’s disgust for military operations and security obligations. Ever since the end of World War II, German foreign policy is in particular marked by a non-aggression and non-military self-conduct. However, this has also led to the overall pacifist view of modern Germany – another positive reward.

The question remains: shall Germany take over more global leadership or not?
Basically, it is only a logical matter of course that Germany should take the opportunity to take over more power. It certainly does in economic terms and it definitely should do it in political terms. The level of current “German leadership” is limited since contemporary German foreign policy is in particular marked by a common quest for consensus rather than domination. The era of nationally marked domination of Europe has come to an end with the end of World War II, and no European nation is able any longer to pre-dominate the EU agenda – not even Germany, France, or the UK. A potential field for a leadership role of Germany should be identified in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), where strong and unanimous action is strongly required. But efficient action can only be done and conducted with a lead-nation, specifically in terms of security and military missions under CSDP mandate. France has proven on various ESDP/CSDP mission that a strong European foreign policy can only be done with strong leadership, and this policy should also be applied by Germany.

Jan Raudszus from his blog describes Germany as an illusionary giant whose leadership role in Europe is rather weakening because of its domestic drawbacks in the educational and health care system, but most of all because of the deteriorating demographic situation in Germany itself, leading to extreme log-term difficulties for the pension and labour structure. But most of all, Germany’s leading role is being overestimated in Europe and on a global scale; this is the main reason why Raudszus states a decreasing German influence in Europe, leading to a shrinking importance on a global scale, combined with the inefficiency in policy-making of the Merkel Administration.

However, it should be pointed out that Germany is actually underestimating itself which has also been a consistent problem caused by German academics in evaluating German foreign policy. The only obstacle for Germany is its self-limiting character itself – presumably co-caused by the German character as well.

A few weeks ago, the “National Power Index” has revealed that Germany was in fact leading the index’ popularity section, well ahead of the USA, the UK, or France – and scoring a strong fifth place in the overall national power ranking. Apparently, there is a global wish for Germany to take over more global responsibility. It is up to Germany itself to provide the determination and above all the willingness to be a global leader. Also, being aware of its historic heritage and responsibility upon the present and future generations, Germany is trapped by its own history and presumably unwilling to go for a remotely stronger leadership role – or in other words: we Germans are too reluctant to do so. In short: Germany is not lacking potential for leadership, but willingness and global self-confidence – for the moment.

1 comment:

  1. It's almost ironic that German domination of Europe, one of the Adolf Hitler's most coveted goals, has finally become reality more than half a century later without firing a single bullet.

    In this sense, Germany truly is the superpower Hitler imagined, one that imposes its will on others and dominates the entire European continent. But domination itself has come out of multilateralism and the EU, something Hitler never would have expected.

    But beyond European domination, Hitler looked to global domination as well. Has Germany achieved this goal and will it come to dominate world affairs? I contend that they haven't. For one thing, they lack a seat on the UN Security Council, and have not been nearly as vocal on foreign policy issues as other European countries. Take for example the recent violence in Libya when Angela Merkel was almost too recalcitrant to do anything while France's Nicholas Sarkozy threw his country right into the foreign policy fray and condemned Muammar Gaddafi's abusive, undemocratic rule.

    Still, even with its relatively passive role in international affairs, Germany might have one way to flex its foreign policy muscules. With the EU likely to become more powerful in the years to come and with a common European defense policy only inevitable, Germany could use its strong position in the Eurozone to dominate European foreign relations. In other words, Germany would serve as the foreign policy face of the entire European continent and would dictate every single foreign policy move of its fellow EU member-states.

    But even if this does happen, I don't see Germany having any major effect on European foreign affairs. With Atlanticism receding and Europeans not afraid to chart their own course, even those on the center right and triangulated center left, something of a European foreign policy consensus has emerged where blindly following the United States into any conflict is looked down upon.

    Thus, even if Germany became the face of Europe and imposed its foreign policy will on the rest of the continent, other member-states would have little troubling following the agreeable policies coming out of Berlin.


    While I haven't yet written anything related to Germany on my blog, I've put together a nice little piece on the European sovereign debt crisis that you might find interesting.