True: Throughout Europe, politicians wonder about the German commitment to the European idea. We have gambled away the trust of our partners. Conventional wisdom is questioned, we are accused of pursuing a policy of re-nationalization. Or worse: Germany – a country that has benefitted tremendously from European integration, first when it was re-admitted to the concert of nations in the 1950s and again in the early 1990s, when European expansion went hand in hand with German reunification – might drift away from the long process of integrating the politics of EU member states. Many Germans – and, surprisingly, many of the country’s elites – appear to reconsider their commitment to the European idea.
Yet despite all of this, the underlying framework of German foreign policy has not changed since the end of the Cold War. What has changed is the process by which foreign policy decisions are being made. Increasingly, domestic concerns influence the country’s international footprint.
Of course Germany represents its interests. But we are lacking ambition and a strategic vision for Europe. Chancellor Merkel must take charge and explain what version of Europe we desire, and what role Germany has to play in the process of European development. Germany has no choice but to remain in solidarity to the European idea – not our of altruistic concerns, but because the future of the EU and German national interests are inextricably linked. Europe has provided the German state with some of its finest achievements. Today, we look back on 65 years of peace between age-old foes, open borders, reliable markets and unequaled prosperity. Even now, Germany stands to benefit from Europe and from the Euro.
Many other EU states still regard Germany as the nation that has the most to gain from a single European market and the Euro currency. Yet, paradoxically, Germans have grown quite skeptical about the EU. We now have a situation where a majority of Germans rejects the current state of the EU, and where a majority of Europeans in other countries fear the German influence on European affairs. To resolve that tension, we must re-define Germany’s role within Europe – which, in turn, helps to define Europe’s role in the world.
The response to the current crisis must be more Europe, not less of it. We need to move beyond the framework set out in the Treaty of Maastricht. Since it has become increasingly clear that the policy of supra-nationalization is insufficient as a foundation for the EU, we must press further ahead. Economic and financial policy must (at least partially) be dealt with on a European level. It does not matter what we call the resulting European institution – Economic Council, European Treasury, Commisariat of Finance, etc. What matters are its ability to enforce rules and ensure that member states abide by agreed-upon financial policy guidelines.
The German Constitutional Court might object to the transfer of budget power to Brussels. Fair enough. We must then move to change the German constitution. A loss of power on the national level must be counterbalanced by a strengthening of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. But if Germany moves further into the European direction, the same must hold true for the other member states as well. Germany must stop to see itself as the financier of Europe and become the cornerstone of European integration. Without a pro-European Germany, the idea of Europe is doomed.