“The germans are back” is a statement I’ve been hearing quite often in different spheres and from different nationalities in Brussels. This statement is made with a mix of skepticism and fear, is this justified?
It is a fact that the current crisis –specially the Greek crisis- has triggered new waves of nationalism everywhere in Europe and history teaches that nationalism is powerless without a real or invented enemy. Germany’s predominance and power in Europe, well-anchored in its strong demographics and economics, has been translated into hate and fear during the first half of the XX century and into respect and admiration during the second half of the same century. Are we entering a new phase of German attempt to dominate Europe or does the EU offer the guarantees that this can not happen? Is this a real German strategy or it is rather the result of a lack of leadership in Europe?
In Brussels the German influence has been steadily growing and now it is more visible than ever. According to the different people I’ve been talking to: “germans are taking all strategic positions in the institutions and they work as a clan” is this true? Leaving aside the fact that all nationalities tend to work as a clan, as far as the higher positions is concerned: it looks like the new Secretary General of the Council will be a German –replacing a French- which adds to the german Klaus Welle having taken over the secretariat of the European Parliament from the British Julian Priestley. According to my experience the Germans are the best organized and coordinated country in the EU and it is practically impossible to pass any position that the Germans as a whole oppose. Again are the Germans to blame for their own efficiency or are the others to be blamed for not taking the EU seriously enough?
Can Germany be blamed for having –in comparison with other big EU states- a strong non-populist government led by a strong leader with a clear vision or should we blame the other big EU countries for the opposite?
What is undeniable is that the demographic and the economic power of Germany can be very powerful when MEPs, states, lobbies and civil servants push in the same direction. However, the whole point of building a supranational democracy is precisely to avoid countries dominating Europe and instead let the people of Europe govern the continent…
I have mixed feelings with this criticism that the Germans are facing “behind the scenes”. On one hand it is true that these last months we have seen in the German press the most nationalists comments since WWII –mainly on the Greek bail-out- and that the German society is slowly leaving behind the complexes and guilt-feelings carried since the defeat of the 3rd Reich. On the other hand during last half century Germany has been one of the most pro-european countries and if we don’t have a well-functioning and democratic European Federation right now is not because of them but because of the intermittent sabotage from the French and the Brits to projects of further political integration.
If the Germans have to take the lead of the EU today is because we don’t have an EU able to advance as one political unit. The European Commission doesn’t have neither the leadership nor the power –given by the institutional setup- to act as a government. Once again the member states have committed the mistake of thinking that by preserving their sovereignity they were better serving their citizens and even the EU. Time, once again, is proving them wrong.
But on the top of that it looks like the anger for an ill-functioning, purpose-less EU might fall on Germany precisely for being in the situation of having to take the lead which I think is unfair. Imagine for a moment where would the EU be without the current German leadership.
To conclude, it is a fact that “the Germans are back” but I remain to be convinced of whether this is either good or bad -or both at the same time-. It can be bad if the other EU member states don’t get their acts together to properly be represented and organized in the EU because the uncontested German efficiency and power will have negative consequences in the form of nationalism and mistrust with unforeseeable negative consequences for the European project.
However, it is good that the engine of Europe is leading the pack because it can have the effect of convincing the other countries that it is better to complete the political union in order to lead all together rather than leaving to the Germans full control of the steering wheel.