“Germany’s responsibility in Europe is…

THE DEFINITION | February 7, 2012     

Germany's responsibility in Europe is

Jan Techau
…to become the continent’s servant leader. In 1970, Robert Greenleaf, an American business manager and scholar with a keen interest in the art of leadership, framed the famous principle of servant leadership. He claimed that “the first and most important choice a leader makes is the choice to serve, without which one’s capacity to lead is severely limited.” Germany now faces a similar choice. The decision that it will make will have grave consequences for the future of European integration, stability on the continent, and the transatlantic relationship.

Two things stand in the way of Germany becoming the enlightened conductor of European affairs. First, the country operates in the 21st century with a 1950s strategic culture. While timidity, pacifism and the avoidance of strategic discourse served a morally and economically bankrupt nation well after WW2, they keep today’s Germany from realizing how important and powerful it is. They keep Germans from understanding that, in the words of Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski, theirs is Europe’s indispensable nation.

Second, during the nearly five decades of being under Allied custodianship, Germans were relieved of the need to fend for their own survival. This bred a culture of irresponsibility for themselves and for others. Today, the absence of felt responsibility for the world surrounding Germany is the most worrisome feature of the country’s foreign policy. Examples of that absence of felt responsibility can be found everywhere: abstaining on Libya; caveats in Afghanistan; sleepwalking through the euro crisis; putting the brakes on EU foreign policy; and refusing to contribute to the development of NATO.

However, in marked contrast to earlier phases in its history, Germany harbours no desire to dominate its neighbours, or to rule the continent by some informal diktat from Berlin. Quite the contrary: there is nothing for which Germans have a greater preference than being left unbothered by the demanding political realities around them. Instead, they wish that they could simply reimmerse themselves in the comfortable, apolitical world of Biedermeier – cushioned by ever-increasing demand for their high-quality industrial export products.

But the demand for leadership in Europe is immense. Naturally, European leaders look to the largest, strongest and most centrally located country for guidance. They desire an internationally minded Germany that is aware of its strength, solidaire, protective and engaged. They do not fear German tank divisions, but rather German self-centeredness and endless soul-searching.”

» Jan Techau is the Director of Carnegie Europe in Brussels. Previously, he worked with the German Ministry of Defence and the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Mareike Kleine
… to develop a comprehensive strategy to deal with the multiple crises of the Eurozone. The prospects for 2012 are bleak: recession and snail-pace economic growth in most Eurozone countries; a credit crunch; vast trade imbalances; high rates of unemployment; and a general loss of confidence in politicians – all signalling that the worst is likely yet to come. Alas, as more and more citizens experience its impact, it is no longer an exaggeration to say that the current economic crisis may quickly turn into a crisis of liberal democracy in Europe.

Only Germany has the economic capacity and political clout to change Europe’s fortunes. Until now, the German government has been reluctant to accept its pivotal role. Incapacitated by regional elections and an unstable coalition government, the it has reacted to the different facets of these crises only as they have surfaced. This kind of muddling-through may work in other contexts, but in the current situation it is deadly. For ‘Eurocrisis’ is in fact a misnomer for a toxic mix of crises with multiple roots. A non-exhaustive list comprises the Economic and Monetary Union’s faulty institutional design (with an incredible no-bailout clause), undercapitalized banks, lavish public institutions, and inflexible structures that choke off economic growth. The toxicity of this mix lies in the fact that a quick fix of one problem may suddenly exacerbate another.

At a regional summit last year, all but one EU member state agreed to strict limits for structural deficits, automatic enforcement and penalties for violators. These measures were intended to reassure markets that consolidation is underway, and that excessive spending is a thing of the past. Yet these measures did little to calm markets. Why? Because they fan fears that spending cuts and tax hikes – which may yield short-run revenue – will cripple economic growth in the long-run.

In short, only a comprehensive strategy that offers a solution to all of the crises at once will restore the market’s (and public’s) confidence in the Eurozone. This strategy is only viable if the German government throws its full economic and political weight behind it. This is indeed a Herculean – but not impossible – task, and one that Germany is well suited to undertake.”

» Mareike Kleine is Lecturer and Assistant Professor in EU Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is currently a John F. Kennedy Memorial Fellow at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University.

Hans Kundnani
…to better understand the role and import of history in the current crisis, and in the consequences of failure or success. One of the most remarkable things concerning the debate over the euro crisis in Germany during the past two years has been the lack of a proper sense of history. The European single currency was created in the context of German reunification: although discussions about monetary union were already underway before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the decisive agreement to create what became the euro was reached afterward – and in part as a response to it. In particular, France saw the single currency as a way of binding a unified Germany to, and within, the EU. Indeed, Chancellor Kohl presented the single currency as an essential complement to German reunification.

Germany has also benefited from the creation of the euro in economic terms. During the last decade, it has gone from a trade deficit to a trade surplus, because it has been able to dramatically increase exports both to other Eurozone countries and to the rest of the world. The introduction of the euro cut the cost of borrowing in peripheral countries like Greece, which enabled them to buy German products like cars. At the same time, the euro – a weak currency when compared to the old Deutschmark – has made German exports to the rest of the world much more competitive than they were before 1999. In short, the weakness of the currency has boosted German exports outside of the Eurozone, and low borrowing costs have boosted them within the Eurozone.

All of this means that Germany has a responsibility to make the Eurozone work for all of its members. Since the beginning of the euro crisis, Germany has shown only limited and conditional solidarity with the rest of Europe. Although it clearly does not want the euro to collapse, it has opposed both the creation of a ‘transfer union’ and an increase in inflation – even as the crisis has spread from the periphery to the centre. Germany needs to come up with a credible plan for creating growth in the Eurozone – and in particular to help the debtor countries to grow their way out of the recession. Otherwise, the future of Europe will be one in which Germany simply imposes ever greater austerity on the rest of the Eurozone in order to prevent inflation and protect its own exports and savings.”

» Hans Kundnani is the editorial director at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of Utopia or Auschwitz: Germany’s 1968 Generation and the Holocaust.


(Photograph: The Canadian Press / Gero Breloer)

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