'Don't do as we did, do as we tell you'

dinsdag 9 april 2013, 9:22

DEN HAAG (PDC) - A European Germany rather than a German Europe. That is the German perception of the European integration of Germany. While the European Union started to tame the German power, Germany  is now the most powerful country in the EU, but only from an economic perspective. Europe faces some crucial challenges, which might be solved through reshaping the European story and democratic legitimacy.

Those were the main conclusions in a debate on Germany and the European Democracy,  organised by the Montesquieu Institute and daily newspaper Trouw. In this debate in the House of Europe, professor and MI fellow Markus Haverland and MEP Mr. Reinhard Bütikofer (Greens/EFA) debated on the relationship between Germany and the EU and possible challenges for both.

In short, Germany was the reason for a strong European integration. To be sure that Germany would not become as powerful as in the 1930s and 1940s, West Germany was forced to cooperate with France and the other four founding members of the European Community. Both speakers mentioned Thomas Mann, who once referred to a European Germany rather than a German Europe. Nowadays, this still is the main stance in Germany on Europe. However, due to the German reunification and to an economic change in the favour of the Germans, Germany turned from 'the sick man of Europe' into the most influential member state of the European Union. The economic growth Germany experienced was caused by a combination of structural labour market reforms and state spendings.

The German internal political situation is quite paradoxical. Chancellor Angela Merkel finds her European policy supported by opposition parties SPD, the socialdemocrats, and the Greens, more than by coalition partners. Two of these parners, the CSU and the FDP, are relatively eurosceptic - however not as eurosceptic as most Dutch parties - while the CDU is not. Both speakers pointed at a new party, 'The Alternative', which is sceptic towards the euro. However, both speakers forecasted, Germans are so pro-European that 'The Alternative' will not influence the German European course. The economic reforms southern European countries have to implement differ strongly from the German reforms. These countries have to cut their state spendings, which deprives them of any opportunity to invest in their national economies. That means, as Mr. Bütikofer stated, that with the forced austerity, Germany says 'don't do as we did, do as we tell you.' Where Germany is a leader on the financial side - with France and Italy being too weak and Poland and the UK out of the euro zone - it is reluctant on for instance foreign and safety policy. Take the example of Mali: France was able to handle quickly, just as the United Kingdom can. Germany does not have this influence on fields other than economic.

The European Union faces two main challenges: populism and technocracy. Both have the potential to distance the EU from the people. To tackle these challenges, the European Union should reinvent its story. The EU's main purpose was to bring peace: nowadays this goal is not as prominent as it used to be - but still important. Europe should play a role in the world; contribute to global peace;  and thus build another layer on top of this narrative. The democratisation of the European institutions could also contribute, next to more influence for national parliaments. Only in this way Europe can involve its citizens.

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