Leading from the centre: Germany’s role in Europe

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Series Details July 2016
Publication Date July 2016
ISBN 978-1-910118-83-2
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Germany’s neighbours have nothing to fear from its new-found strength. Berlin does not want to dominate Europe, but to exercise leadership via the EU framework - something that will be essential in a post-Brexit world.

After decades of reluctance, Germany is stepping up to take its place as a leader in European foreign policy. This frustrates some European countries, which fear German hegemony and may act against it. But at the same time, member states place great expectations on Germany to lead the way, an ECFR survey of European policymakers found.

'Leading from the centre: Germany’s role in Europe' argues that both Berlin and its partners have to decide how to deal with German strength, as it isn’t going away any time soon. Seeking to counterbalance Germany’s weight would simply lead to deadlock and stagnation in the EU.

Whether or not Berlin wants its new role, the wars at Europe’s gates mean that it is no longer enough to lead on economic and legal questions. Action is needed in the areas of security and defence. And Germany’s leaders can no longer isolate themselves from international relations – the refugee crisis has made foreign affairs a domestic problem that wins and loses elections.

Germany must be careful not to act alone. Other member states’ failure to support Germany during the refugee crisis was due to their resentment of German dominance during the euro crisis. At no time since the fall of the Berlin Wall had Germany been as isolated in the EU as it was in spring 2016. Facing domestic anger over her 'refugees welcome' policy, and abandoned by her European partners, Angela Merkel put her weight behind an EU deal with Turkey to manage refugee inflows.

Instead, what is needed are efforts to re-build a political centre of countries willing to jointly push for European solutions. Other EU countries should coordinate more closely with Germany, working to shape and influence its aims. Berlin is committed to leading through consensus, and has rejected Washington’s urging to step up as a benign hegemon for the continent.

But if the Turkey deal fails, for whatever reason, it will be blamed on Merkel. Berlin will have to face the criticism that Germany used European institutions to pursue its national interests, undermining its claim to represent the interests of the EU as a whole.

If Germany is to be a successful leader in the EU, a better process for building coalitions will be vital – one that takes into account the domestic situation in EU countries. Berlin has already developed a more pragmatic understanding of what it means to work together for the greater European good – one that does not always have to lead to deeper integration or institutional change. Berlin should keep investing in its relationship with France, and make a fresh start with smaller, affluent member states such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and the Nordic countries.

Source Link http://ecfr.eu/page/-/ECFR_183_-_GERMAN_LEADERSHIP2.pdf
Related Link(s)
ESO: Background information: Is German Strength an Illusion? http://www.europeansources.info/record/judy-asks-is-german-strength-an-illusion/
ESO: Background information: Europe’s New Political Engine: Germany’s role in the EU’s foreign and security policy http://www.europeansources.info/record/europes-new-political-engine-germanys-role-in-the-eus-foreign-and-security-policy/
ECFR: Commentary, 09.06.16: The swansong of Germany’s foreign policy president http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_the_swansong_of_germanys_foreign_policy_president_7039
Blog: LSE EuroppBlog, 25.04.16: Germany: The EU’s new foreign policy engine http://bit.ly/1SltrZq
ESO: Background information: Is German Dominance Over? http://www.europeansources.info/record/judy-asks-is-german-dominance-over/

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