Europe Marching to Germany’s Drum
This has been Germany’s year in many respects.
From January to June, Germany strutted the European stage, holding the dual presidencies of both the 27-nation European Union and the G-8 combine of most powerful national economies. The EU’s 50th anniversary celebrations in March, followed by the G-8 summit in June, gave Germany widespread international media publicity.
During this time, the German economy finally emerged from years of economic slough, rebounding to become the powerhouse of Europe once again. Through Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deft foreign-policy maneuvers, including cuddling up to the United States and standing up to Russia’s czaristic President Putin, Germany’s star on the international relations scene rose to heights unprecedented under the administration of her two predecessors, chancellors Kohl and Schröder.
The world is finally beginning to sit up and take notice of the reality that Germany is rising not only in economic strength, but also in political influence.
The idea of a united Europe is a fundamentally German one that has been with us since the time of Emperor Charlamagne in the ninth century a.d. Its post-war revival was largely instigated by the Catholic Robert Schuman.
Though born in Luxembourg, Schuman’s political career developed largely in France. Prior to this, he chose to pursue his tertiary education at German universities. There the idea of European union was inculcated and made innate to his persona by his German professors. This culminated in his declaration of European union of 1950, the basic tenets of which formed the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the EU’s foundational document, upon which all subsequent EU treaties have been built. In fact, when one looks deeply into the deliberately unintelligible latest Reform Treaty, one can see that its aims and objectives are quintessentially Schuman’s, and Carolingian to the core.
It should really come as no surprise that this old German idea of European union, which 20th-century Germany twice tried to implement by force of arms, should once again loom large and increasingly powerful on the world scene, given history’s habit of repeating past cycles. Nor should it come as any real surprise that Germany, yet again, is the driving force at the helm of European unity.
This time, in its third attempt within a century to achieve pan-European dominance, Germany has used economics, international trade and finance as the main weapons of choice rather than force of arms. The ultimate level of control Germany desires to wield over the entire continent is almost complete. Two distinct political and economic initiatives, and one that is currently being debated—all German ideas—should finally bind Europe together under Berlin’s sponsorship.
The first was a move by Merkel to initiate a long-overdue restructure of Germany’s corporate tax base. In the process, Merkel showed more political courage than the previous chancellor, Schröder, who failed on this point.
“The German government approved a law March 14 that slashes corporate taxes from 38.7 percent to 28.9 percent. The law is the latest in a string of planned and coincidental developments laying a lasting foundation for Germany’s geopolitical renaissance” (Stratfor, March 15).
The German-instigated European means of exchange, the euro, continues to gain strength weekly in international trade. Building on the German idea of centralized financial control, last week Germany announced the introduction of an EU-wide unified payments system, the Single Euro Payments Area (sepa). Beginning in January of next year, “there will be an integrated payments market for Europe’s single currency, the euro, not only for the whole of the European Union but also for the countries belonging to the European Free Trade Association (efta)” (RiskCenter, July 19).
Hans-Joachim Massenberg, deputy ceo of the Association of German Banks, declared that, “In terms of its dimension and significance, this revolution in European payments is comparable only to the introduction of the euro …. sepa will give the EU’s 490 million citizens alone uniform schemes for their payment services not only across borders but also, and above all, at domestic level” (ibid.).
The introduction of the euro, combined now with sepa, signals that the long-cherished individual national sovereignty of EU member nations is dying a hard, quickening death at the hands of Germany’s centralizing agenda.
Of perhaps even greater significance was an announcement made last week by the European Commission, leap-frogging across the back of an apparently off-the-cuff statement made by Chancellor Merkel, that it intends to take a hard look at threats from external sources—notably Russia and China—moving to buy up slices of European businesses.
What was particularly startling about this was, as Stratfor observed, “the fact that the commission so quickly took up Merkel’s idea. Merkel’s term as EU president expired June 30, yet here we are three weeks later and her off-the-cuff comments are still setting the agenda …. Fifty years later, Germany has found its voice—and possesses the gravitas to set policy without even making a request. That has got to make a few stiff European upper lips unconsciously quiver” (July 20).
This recently surging power of Germany’s political voice reminded us of an earlier observation by Stratfor on the current rise of Germany on the world scene: “Taken together, these structural changes are creating a new Germany that is geographically and economically united, and politically confident—something that Europe has not seen in decades. That just leaves Germany without one other thing it has not seen in decades: a robust military” (March 15).
Given the bloody history of past German “robust military” forces, more stiff upper lips may quiver at the prospect of a revival of such an institution.