The danger of a post-German Europe

Over the last two centuries, the “German question” – how to contain a Germany whose dominance was buttressed by its commanding size, high productive capacity, and geographic position at the heart of Europe – has occasioned much worry and not a little warfare. Today, with the collapse of negotiations to form a new government coalition, the question has been turned on its head. European leaders worry that Germany is becoming incapable of assuming enough leadership to guide and champion Europe in a globalized world…

In the ensuing years, as Germany became increasingly dominant, French leadership continued to fade…The unambiguous result was to shift Europe’s center of gravity firmly to Berlin…

For the last 18 months or so, Germany’s leadership has become increasingly inward-looking, largely owing to the federal election in September. As a result, fundamental questions about the EU’s future – concerning the Brexit negotiations, migration policy, defense cooperation, the creation of a banking union, and, perhaps most important, reform of European institutions – were largely put on hold.

The idea was that once Merkel had secured her fourth mandate, she could finally roll up her sleeves and push through the institutional reforms that the EU so badly needs. But, two months after the election, Europe is still waiting…

Even in the best-case scenario, the presumptive coalition seemed poised to maintain the narrow, play-it-safe approach that has prevailed for almost two years. But things are worse than that: the coalition talks have collapsed, priming Germany and Europe for an extended period of uncertainty. In the absence of a true emergency that will galvanize German action, the EU faces the very real prospect of remaining in a holding pattern – an outcome that the struggling bloc can ill afford…

The EU is nothing without Germany. That is why Europe cannot afford simply to wait around, hoping that Germany will suddenly decide to resume leadership. Instead, it must tackle the German question head-on, just as it did after WWII, by working actively to re-anchor the country in the European project.

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