Achtung! It’s Syria!
In the high stakes drama over the future of the Euro, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany has emerged as the predominant power as a unified European economic policy begins to take shape. This was not always the case. Not long ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy tried to promote an alternative strategy of higher spending and less austerity; now Sarkozy has become Merkel’s junior partner, dependent on her political support in his bid for reelection. British Prime Minister David Cameron too has been pushed aside over the question of taxing financial transactions. American efforts to influence European policy have also fallen flat: Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner’s attempts to lecture the Europeans had little impact, beyond the damage he did to his own credibility.
The shape of the unified European economic policy has become unmistakably German: structural reforms to restrain spending—the so-called Schuldenbremse—plus austerity measures and the prospects of higher taxation. Merkel has won the game.
Meanwhile the future of a unified European foreign policy is also coming into focus. It too will be defined by Germany, and it will therefore display some of the structural features of German history and Germany’s place in Europe. Understanding these elements is crucial to gauging the prospects for Europe’s future role on the world stage.
Mention of German history immediately conjures up the dark side of its past, like the world wars, Hitler, and the Holocaust. Opponents of Merkel’s economic agenda have been quick to attack her with Nazi symbolism. Yet most of the European public has recognized the irrelevance of this name-calling by anti-German protestors in the streets of Athens. Since World War II, Germany has developed a profound sense of its responsibility for past crimes and has matured into a stable liberal democracy.
It is not the Nazi past that matters now but Germany’s geography, its location in the European center, between East and West, between Russia to one side and the old Western democracies to the other. Can Germany pursue policies that mediate between the two, bringing the two sides together? Or will it be torn back and forth, potentially sliding over into one of the camps?