Mario Aller San Millán│firstname.lastname@example.org
“Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (Germany, Germany above all)…These are the words with which the first of the three stanzas of the Deutschlandlied start. Regarded as a national anthem from the times of the Märzrevolution in 1848 for the incipient liberal Germans, Deutschlandlied eventually became official with the advent of the Weimar Republic. Its lyrics were a call for unity amongst the fragmented German people, strengthening their common characteristics, and foreseeing a brilliant future together. Its lyrics exalt the convenience of unity both for the good of the individual and of the community. Suffering from misuse and ideological appropriation by the unfortunate regime that followed Weimar, the first two stanzas were sent into exile by the German Federal Republic, a decision that was respected after the reunification, and to-date the exile has been made definitive and transformed to banishment.
The current relevance of this phrase lies in the fact that almost without any fear we can say that within the European family, general esteem towards one of the siblings is higher than that towards the rest. To be more specific, the regard towards Germany is higher than that which exists at many of the other European Union countries, and all but one (perhaps) of those in the €uro club. In a world in which Economy takes precedence over all other considerations, Germany’s seemingly impervious economy has made it a “de facto” role model for its neighbour countries, where following in its footsteps has meant to be walking on solid ground. Besides that, it is worth noticing that in the social sciences (such as Economy or Law) the expression “de facto” can be aligned with the expression “de jure”, which means: “by virtue of Law or by action of the law”, and which may be understood as the formalisation of a certain idea or model. This phenomenon of institutionalisation was what has been suggested in the media, both as modulators and as loudspeakers of the voice of society, as occurring through the entering into the constitutions of some countries of the €uro, which became known as the “Golden Rule” back in 2011. This rule being that there is an alleged unbreakable limit to the indebtedness of the states in order to fight the problems of deficit. This introduction of the “Golden Rule”, was not attributed to the EU or any of the heads of its institutions, but rather to Germany and Chancellor Merkel herself, who was indicated to have, behind the scenes, pushed for such an addition.
Sought or not, wanted or not, accepted or not, Germany’s recent position of influence is a situation from which Germany cannot run away. Consequently, the actions of Chancellor Merkel are scrutinised with a magnifying glass by media and public opinion all around Europe and in the so-called bailed out countries. What we need to know, however, is that it does not end there. The same thing happens when central banker (Jens Weidmann) speaks, or the Constitutional Court (Karlsruhe) decides, every single word of what they say or what they rule is worked through with a fine-toothed comb. As such, the 2013 elections in Germany are regarded to be a “hot potato” (an issue of importance) for everyone, because of those who were not able to participate in the election (i.e. Europeans with a vested interest in German politics), and because of the responsibility for both Europe and Germany that seems to be attached for those that can participate. The run up to the elections depict an interesting combination of expectations and pressures, both internal and external, derived from the role that Germany should play for some and that it has to play for others with regard to Germany and also Europe. Perhaps in a world where the difference between politics and economics is increasingly trivial but still two words with different meanings, could we paraphrase Americans and say “As Germany goes, so goes Europe”? In reality, only time will tell.
Chancellor Merkel, some time ago, started looking for someone with whom to share the responsibility of steering the €uro through the tempest of the crisis. This could be seen as a tactic to avoid falling prey to the Leader’s Isolation Syndrome, which occurs when the leader is only praised by one’s followers and minions for convenience and not by conviction. However, the Kanzlerin, has not achieved this endeavour; her star has not shone this time. Perhaps if she has not found anyone, it is because there is no one with whom she can share that burden. In this sense, the shadow of Germany’s influence has grown so large it leaves everyone else in the shadows. Some may object to the current status quo, but, they cannot go further than that. Neither France nor any other country has the credence that would be required to propose an alternative model for managing Europe. There is no partner in sight, once Paris is out of play, London or Rome would be conceivable alternatives, but none of them is a real possibility. In Rome, the political situation is confusing, the public finances remain a concern, and its economy continues to be in recession. As for London, David Cameron has managed to stall the UK from European integration, taking the country to a position of irrelevance in European issues, and sowing doubts about their future in the European Union and self-excluding the UK from any kind of banking integration process.
The campaign, in which candidates also have to play their game to those outside of Germany, might be the prelude to real European elections, (which will occur next year), where citizens can vote for more than to elect their MEPs. The candidates know this, and as such try to act in accordance. As an example, the “almighty” finance minister (Wolfgang Schäuble), in a recent newspaper article spoke not only for Germans citizens, but he was also speaking for all Europeans (and therefore to the world). He noted that the German people do not want to see a ‘German Europe’ but a ‘European Germany’. What he did not consider perhaps, was of what kind, how strong, and/or with what intensity a ‘European Germany’ will see the rest of the Europeans. Perhaps they do not just want, but need, a different kind of Germany, one willing to assume full responsibility of its position, and determined to exercise the leadership required to pull firmly of the economy of the continent.
This absence of external foreign thinking is something too common in political history. Concerning the present, the introverted attitude of Chancellor Merkel in handling the crisis has been brilliantly described in a recent book by German sociologist Ulrich Beck. Therein, the author highlights the Machiavellian nature of the attitude of the Chancellor during the crisis. He writes and argues inferences such as that she uses delays as a tactic to domesticate the behaviour of the disobedient and unruly, or that due to the current powerful influence of Germany, all measures to ensure and save the single currency (and the EU, some may say) have to conform to German interests.
Therefore, according to the ideas I have exposed and the current situation, and in combination with what Ulrich Beck writes, I believe we face a liability problem in this issue of European politics. The heart of the matter is that this is not the usual kind of liability, but a two-sided one, to and of Merkel.
- The first would be that guilt being casted on those to whom the domesticating politics are addressed, who lived beyond their means. Other European countries need to take reforms now, while in Germany those painful reforms were put in place in the 2000s.
- The side corresponding to Angela Merkel would be the economic and social shortsightedness she has shown in handling the crisis of the euro, which has overspread and affected many European countries, leading to them questioning the idea of what is the kind of Europe they want?
The shortsightedness of Angela Merkel consists in not learning from past mistakes of others. Many have made the comparison between the Great Depression of the twentieth century to the present crisis. The liability (moral and ideological) that fell on the United States for its policy before the Depression was not too different from the one that has fallen on the Chancellor now. Actually, as far as I know, after the Great Depression until the moment the greatest economy did not practice an expansionary economic policy, the recovery did not reach the other affected economies (that, however, would be a longer and broader discussion).
Anyhow, Angela Merkel might not be entirely at fault; she is partly the daughter of the circumstances she lives in. She is guilty, of course, of doubting and hesitating too much and for too long as Ulrich Beck points out in his book, and I would like to add she is guilty of lack of ambition also, a folly that prevents her thinking beyond the present borders of her country.
Concerning Merkel: Could she be a good leader for Europe? I certainly cannot tell. I just know she would need to think “Für Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit, ebenso Entwicklung und Menschenverstand Europa, Europa über alles.” (For unity and rights and liberty, as well as development and common sense, Europe, Europe above everything) to counterbalance the harmful effects that the current status quo shows to have, because it would not detract from Germany but it would be for their benefit.
FIGHT FOR EUROPE!
Author’s note, following the election results:
Now Merkel has won again, and notwithstanding how questionable the election campaign may have seemed to me, mainly because of the resounding absence of the European idea, it only remains to say, congratulations to you Angela, and good luck to Europe.
If you liked Mario’s article, also read https://euroculturer.eu/2013/01/03/you-me-and-us-who-makes-europe-and-why/
Mario Aller San Millán, Contributing writer
Mario is interested in almost everything while being an expert on nothing. Born and raised in northern Spain before moving in, around, and beyond Europe. He is also interested in Politics, especially when allowed to add some pinches of History to it. He loves meeting new people, is an enthusiastic traveller and a (practising) sports freak, but against all predictions he loves being at home. He enjoys reading and music including any combination of both those activities, and also loves cooking to chill out. In times of crises like current, he looks towards the 12 stars and wonders.