Europeans, particularly “pro-European” Europeans like me, often make the argument that it is only by pooling their collective resources that can they compete in the emerging world of continent-sized powers such as China, India and the US. By jointly pursuing their interests, the 28 member states of the European Union – the world’s largest trading bloc – can have greater impact than any of them can have individually. In particular, this argument is often deployed to show why it would be a mistake for the UK to leave the EU: to do so would commit it to “geopolitical oblivion”, as a French official put it to me. The idea, in short, is that size matters, as Peter Mandelson put it at a dinner I attended a year or so ago. But interestingly (and perhaps slightly worryingly), this discourse about size echoes the one in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century.
I spent the weekend at a conference at Wiston House in Sussex, where you can’t help think about history. Wiston House is owned by Wilton Park, a foundation set up after the end of World War II that was originally based at an estate near Beaconsfield, where German POWs (including Helmut Schmidt) discussed democracy with British intellectuals. Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman, called it a “prisoners’ university” that was “the nucleus of what might become a new democratic Germany”. It was set up by Heinz Koeppler, a Jewish-German émigré and in 1948 was taken over by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to hold conferences. In 1951 it moved to Wiston House, parts of which date back to the sixteenth century. In such surroundings, it’s hard not to think in historical analogies – especially when it comes to Germany.
Tags: Europe, Germany
A couple of weeks ago I took part in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Tendenzwende conference – a small gathering in Berlin of historians, economists, constitutional lawyers and philosophers, that has been held annually since 2009. It is named after a famous academic conference held in 1974, which coined the term that is often used in Germany for the shift in the 1970s from the post-war settlement to a new phase of slow growth and high inflation after the oil shock of 1973. After the financial crisis in 2008, Andreas Rödder (a historian) and Günther Nonnenmacher (one of the five publishers of the Frankfurter Allgemeine) had the idea of holding a similar conference to discuss whether a new paradigm shift was now taking place. The big question was: what comes after neo-liberalism? This year’s conference (which took place under the Chatham House rule) was on Europe.
I’ve recently been having a debate with Josef Janning of the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) about German power in the European Union. In May Janning published an article on DGAP’s website in which he challenged the assumption that Germany was “calling the shots” in the EU and attempted to quantify various dimensions of member-state power. In my response I argued that Janning underestimated Germany’s power as the eurozone’s largest creditor and also stopped short of spelling out the implications of his correct but rather alarming conclusion that other member states could outvote Germany if they joined forces – in effect an anti-German coalition. In his response to me, Janning argued that I overestimated German power within the EU by too narrowly focusing on the euro crisis and disregarding British and French military capabilities. In my second response, I argued that although military capabilities allowed France and the UK to project power beyond Europe, they are not a source of leverage within Europe.
Tags: geo-economics, Germany
Since writing an essay on “Germany as a geo-economic power” in 2011, I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “geo-economics”. Although the term is being used a lot at the moment, there is no shared definition of it. (Sanjaya Baru, who runs the programme on geo-economics at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, had a good introduction to the various usages of the term in Survival, which was originally written as an introduction for a conference on “geo-economics” in Bahrain in March 2012 that I attended.) There are basically two versions of the term: a “soft” version that is meant to capture the way states increasingly seem to pursue economic objectives and a “hard” version that is meant to capture the way that states increasingly seem to use economic means to achieve strategic objectives.
Tags: anti-Semitism, Germany, Israel
In Germany during the last few weeks there has been a debate about the question of the difference between a critique of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism – a subject that I discussed in a previous post. The debate centres on the 45 year-old German journalist Jakob Augstein, who was recently called an anti-Semite by the Simon Wiesenthal Center because of his criticism of Israel in his columns for Spiegel Online. He was brought up by Rudolf Augstein, the founder editor of Spiegel, and is a major shareholder in the company that owns it. But it emerged in 2002 that his biological father is actually Martin Walser, the 85 year-old writer who is most associated with attempts to draw a Schlußstrich, or final line, under the Nazi past. So influential is Walser perceived to have been – Chancellor Gerhard Schröder seemed implictly to approve of the remarks Walser made in his famous speech at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt in 1998 – that academics have written of a “Walserisation” of Germany during the last decade and a half.
Tags: Germany, Japan
A few weeks ago the cover of the Spiegel showed Chancellor Angela Merkel in combat fatigues with the headline: “German weapons for the world”. The story (available in English online) was about the so-called Merkel doctrine – an implicit policy of staying out of difficult and unpopular Western interventions such as the one in Libya last year while selling arms to other countries, in particular in the Middle East, to enable them take greater “responsibility” for security. The Federal Republic has traditionally had a comparatively restrictive arms-export policy and in particular rejected the sale of arms by German companies to undemocratic governments or countries in “conflict regions”. But under Merkel, according to the Spiegel story, the German defence industry – which employs 80,000 people – is booming as the government increasingly approves the sale of weapons to undemocratic regimes in areas of actual or potential conflict.