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The importance of Germany

The importance of Germany

EU future is at stake

by Laurens Jan Brinkhorst

Fri 13 Sep 2013

The German parliamentary elections on 22 September are the most important since the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. As a consequence the future of the European Union (EU) is at stake.

As the prime power in Europe, Germany faces a number of choices. It can emphasise the intergovernmental nature of the EU as a collection of individual nation-states under German leadership or play a more dynamic role as initiator of a more cohesive European Union. My guess is that, because of its special geopolitical position in the heartland of Europe, Germany will continue to move towards more cohesion.

At the same time it will do everything it can to avoid a departure of the UK from the EU. Working towards a trans-Atlantic market will become a priority. The US government will support this line, although I have my doubts about the final outcome. Both the US and the EU have their own nay-sayers and the current political climate in the UK is very unpredictable.

The third option of preparing for a more independent role outside the EU, as suggested in some recent articles by the Anglo-Saxon press, is not on the cards for Germany, in view of its history of the last century. At the same time this does not preclude Germany from forming closer ties notably with Russia and China, in the absence of a real external EU foreign policy. It should be remembered that 2014 will be a crucial year for the EU as a whole, with the elections for the European Parliament already looming large.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will probably be re-elected but she may be forced to accept a Grand Coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD). On Europe the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), her current coalition partners, have not proven to be very reliable and until recently have been wavering around the 5% vote margin needed for representation in parliament. The FDP’s leadership has been divided and the party’s vision for the EU’s future is unclear, since it is divided between a nationalist and more pro-European wing. The most recent polls indicate, however, that the FDP will pass the 5% hurdle, so a continuation of the present coalition is the most likely outcome.

Merkel’s re-election would be positive for the further development of the economic and monetary union (EMU) and the banking union. The anti-euro AfD party has failed to make a major impact and will in all likelihood not be represented in the Bundestag. As a result, after the elections Merkel will be liberated, for the time being, from this marginal threat.

Externally I do not foresee many changes. Stronger relations with France will remain necessary, but also difficult, as France has not yet come to terms with a more limited role and remains very state-oriented.

At the same time it is clear that France and Germany have no choice but to stay together. The price of a fall-out between them is too great even to consider. The consequences for the rest of the EU would last for generations.

New efforts will be made to improve connections between France and Germany to reinforce the political process of European unity, despite the rather tepid relations between Merkel and President François Hollande. The recent publication ‘Urgences Françaises’ by Jacques Attali, a former adviser to President François Mitterrand, may be a stimulus for the French side.

Attali urges real changes and calls on Hollande to take the initiative in attacking the conservative forces of the right and the left which stand in the way of France’s modernisation.

It is not certain that the current government will listen to this message, but the Attali book signals that the need for change in France is becoming more apparent. For Germany, the Attali message can be the beginning of a new dialogue with France.

Laurens Jan Brinkhorst is former Minister of Economic Affairs of the Netherlands and a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. 

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