Germany is having a good summer. There is the World Cup adventure – although that may come to an end tonight. And then there is the startling revival in the German economy.
And yet the row about the European Union’s bail-out for Greece has once again revived worries in the rest of Europe about the direction of German foreign policy. I particularly enjoyed this article in Prospect, by Hans Kundnani, about Germany. Kundnani points out that the great cliche in Germany is that the country’s foreign policy is becoming “normalised” as it pursues its own national interests. He argues that this is only partly true. The Germans are certainly pursuing their own national economic interests with increasing determination and are increasingly sceptical both of the European Union and of multilateralism, in general – which I suppose does make them more like the other big powers in Europe. On the other hand, according to Kundnani, Germany remains abnormally suspicious of the use of military force and of power politics, in general.
History still weighs heavily enough in Europe for any shift in German foreign policy – particularly one that emphasises the national interest – to be watched very carefully. As Kundnani notes, some other Europeans see “echoes of a German power politics that they hoped had been consigned to the past.”
Personally, I think that’s unfair. The European Union is in a very tricky position, economically, so almost anything that Germany does is bound to be both important and controversial. Germany’s European policy was unusual, during the many years when it was governed by an elite consensus on the need for deeper European integration that floated well above public opinion. These days, it seems to me, German policy on Europe is shaped by a mix of public opinion, the courts, national political culture (an aversion to inflation, for example) and economic interests. That sounds to me entirely normal, even if it is not entirely comfortable for the rest of Europe.
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