Margaret Bourke-White — Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images
Bashing Germany: USAAF B-17 Honey Chile II, Polebrook, Northamptonshire, England, fall 1942


By Brendan Simms
New Statesman, March 14, 2013

Edited by Andy Ross

Germany has weathered the world economic crisis well. But many call for Germany be more active and to take the lead in resolving the escalating euro crisis.

The German question goes back a long way. In the Middle Ages, the Holy Roman empire was the focus of furious political action. Despite all efforts, Germany remained fragmented. The Reformation divided western Christendom and split the Holy Roman empire down the middle.

The strategic vacuum at the heart of Europe sucked in powers from all sides. Germany was traversed by armies fighting for causes that sometimes concerned Germany only tangentially. German fighting men served as mercenaries abroad. The Holy Roman empire was the font of ideological legitimacy in Europe, and in theory at least gave Germans the right to rally Europeans in a common cause.

During the Thirty Years War, Germany was racked by civil conflict and humiliated by foreign armies marching back and forth across its territory. The population of the Holy Roman empire dropped from 21 million to just over 13 million people. The treaties of Westphalia signed in 1648 forestalled a European war. Sweden and France were recognized as guarantors of the Holy Roman empire.

The struggle for Germany drove internal politics across Europe. In the British Isles, the failure of the ruling dynasty to support the Protestant cause in Germany delegitimized it and led to civil war. French failure to prevail in Germany precipitated the revolution that destroyed the French monarchy and led to the Napoleonic wars. The Treaty of Vienna in 1815 established a German confederation strong enough to keep the internal peace and deter foreign aggressors but was too weak to develop hegemonic ambitions of its own.

Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck finally united Germany in 1871. The "second" Reich had a rapidly increasing population of 41 million people, a rapidly industrializing economy, the best education system in the world, and an army second to none. But it was threatened on two sides, by Russia and by France. While Germany was territorially static, the British, French, and Russian empires and the United States were all huge and expanding empires. And Germans were emigrating in their millions to the British Dominions and the United States.

Bismarck sought to win through diplomacy. But the strain of making contradictory commitments to her main allies, Russia and Austria-Hungary, was not sustainable. His successor as chancellor sought to secure the German position in the world through manufacturing. This strategy was met by tariff barriers. Territorial expansion failed spectacularly by provoking opposing coalitions. The Second Reich's ambitions in World War I and the Third Reich's ambitions in World War II ended in disaster.

The United Nations originated as a wartime alliance to defeat the Third Reich. Germany lost territory in the east, and the rump was divided into four zones of occupation. How to resolve the German question became the principal point of contention during the cold war between the West and the Soviet Union.

European integration was intended to mobilize the Federal Republic against the Soviet threat. The European project rehabilitated Germany politically without frightening neighboring states. The European settlement survived the collapse of communism and the reunification of Germany. But it took much longer than expected for the German economy to sort out the mess left by communism. The introduction of the euro was accelerated to embed the united Germany more firmly in a uniting Europe. But it helped Germany at the expense of southern Europe.

The new Germany worked closely with its partners on security. Berlin supported the eastern enlargement of NATO and the EU into Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. Germany is now surrounded by friendly democracies. But the problem of Russian power persists. Poland and the Baltic states look not to Berlin but to NATO for support.

Germany sits at the heart of an EU designed to accommodate German power. Germans must take the initiative and do what it takes to complete the work of European unity.

AR This is an interesting history. Makes me feel like adding a chapter to CORAL.


By Timothy Garton Ash
New York Review of Books, August 15, 2013

Edited by Andy Ross

The Federal Republic of Germany is as solidly bourgeois liberal democracy. It has not only absorbed the huge costs of unification but also made economic reforms by consensus and restored its global competitiveness. Asked what feelings Germany awakes in her, Angela Merkel once replied: "I think of well-sealed windows. No other country can make such well-sealed and nice windows."

According to a BBC poll, Germany is the most popular country in the world. It also has a rapidly aging population. Without immigration, its population might fall from over 80 million today to under 60 million in 2050. Its economy is brilliant at making things that people want to buy but weaker in services. German companies are outstanding at incremental technical improvements but less good at disruptive innovation. The country has many good universities, but none to compete with Oxford or Stanford.

European monetary union was not a German project to dominate Europe but a European project to constrain Germany. The Germans were never asked in a referendum if they wanted to give up the Deutschmark, but Germany accumulated a trade surplus with the rest of the EU, from the birth of the euro up to 2011, of more than $1 trillion. Germany had not sought this leadership role in Europe.

We are approaching a moment of truth in the European Union. Fritz Stern described German reunification in 1990 as Germany's second chance. Its first chance came in the years before 1914. But it blew that chance in two world wars and the Holocaust. Domestically, Germany has used its second chance well. The European question is upon it now, in the years before 2014.

Unlike the United States, Europe's central state is preeminent only in one of the three main dimensions of power. Militarily, it does not compare for impact with Britain and France. As for soft power, the Federal Republic still does not compare with the cultural pull of the UK. But Germany does have economic power. In 2012, 46% of EU exports to China came from Germany.

The rhetoric of German policy remains sternly dogmatic, with German economics often sounding like a branch of moral philosophy. Germans want to impose a combination of fiscal consolidation and structural reform on the weaker economies of the eurozone. Their greatest worry is France, which is both the most important country to Germany in the history of European integration and one dramatically failing to reform. Germans are unwilling to pay for other Europeans' self-indulgent mistakes. They are also obsessed with the danger of inflation.

Europe will need some new institutional architecture, most urgently for the oversight of national budgets in the eurozone, but eventually for the whole structure of the Union. Whatever emerges, it will not be made only in Germany.

AR Why not simply scale up the German federal constitution to constitute the new Europe?