What Is Germany Thinking?
WASHINGTON, DC (October 6, 2011) - “Germany is part of the solution, but also part of the problem.” So opened Bertelsmann Foundation Executive Director Annette Heuser in an October 6 discussion with the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Ulrike Guérot based on the recent publication that she co-edited, “What Does Germany Think About Europe?” Joining them on stage at the National Press Club in front of a packed audience of 100 people were Atlantic Council President and CEO Frederick Kempe and Die Zeit’s Washington correspondent, Martin Klingst. The overcapacity crowd was a reflection of the daily headlines in the US media about Europe’s financial crisis and the timeliness of the event.
Dr Guérot expressed concern that German foreign policy shows no vision and direction, and that Berlin has “lost its compass” on European integration. She noted that foreign-policy debates in Germany regularly focus on issues that are not considered high priority in the capitals of Germany’s main allies, showing how much the country is out of sync. In another worrying sign, she referred to polls showing that many Germans did not understand the European single market, did not perceive any benefits from it and, therefore, were against measures to help fellow Europeans in fiscal distress.
However, she urged the US to be patient with European fiscal reform since EU institutional change is by nature slow. She pointed out that change is already underway and that in some ways it technically violates the Maastricht Treaty. She expressed confidence that the euro would survive.
Mr Kempe responded by saying that Germany’s key role in the eurozone crisis has put the country back on Washington’s priority list. He agreed with Annette Heuser’s view that the Obama administration is giving German Chancellor Angela Merkel a pass on many foreign-policy issues, such as Libya, so that she can focus on pulling Europe away from the brink of economic catastrophe – and potentially help Mr Obama get re-elected next year. Mr Kempe emphasized that Europe, the US and the trans-Atlantic partnership are on an inflection point. Europe in particular faces its greatest crisis since the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community.
Mr Klingst of Die Zeit said that Germany was too inward-looking to have a global focus and that its politicians lacked courage to stake out firm positions on major geopolitical issues. But Europe was an issue that brought about cross-party unity. He noted that 80 percent of Bundestag members voted for new funds for the European Financial Stability Facility.
Germany nevertheless suffers from insufficient flexibility and mobility. Mr Klingst noted that too many Germans had careers that were single-tracked. Unlike Americans, Germans stay on one professional path throughout their lives. There is no revolving door between government, business and academia. This, Mr Klingst said, prevents broader thinking in Berlin.