Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The "ugly German" question

Former German foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warns about the consequences of The Return of the Ugly German Project Syndicate 07/23/2015. (German version: Ist der „hässliche Deutsche“ zurück? Project Syndicate 07/23/2015). In his judgment:

During the long night of negotiations over Greece on July 12-13, something fundamental to the European Union cracked. Since then, Europeans have been living in a different kind of EU. ...

In terms of foreign policy, Germany rebuilt trust [after the Second World War] by embracing Western integration and Europeanization. The power at the center of Europe should never again become a threat to the continent or itself. Thus, the Western Allies’ aim after 1945 – unlike after World War I – was not to isolate Germany and weaken it economically, but to protect it militarily and firmly embed it politically in the West. Indeed, Germany’s reconciliation with its arch-enemy, France, remains the foundation of today’s European Union, helping to incorporate Germany into the common European market, with a view to the eventual political unification of Europe.

But in today’s Germany, such ideas are considered hopelessly “Euro-romantic”; their time has passed. Where Europe is concerned, from now on Germany will primarily pursue its national interests, just like everybody else.
Of course, these turns don't happen overnight. But Greece's fight under Alexis Tsipras' government against Germany's austericide economic policies dramatized for the world what an ugly turn Angela Merkel had effected in Germany's foreign policy, especially in the European Union.

Merkel grew up in East Germany. And her success in politics has been entirely a product of German unification, i.e., the German national project. She doesn't operate under the assumption that previous German Chancellor's did that overt German nationalism toward other countries was a destructive and counter-productive thing. In the worldview she has shown us by her actions as Chancellor, the eurozone and the EU exist for her to serve German interests. Period, full stop.

Anything else is simply a collateral benefit accruing to other countries as a side-effect of German nationalism successfully applied.

The word "nationalism" has a negative connotation in German politics. It's actually scarcely used in American politics in reference to the United States. All politicians advertise their patriotism. "Hyper-patriotic" or "super-patriotic" carries the kind of suggestion of stigma similar to what "nationalism" has in German politics.

It's not that Germany wasn't pursuing a "national" or even "nationalist" policy before Merkel, if we take that to mean pursuing German national interests. It's just that postwar German foreign policy very specifically conceived of German national interest as pursuing German unification as part of a strong orientation toward European cooperation. As Fischer notes, "The foundation of the second, unified German nation-state in 1989 was based on Germany’s irrevocable Western orientation and Europeanization."

The previous "European" orientation is sadly lacking in Merkel's vision, despite the required ritual rhetoric praising European unity. Fischer puts it this way, "The path that Germany will pursue in the twenty-first century – toward a 'European Germany' or a 'German Europe' – has been the fundamental, historical question at the heart of German foreign policy for two centuries. And it was answered during that long night in Brussels, with German Europe prevailing over European Germany."

Matthias Naß of Die Zeit (Der hässliche Deutsche ist wieder da 29.07.2015) regards this with the smug tone we're so used to hearing from American politicians and commentators about our "exceptional" country:

Das Erschrecken über die Rückkehr des "hässlichen Deutschen" ist groß. Dabei kann sie niemanden, der das politische Geschehen nüchtern betrachtet, wirklich überraschen. Schließlich war der Machtzuwachs Deutschlands in den zurückliegenden Jahren offenkundig. Macht und Popularität aber entwickeln sich in aller Regel umgekehrt proportional zueinander. Wieso also das Erstaunen?

[The alarm over the return of the "ugly German" is great. No one who views political events soberly will really be suprise. In the last analysis, the growth of German power in recent years was obvious. But power and popularity normally develop in inverse proportion to each other. Then why the astonishment?]
Naß basically repeats that theme in minor variations in the whole column, finding nothing to criticize in Angela Merkel's euorzone policies there. But he does suggests that Germany needs to take account of the whiny foreigners' resentments in its public propaganda.

Fischer realizes that the problem is much more serious than the need for smiley-face propaganda:

To dismiss the fierce criticism of Germany and its leading players that erupted after the diktat on Greece, as many Germans do, is to don rose-tinted glasses. Certainly, there was nonsensical propaganda about a Fourth Reich and asinine references to the Führer. But, at its core, the criticism articulates an astute awareness of Germany’s break with its entire post-WWII European policy.

For the first time, Germany didn’t want more Europe; it wanted less. Germany’s stance on the night of July 12-13 announced its desire to transform the eurozone from a European project into a kind of sphere of influence. Merkel was forced to choose between Schäuble and France (and Italy). [my emphasis]
I can't say that Anne-Marie Slaughter's description of Greece's "identity" reasons for wanting to stay in the eurozone quite make sense to me, at least not without considering the real economic fears of what a Grexit would mean. (Europe’s Civil War Project Syndicate 07/21/2015) The title seems a bit over the top, but she does use the phrase: "The EU is now facing its own civil war, though one that, fortunately, is free of physical violence." Well, there's a bit of st of street violence in Greece, but no troops are mobilizing on the borders.

Her description of Germany's role in this makes sense, though:

Whereas [Greece's] stance reflects the vision of an "ever-closer union" that motivated the EU’s founders, Germany’s narrower, economic understanding of European integration cannot inspire ordinary citizens to support the compromises necessary to keep the EU together. Nor can it withstand the inevitable attacks directed against EU institutions for every action and regulation that citizens dislike and for which national politicians want to avoid responsibility. [my emphasis]

No comments: