I am Samihan Vinchurkar, a student of Government Law College, the oldest law college of Asia, in Mumbai, India. Being a voracious reader, almost any reading material catches my eye but with a special soft corner for history, international relations and foreign policy, religion and spirituality and psychology. With a few accolades in essay and crossword legal puzzle intra college competitions under my belt, I yearn to accentuate my legal knowledge and skills to extrapolate them to perennially intriguing fields of policy and foreign relations.
India | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay
From the Ruins of WW II to European Renaissance:
Germany’s Transformative Role in the European Union
With Europe’s survival at stake in the aftermath of WW II, Germany began laying the foundation for European strategic, social and economic integration by creating a common block. Its main themes were ushering in an atmosphere of mutual trust and co-operation, greater economic exchange and shared prosperity. Italy, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Netherlands joined Germany in this vision. The maiden step was creating the European Coal and Steel Community under the Treaty of Paris 1951.
From ECM to EU – Birth of a new Geo Political entity
Following the early successes, West Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and Netherlands created a customs union, the European Economic Community, allowing members easy access to markets and flow of goods. Furthermore, the Rome Treaty 1957 created Euratom for co-operation in nuclear energy.
The Merger Treaty 1965 unified the executive institutions of the communities into the European Communities. Germany championed the Schengen system under the Schengen Agreement of 14th June 1985 facilitating unrestricted movement of member countries people.
After the Fall of the Eastern Bloc in 1990 and German Reunification, Germany began expanding Europe by integrating Eastern Bloc into Europe. Most importantly, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and French President Francois Mitterrand signed the Maastricht Treaty on 1st Nov1993 formally establishing the European Union (EU). The Treaty mandated, a common EU parliament, a unified monetary and central banking system – ECB and a common currency – Euro.
Expansion of EU and Rise of German Economic Juggernaut – Deutshces Wirtschaftswunder
Germany has been an ardent supporter of Greater European Integration, evident through the Berlin Process working for the inclusion of Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Turkey and other Eastern Europe and Balkan States.
For economic growth, preferential access to competitive labour markets and relatively lower manufacturing costs were crucial for maintaining Germany’s economic leadership.
Germany pursuing its economic goals began strengthening EU. Through inclusion of Eastern European and Balkan nations as full members of EU, Germany gained goodwill and flourished by accessing cheaper but highly skilled work force from these regions. Establishment of production sites in these newly incorporated areas gave Germany substantial cost arbitrage. German quality at affordable prices became its pivotal competitive tool in gaining global market share.
Germany’s major global rival for hi-tech goods – Japan found it hard to match them because of availability of cheaper ‘made in Europe’ German products.
Besides, Germany needed seamless supply chains and transportation through to Eastern Europe, Russia, China and Middle East for exports.
Expanding the EU gave Germany special access to new markets for its manufactured products. German logistics and transportation industry is now world’s largest benefitting from the Schengen. Such initiatives in Europe transformed Germany into an economic super power.
Though Germany lagged in services sector, Frankfurt is likely the major beneficiary of Brexit induced flight of financial services from London.
Brexit, Migrant Crisis, Rising China, Simmering US, Covid-19 and various political challenges before Germany
Consequently, Germany is being perceived as a European Hegemon. Instead, it should be hailed as Europe’s “ Chief Facilitating Officer” – a catalyst – as remarked by German Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier.
After Brexit, Germany closely works with various member states to ensure their continued patronage to EU. Guaranteeing the continuation of the EU is the apparent “leader” Germany’s responsibility.
Additionally, US is scaling down their military presence in Germany, forcing Europe to become self-reliant in security. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the relations as “complicated”, whereas senior politicians called it further weakening of US-Germany and Transatlantic alliances.
Hitherto, a strong US presence mitigated any potential unrest in the Middle East, Russia and China. Following US withdrawal, European security paradigm may see a complete realignment necessitating greater involvement of Germany.
Furthermore, there are two other cardinal elements of Germany’s strategic calculus that may push it to balance relationships with China and US.
Firstly, Germany’s growing affinity with China ranging from foreign trade and other ties to the extent of receiving coronavirus kits at Leipzig airport is bothersome. Secondly, the US Ambassador Richard Grenell criticising Germany’s meagre expenditure on defence and support to Iran nuclear deal from which US withdrew is problematic.
Besides, Germany’s warm welcome of migrants has been roundly admonished both by its partners and considerable number of Germans. Germany’s efforts in assimilating these critics into German society will be interesting.
Furthermore, internal challenges persist. The disappearance of the German Political Middle has been disappointing and the fast erosion of Social Democratic political parties is worrisome. With former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 14 year term having ended and her successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer stepping down owing to a controversy in the federal state Thuringia due to her party officials turning to the far right alternative for Germany, a state of political chaos might ensue prior to the EU Presidency term.
Germany has been integral to the EU. It heralded a glorious age for the EU by pushing for a EU parliament, common currency, common European market and establishing ECB to provide monetary and policy support to members. Although the economic and political contributions of Germany to the EU have been valuable, it requires a fresh approach to address new challenges. With the Brexit a reality, Migrant and Covid-19 Crisis unleashed, Germany currently stands on thin ice. In order to remain relevant, it must tread carefully without overstepping on its members. Another issue is its deteriorating relations with US, which strikes at the heart of military strength that the EU had depended on to curb Middle Eastern tensions. As pro China and anti China bloc becomes an actuality, Germany will have to aptly balance itself. Germany must remain resilient and use its economic strength, technological prowess, deft diplomacy and political influence to strengthen the EU and ensure a safe passage for Europe through the stormy patch ahead.
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