How powerful is Germany in the EU

Germany's role in EuropeToo powerful - and too weak at the same time

In the theory of international relations, a distinction is made between empire and hegemony. While the empire primarily enforces its claim to rule with force, the hegemon builds on power and consensus, i.e. also on the consent of the subaltern.

For theorists of hegemonic stability like Charles Kindleberger, political economist and one of the architects of the Marshall Plan in 1940, the world economy needs a leading power in order not to plunge into chaos.

Accordingly, Kindleberger criticized the USA for not having taken over the economic leadership role from Great Britain during the Great Depression from 1929 to 1939. Because the lack of a hegemonic power led to the collapse of the international system after the stock market crash in 1929.

"The crisis put Germany in an unprecedented position"

80 years later: 2007 the following. Financial crisis. World economic crisis and the consequences for Europe: crisis winners and crisis losers. In his book "German Power - The Paradox of German Strength", Hans Kundnani puts forward the thesis that Germany is on the one hand too powerful not to play a leading role in Europe, but paradoxically on the other hand too weak to be a real hegemon on the continent for To ensure stability.

"The crisis put Germany in an extraordinary - and in the history of the EU - unprecedented - position."

The author refers to the year 2010 and speaks of the euro crisis:

"The entire euro zone looked to Germany - the largest creditor in a crisis of the common currency of sovereign states - and expected leadership strength. But for fear of a 'transfer union' - in which budgetary responsible member states subsidized fiscally irresponsible member states - Germany opposed a communitisation of debts and imposed tough austerity policies on other eurozone countries to make Europe more competitive. This approach has in some ways deepened rather than narrowed the gap between surplus and debt countries. "

According to the author, this gap between creditor and debtor states in the eurozone would have evoked collective memories of Europe's past before 1945. Drastic example of this: the animosities between Germany and Greece. The memories of the occupation during the Second World War are still very present there.

The balance of power upset

Hans Kundnani has repeatedly come up with the German question since the founding of the Empire in 1871: After winning three wars, the united Germany was too big for a balance of power in Europe and too small for hegemony:

"The German historian Ludwig Dehio was later to bring the problematic position of the German Empire in continental Europe to the apt term of 'semi-hegemony' or 'semi-hegemonial position': It was not powerful enough to subordinate the continent to its own will, but at the same time it was powerful enough to be perceived as a threat by other powers. Its size and location in Europe - the so-called central position - almost inevitably made it a destabilizing factor. This is the essence of what later became famous as the 'German Question'. "

With German unification in 1990, the German question became an issue again, writes Kundnani. Germany, which has grown by 17 million inhabitants in one fell swoop and suddenly moved back from the edge to the center, has upset the balance of power in post-war Europe.

With the integration of Germany into Europe and the introduction of the euro, the German question initially seems to have been defused. But only in geopolitical terms, not in economic terms, the author said. As far as the economic current account is concerned, i.e. the export offensive of the German economy, the German question is still virulent. The author sees this as a new form of economic nationalism:

"This new variety of economic nationalism was based on Germany's outstanding exports, which apparently had replaced the D-Mark as a symbol of German economic success. Germany had always been proud to be the world export champion, but in the 2000s exports seemed not just for them German economy, but also to be of central importance for the German national feeling: The Germans increasingly see themselves as an export nation. "

"Germany was far from being a hegemon"

The export surpluses of one are the deficits of the other. Germany's supposedly successful current account is becoming a zero-sum game between the center and the periphery in the euro zone. Keynesian economists like the Americans Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz have been criticizing this for years:

"Germany demanded that the deficit countries in Europe had to become 'more competitive', but did not see that Germany itself, as a logical consequence, had to become less competitive."

The book's strength lies in its criticism of Germany's economic nationalism. Kundnani convincingly demonstrates how Germany uses its economic power to impose an austerity policy on the other states in Europe, which, in the case of Greece, not even the International Monetary Fund considers economically feasible.

Hans Kundnani concludes:

"Germany was unable to offer even a relatively small country like Greece incentives to cooperate within the system. In this respect, Germany was far from being a hegemon."

If one takes Antonio Gramsci on the basis of an emancipatory concept of hegemony that focuses on the consensus, Kundnani's conclusion here is plausible: Germany has pursued a brutal power politics against Greece. Shouldn't a hegemon worthy of the name have to respect the democratic vote of the Greek people against the austerity policy?

The author is strong in the analysis of national interest politics at the expense of others in Europe. But when it comes to geopolitical issues - "from a geopolitical point of view, Germany is harmless and 'benign'" - about security policy and military doctrines, Hans Kundnani, Senior Fellow of the German Marshall Fund, repeatedly proves to be a representative of a think tank focused on transatlantic interests.

Hans Kundnani: German Power. The paradox of German strength. C.H.Beck, 207 pages, 18.95 euros.