Germanys bold bet on EUrope

Normally, hardly anyone takes care of the six-monthly rotating EU presidency. But now that it’s Germany’s turn again, things look different.

How embarrassing is that? Germany takes over the EU presidency for six months on 1 July – and chooses a phrase that could well be from Donald Trump!

“Make America great again”, Trump had demanded four years ago. “Make Europe strong again,” promises Foreign Minister Heiko Maas today.

That’s not strong, it’s pretty far off. Because it gives the impression that Europe was strong – something that really could not be said in recent years. And it is reminiscent of Trump and his chauvinistic “America first” policy.

Of course, the German government does not mean that. It has prefixed its motto with a big “Together”. And it illustrates it with the Möbius strip, which is supposed to be a “symbol of unity and solidarity”.

But the Möbius strip also stands for endless loops from which there is no escape. And the symbolism cannot hide the fact that the motto for the German Presidency of the Council is misleading.

Then there is also no unity and common ground in the EU. Not even in Germany. The largest EU country, of all countries, has contributed significantly to division and weakening.

From the euro crisis to brexite and corona, there is a long line of German solo efforts and wrong decisions that have pushed the EU deeper and deeper into the crisis and weakened it.

  • When the euro crisis began, Chancellor Angela Merkel fought tooth and nail against aid for Greece and other “debtors”. Only when the euro was at stake did she agree to financial aid – under damaging conditions. Greece has still not recovered from this.
  • When the brexite came, Merkel was reluctant to change policy. France’s head of state Emmanuel Macron called for the EU to be completely overhauled – but the Chancellor said no. It was only when the British actually left that a rethink began in Berlin. Now Merkel and Macron are working closely together.
  • When the Corona crisis began, the German government closed the German borders and restricted the export of medical supplies. Only when the staggering Italy turned to China in search of help and an outcry of indignation went through Europe did Berlin change its mind.

All this has left its mark – not only in Italy or France. According to a survey by the “European Council on Foreign Relations”, many Europeans gained the impression in the Corona crisis that the EU had become “irrelevant”.

It was not in Brussels but in Berlin that the big decisions were taken. The “German Europe”, which the sociologist Ulrich Beck described as early as 2012, has also shaped the Corona crisis – right down to the question of who is allowed to go on holiday where and when.

The Germans have won. They were the first to go to Mallorca again – even before the Spaniards. And they were able to set up the biggest aid programmes. With breathtaking sums in the billions, Berlin outdoes everyone else, even the EU Commission is concerned.

And now Germany of all countries wants to make the EU strong again? Of all countries, this country, which has always been on the wrong track and has all too often been on the brakes, wants to lead Europe out of its biggest crisis to date? That is a bold bet.

It is also an honourable and promising bet. After all, it promises nothing less than that Chancellor Angela Merkel has learned from the mistakes of the past and now wants to dare a new, solidary European policy.

There are indeed the first signs of this. Merkel has made a 180-degree turnaround in financial policy. Suddenly there are supposed to be EU debts and financial transfers to solve the Corona crisis.

Nevertheless, the German bet on Europe will hardly be able to be redeemed. Because the tasks that lie ahead of the EU presidency are far too big for that. And the instruments on the table are too weak.

Translated with (free version). The original version (in German) is here