Ger­man lead­ers set out their vi­sion of EU

The Irish Times - - Opinion & Analysis - pegille­ Paul Gille­spie

‘Iam as­ton­ished about the chutz­pah of the Ger­man gov­ern­ment that be­lieves it can win over part­ners when it comes to the poli­cies that mat­ter to us – refugees, de­fence, for­eign and ex­ter­nal trade – yet si­mul­ta­ne­ously stonewalls on the cen­tral ques­tion of com­plet­ing EMU po­lit­i­cally.’ – Jür­gen Haber­mas

An­gela Merkel’s an­nounced de­par­ture from lead­er­ship of the Ger­man Chris­tian Democrats closes a his­toric pe­riod when she over­saw an ex­pan­sion of Ger­man power and in­flu­ence over Eu­ro­pean in­te­gra­tion through the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis and then the rise of pop­ulist par­ties sharply crit­i­cal of the di­rec­tion she took. The race to suc­ceed her opens up space for a de­bate on where Ger­many will go in Eu­rope over the com­ing pe­riod.

Merkel’s pass­ing is marked by the rise of a right-wing pop­ulism in Ger­many it­self, as the Al­ter­na­tive für Deutsch­land party es­tab­lishes it­self in all the län­der and now scores about 15 per cent in votes and polls. It em­braces a re­newed Ger­man na­tion­al­ism along­side a global trad­ing am­bi­tion and hos­til­ity to im­mi­gra­tion, and wants Ger­many to leave the euro or re­found it on a smaller north­ern core.Its break­through has nor­malised such po­si­tions by draw­ing Ger­man pol­i­tics to the right. The CDU faces a choice be­tween pur­su­ing that path or find­ing new vari­ants of Merkel’s cen­trist so­cial lib­er­al­ism and com­mit­ment to Eu­ro­pean so­lu­tions. Dur­ing her as­cen­dancy, the coun­try be­came more in­tro­verted and com­pla­cent with its eco­nomic suc­cess, ac­cord­ing to crit­ics like the philoso­pher and so­ci­ol­o­gist Haber­mas.

Ger­man na­tion­al­ism

His left-lib­eral stance on in­te­gra­tion has in­flu­enced a gen­er­a­tion of aca­demics and ac­tivists. Re­ject­ing Ger­man na­tion­al­ism, they call for a post-na­tional fu­ture for Eu­rope based on a shared pub­lic sphere to cre­ate com­mon pol­i­tics and cross­na­tional so­cial and eco­nomic poli­cies.

In a re­cent ad­dress in Frank­furt, Haber­mas is much more pes­simistic about the ac­tual course of events. He is par­tic­u­larly dis­heart­ened by the fail­ure of so­cial demo­cratic par­ties to de­velop al­ter­na­tives to the mar­ket lib­er­al­ism an­i­mat­ing na­tional pol­i­tics in Ger­many and else­where. He ad­mires Em­manuel Macron’s am­bi­tious ef­forts to strengthen the euro and cre­ate a Eu­ro­pean army. But he ar­gues that Ger­man ret­i­cence in re­spond­ing is short-sighted – and fun­da­men­tally against Ger­many’s own in­ter­ests.

Rather than cre­at­ing con­ver­gence be­tween richer and poorer re­gions and coun­tries in the EU, the in­com­plete euro regime and the lack of a re­dis­tribu­tive ca­pac­ity have widened in­equal­i­ties. That is most marked be­tween north and south but also ap­plies be­tween east and west.

Mo­ral haz­ard

Pop­ulism orig­i­nates in those di­vides, he ar­gues, rather than in the more re­cent im­mi­gra­tion crises. Ger­many is deaf to such crit­i­cisms, at­tack­ing ideas about a re­dis­tribu­tive trans­fer union as cre­at­ing mo­ral haz­ard and fail­ing to un­der­stand that its own pros­per­ity pred­i­cated on con­ti­nen­tal free trade and ex­port mar­kets re­quires po­lit­i­cal rec­i­proc­ity and mu­tual poli­cies. As he puts it, “the rigid rules-based sys­tem im­posed upon the euro-zone mem­ber states, with­out cre­at­ing com­pen­satory com­pe­tences and room for flex­i­ble joint con­duct of af­fairs, is an ar­range­ment to the ad­van­tage of the eco­nom­i­cally stronger mem­bers.”

Ul­rike Guérot, an­other left-lib­eral critic of Ger­man pol­icy, points out that while goods, cap­i­tal and labour in the sin­gle mar­ket en­joy equal cross-na­tional ac­cess, cit­i­zens don’t. To­gether with the Aus­trian nov­el­ist Robert Me­nasse and the­atri­cal groups through­out the con­ti­nent (but not in Ire­land), she is launch­ing a Eu­ro­pean bal­cony project to mark the an­niver­sary of the end of the first World War with a call for a Eu­ro­pean Repub­lic based on pop­u­lar sovereignty, cities and re­gions.

While Haber­mas takes a bleak view of cur­rent Eu­ro­pean pol­i­tics from an aca­demic per­spec­tive, as an ac­tivist he has linked up with an in­flu­en­tial group of Ger­man lead­ers to urge change. Writ­ing in the busi­ness daily Han­dels­blatt with Hans Eichel a for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter; Roland Koch a for­mer Hesse state pre­mier; Friedrich Merz a lawyer and CDU politi­cian; Bert Rürup, Han­dels­blatt’s chief econ­o­mist; and Brigitte Zy­pries, a for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter and eco­nomics min­is­ter, they call for greater sol­i­dar­ity, a Eu­ro­pean army, a core Eu­rope cen­tred on Ger­many and France, a stronger euro and more com­pro­mise from Ger­many to achieve all this.

The most in­ter­est­ing fig­ure here is Merz, the more Europhile of the three main con­tenders to lead the CDU. He wants to a more sub­stan­tial and sym­pa­thetic Ger­man re­sponse to Macron’s Eu­ro­pean agenda, es­pe­cially on the euro zone.

This de­bate should be watched, since all Euro­peans will be af­fected by its out­come.

‘‘ This de­bate should be watched, since all Euro­peans will be af­fected

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