The way, how in Germany (and not only there) certain people write and talk about the development of Greek government debt, Greek politics and Greece’s relationship to the other countries of the European Union, and in particular to Germany, fulfills several purposes. One of them is the struggle for the future balance of power in the EU and in Europe. It is no coincidence, that the German-Greek relationship is the main point of focus. For it is about the Germany’s position within the EU and in Europe and about the way how that Germany intends to deal with other sovereign states in Europe. Greece is merely a precedent.
Particularly in Germany the interpretation is widely spread that the Greeks had surreptitiously obtained the access to the Euro with falsified statistics. They are to be blamed for having misused low interest rates in the Euro area in order to live beyond their own means. They have bogged down in corruption, mismanagement and horrendous debt. Now, when all that has been revealed, one holds, they need a strong hand from outside, especially a strong German hand in order to be brought to their senses. The Greeks’ resistance against this version is regarded as reprehensible; for nobody, especially not Germany, would be any more willing to throw money down the throat of a country and a people, who wanted to lead a good life and at the same time wanted to go their own way, but at the expense of others, especially of the Germans.
We do not have space here to examine all these assumptions and to prove them wrong or to look closely and differentiate. Much more interesting is the question of purpose and attitude behind such assumptions.
At the November 2011 CDU Congress in Leipzig, Volker Kauder, parliamentary party leader of CDU and CSU in the German “Bundestag”, gave a clear message in just a few words: “The German language is spoken in Europe, now.”
The claims of the German Federal President Gauck, of the German Defense Minister von der Leyen and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, followed this announcement to the effect that Germany had to take over more “responsibility” in the world, thereby refering not only to military deployments around the world, but also to the “tasks” in the EU and in Europe assigned to Germany by these politicians.
The latest book by Herfried Münkler “Macht in der Mitte. Die neuen Aufgaben in Deutschland” (Power in the Center. Germany’s new role in Europe) represents the latest and to date most detailed Menetekel (the “writing on the wall”) in regard to the role intended for Germany. Herfried Münkler is a professor of political science at the Humboldt University in Berlin and right in the middle of the German power networks. Just as Gauck, von der Leyen and Steinmeier, Münkler also speaks of more German “responsibility” and “obligation”, but despite all euphemistic rhetoric and numerous spins, Münkler speaks more “openly” than the German politicians and demands that all available German instruments of power within the scope of this “responsibility” are to be employed. As is generally known, power is the ability to impose one’s will onto others.
In short, Münkler’s thesis is the following: The project of a politically united Europe has failed, the centrifugal forces within the EU have greatly increased, since the euro crisis at the latest, and there was a risk of European chaos within the EU, but also on the outskirts of the EU (North Africa, Levant and Eastern Europe/Ukraine). Therefore EU Europe needed a leading and regulatory power, using all its instruments of power in order to counteract the centrifugal forces – in other words: a new hegemon.
This hegemon could only be Germany. And the fact that – not least because of its history – Germany could only be a “vulnerable hegemon”, would have its advantages; because therefore the German instruments of power would only be used with moderation and rationality and also more easily be accepted by the other EU countries. Nevertheless for the German “net contributor” to the EU it is true that: “paymaster” can permanently be only the one who is willing to play the difficult role of a ‘taskmaster’”. In the last chapter of his book, Münkler lists up “the portfolio of the different kinds of power”, speaks of the economic, the ideological-cultural and the very important military power, which in Germany, however, is “unfortunately” the most controversial one, to end with one last spin: “The influence of the power in the center is the greater, the less the space, whose center it is, is involved in military conflicts and has to defend itself against threats. The power in the center best pursues its interest by acting as peace power. Whether circumstances allow so, of course, is a different matter.”
Is Greece to be the precedent? And: is all that really about German interests? In the decades following the Second World War, the US was the obvious “leading and regulatory power” in the part of Europe not included in the Warsaw Pact – the only exception being Yugoslavia. With the end of the Cold War, there was a brief chance to create a continent of sovereign nations in Europe in which the people and states might live and work together on equal footing and in peace and solve conflicts on their own at the negotiating table. In 1990, the CSCE states adopted the Charter of Paris in which this wish was expressed.
The United States very quickly disappointed this wish. But the United States has overstretched its direct instruments of power. Today, the US is still a strong military power whose military expenditures are as high as that of all other states in the world together, but they overstretched their power, and the land itself is exhausted. The original plan of the “world’s only superpower” has not worked out. But the goal to rule the world, was nevertheless abandoned. In the nineties, Zbigniew Brzezinski expressed the plan, to secure the US domination of Eurasia by a Franco-German leadership duo in Europe. France seems to have been dropped. Were all the talks of the “central power” nothing but old wine in new bottles?
Or is there really a fundamental claim to power by German political elites, as well directed against the United States, though it would in no way reflect the will of the Germans – this is what all demoscopic investigations indicate, the Germans, however, are not allowed to decide directly – but which nevertheless strongly urges towards materialization? Or is the “game” still more perfidious, as is was once before in German history: Shall a hubris be generated, so that war can rampage again in Europe ... so that someone may be the smiling third?
Whatever is the case, all such plans are a strike against historical experience and the will of the people of Europe. Whether on behalf of the United States’ interests or on the basis of one’s own lust for power: Europe and its people will be the victims, even the German people. Europe can no longer take and tolerate a state wanting to set the tone of political leadership, especially if this is to be done in a subtle manner, as can be read in Herfried Münkler’s book. The other peoples of Europe feel clearly, that Germany is striving for domination, may it also hide behind numerous eupheminsms. So there are indeed many reasons to be benevolent towards Greece and the Greeks, and many reasons for skepticism about the “new tasks for Germany in Europe”. •
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