Klaus von Dohnanyi, a former SPD politician, minister of state in the foreign ministry and mayor of the city of Hamburg, who turned 90 on 23 June begins his interesting article “On the relationship between Europe and America” (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” from 23 June 2018) with the appropriate statement “The world is in a state of social and political change […]”, observing at the end of the first paragraph: “Europe and the United States […] have embarked on a dramatic collision course with a yet to be determined ending.”
Klaus von Dohnanyi ascribes this “collision course” not only to the current US government. He also sees underlying reasons. His analysis includes nearly the complete 20th century and also considers the “theories” of Mackinder and Brzezinski, upon which the US political system is based. He even states: “Competition and economic interest also were, as was extensively proven especially by Anglo-Saxon historians, the true reason for the entry of Great Britain and the United States into World War I.”
It is easy to agree with Klaus von Dohnanyi on many points.
But then there is an interesting statement which the combined points give food for thought: “Increasingly, globalisation gives people […] the feeling that they are not in control of their own house; they want to gain back their democratic control and this brings about nationalist reactions.”
“Nationalist reactions” is something that Klaus von Dohnanyi detests. Instead he promotes a strengthened “Europe” – what he has in mind is a EU under German-French leadership. While he mentions de Gaulle and Adenauer as paragons, he is aware that today Macron and Merkel represent their countries. There is no question of who should be “in control of the house” and what could be the style of “democratic control”. So what does Klaus von Dohnanyi think of the wish of people to be “in control of their house” and to “gain back democratic control” if he speaks of “nationalist reactions” immediately after?
That this is not a subtlety is demonstrated by a view on the current German debate about how to deal with migrants who have previously been registered in other European states. In spite of unambiguous German constitutional clauses and the legal situation “national solo efforts” are denounced as evil and a “legal expert” seconds by stating that European law was breaking German constitutional law because “Germany is member of the European Union, so we are under European law.” (“Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine” from 27 June 2018) European law had “primacy of application”. The “legal expert” is member of the Europa-Union Germany.
This explains his wilful interpretation of the European Treaties and the role of national constitutional law. But in certain circles the European Treaties are frequently cited and show, that the end of nation-state sovereignty is a foregone conclusion. Since the days of Jean Monnet an inadmissible claim to power on the part of supranational institutions subscribes to the principle that crises are best to push forward the “European integration”. It is worthwhile to read the many commentaries from politicians and media from this point of view. And certainly, it is permitted to carry out show fights – the current fight CDU vs. CSU might be an example.
On the other hand, it is not guaranteed that a further “European integration” will prevail. Indeed, in nearly all EU states there are political forces claiming to be more “nationally oriented” who are gaining political weight. But what does this “other side” look like? Do the “nationally” oriented political forces in Germany (and in other EU states) really present an alternative? There are many doubts here, too. In his latest book “Deutschland im Umbruch” (Germany in Transition) Willy Wimmer mentions the influence of foreign secret services on various “national” forces: “Some months ago in the ZIB-2 news of the Austrian TV, a senior official in the Austrian intelligence service pointed out to which extent groups with strange agenda that have appeared in the past years in Europe are being controlled from the United States. This includes those, who see our country as a company or others, as might be suspected, who are vehemently promoting a ‘peace treaty’. […] Who […] is possibly supporting these newly founded parties, that give people a political home? […] I am afraid […] that the president of the Austrian intelligence service is right in what he indicated at ZIB-2: Such proposals originate from certain groups in the United States. The goal is to urge us toward a certain kind of politics. The resulting dissatisfaction in the population about these politics [of the German Federal Government] is channelled in order to mislead the people.”
We have to keep this in mind. It would also be a big mistake to assume, that all their supporters and members subscribe to possible underlying premises of various parties and other political movements. Many people, in all (!) parties, have honest intentions. They come from various political backgrounds and may have differing approaches and priorities, but much of what the people think is worthy of discussing and should be examined in dialog. Most people are not characterized by an excessive thirst for power; instead they share the wish to find solutions for the existing political issues based on the common good.
In his three-volume standard reference on German history between 1800 and 1918 the German historian Thomas Nipperdey discusses the main political groups which had formed after the failed revolution of 1848/49 in what was then the Deutscher Bund: the liberals, the conservatives and Catholics and finally the labour movement and the workers’ parties. According to Nipperdey all three movements represented valid issues and thus are appreciated in his standard work.
The question of law and freedom, the social question and the question of what needs to be preserved and which are timeless values are all still current topics. Also, the valid concern to protect the natural environment finds sufficient space among these fundamental political tendencies. The many people concerned about the common good are a hopeful sign for Germany. They are characterized by demonstrated solidarity and readiness to engage in dialog, focussed on the issue at hand. Currently these people are not yet a political force; they are still deterred by the everyday infighting on the political stage. This force could be developed much stronger in a future direct democracy than in the current fight for power and influence. Willy Wimmer concludes his book with the statement: “Switzerland is demonstrating what it means to live democracy as responsible citizens.” Working towards this goal in Germany can give people hope. •
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