Macht in der Mitte: Die Neuen Aufgaben Deutschlands in Europa
In light of key challenges that lie ahead for the European Union (EU) as a political and economic entity, Germany’s role as a central power has become increasingly crucial for the cohesion of the EU. In order to fulfill that role, Germany must give up its position as a leader from behind and embrace its role as a regional power.
How can Europe be held together and what are Germany’s responsibilities and duties as a central power? In his book “Macht in der Mitte: Die Neuen Aufgaben Deutschlands in Europa” (“Central Power: Germany’s New Responsibilities in Europe”), Herfried Münkler proposes a thesis that the cohesion of the EU is the responsibility of a central power, such as Germany. This power must constantly counteract emerging centrifugal forces, reduce interest divergences, and moderate compromise processes.
The following review is divided into two parts and will focus on Germany’s transition from a leader from behind to a central power within Europe. The first part will analyze what a central power is (German: “Macht in der Mitte”) and what its obligations are. In the second part, three key external developments, which led to Germany’s rise as a key player in Europe, will be explored.
“Macht in der Mitte” not only refers to Germany’s geographical designation, but also to a political position that combines increased influence with growing responsibility. Through ongoing efforts, Germany’s duties are to manage a political and economic balance within a European framework. In general, this regional peacekeeping power is becoming increasingly crucial, even more so than a global superpower such as the U.S.
Germany is a leading nation not only because of its economic force, but also due to its political constellation. Without Germany’s approval or support, the European project would stagnate. There are three key developments that caused Germany’s new leading position: the change in sources of power, the disengagement of the U.S. in Europe, and the associated change that led to a different geopolitical constellation in Europe.
Historian Michael Mann has identified four principal sources of power that determine economic, ideological, military, and political resources. Germany’s rise within the EU took place in the cultural or ideological source, through an increased number of tourists, immigration, and great popularity with European neighbors. It also overcame the initially underestimated problem of economic and societal consolidation in an exemplary manner. Through incorporation of its armed forces in structures of NATO forces after the East-West conflict, Germany’s control over military power as a source became less important. Instead, the economic development became significantly more important than military power.
The gradual disengagement of the U.S. led to an expectation from Washington that Europeans would develop the ability to independently maintain Europe’s political stability. During the Cold War, the Western world was fundamentally shaped in a transatlantic manner. At that time, western and southern Europe, Great Britain, and the U.S. and Canada, especially, were considered the “West.” Today, there is a noticeable separation between the U.S. and Europe, the result being that the “West” as it was known no longer exists. Europe can no longer rely on the U.S., and must manage its own survival.
Besides the retreat of the U.S. from Europe, there were also shifts that occurred in Europe and resulted in Germany’s rise to a more important role. Beginning in the 1960s, Germany and France became close allies and participated in a mutually beneficial agreement: France would gain a greater political weight and Germany would be able to avoid political attacks against its history. Political initiatives were mostly German-French and, in some cases, French alone. This kind of politics within Germany was called leading from behind, and was a comfortable one for an extremely vulnerable country. France’s prolonged economic crises, paired with Germany’s steady economic growth, caused a multiplying factor in political power and an increase in Berlin’s importance.
As it stands today, Germany is the largest contributor to the European budget and has taken on the role of disciplinarian in the EU. Economically, Germany’s main task as a regional power is to keep up with the global economy by leading other European member states. Its disproportionate economic power in the EU, as well its strong position globally, makes this feasible. The consequences of this role, however, are that criticisms of capitalism or globalization are also criticisms against Germany and its role within the EU. Germany is thus in a similar position, globally, to the United States. Nonetheless, withstanding criticism from the margins of the EU—and Greece in particular—is part of the new role.
The full reference of the book is: Herfried Münkler, “Macht in der Mitte: Die Neuen Aufgaben Deutschlands in Europa,” Hamburg: Körber-Stiftung, 2015.