Tuesday, February 14, 2012


In the years 1860 Europe was a family divided. An Austro-Prussian war looked unavoidable, Napoleon III lost all sense of direction in the Mexican melodrama, while Tsarist Russia mishandled the emancipation of the serfs. The Danish War reinforced Bismarck’s territorial claims. Later this would lead to the war of George V, Nicholas II and Wilhelm II, three royal cousins, already trapped paving the path which led to the hell of World War I.

Today Europe looks equally divided. War is not an option but psychological offspring could become toxic. The Treaty of Rome, the historical embrace between Adenauer and de Gaulle, and the vision of Jean Monet look like relics from the past. The Balkans showed how easy it was to wake up old demons. The Maastricht Treaty created more alienation than solidarity. The consequences of the Greek collapse bring to mind Thomas Mann’s appeal for a European Germany rather than for a German Europe. The economic crisis in Southern Europe has a counterpart in Northern Europe, where Belgium is still on a respirator and where the Scottish independence referendum shows that pageantry might be just what it looks like, an empty mantle. The UK’s current back-seat attitude is a folly. The Commission in Brussels meanwhile produces tons of paper in an absurd variety of idioms and continues to ride the carousel between Brussels, Luxemburg and Strasbourg. The Merkozy duo is steadily being replaced by a Merkelzy duo, wherein the French act as followers rather than equals.

Henry Kissinger said that Germany was too big for Europe and too small for the world. Here lies the dilemma. The failure of the EU cannot be compensated by the rise of Germany alone, which already indisposes countries which can hardly control their resentment. This is unfair, the more so that the Germans, contrary to the French, since World War II have never wanted such a role. Equally, the Germans are not fooled by the supplicants who pretend to beg for their leadership while what they want is money rather than leadership. Angela Merkel does not want to be “relegated” to the role of EU’s accountant. She has a global European ambition and is averse to hidden gerrymandering amongst states who try to allocate responsibilities dictated by self-interest. Germany needs support in this and should not allow itself to be fooled by others. It has already disengaged itself from an overeager French suitor and would be well-advised to force the other EU members to respect its low-profile choice. It was able to protect itself from the galloping contagion which started in Iceland, by the way, and not in the southern flank which is now seen as the bearer of all sins. Germany can and should help, indeed, but it should remind others that it made the biggest sacrifice, giving up the Deutschmark. In having done so it risks having to play the role of lender of last resort. Germany is entitled to more while others should be content with less. It is a world-class player but it is not a world-class power, a role which was supposed to be given to the EU. Baroness Catherine Ashton who is supposed to be in charge of foreign affairs in the EU is the wrong person on the wrong place. Nature hates void, so does international politics. All heads are turned to Merkel instead, who is obliged to do what she is probably reticent to act upon. She does not have a streak of Bismarck’s calculation in her, even if she shares his intelligence. This is a compliment because it shows that she observes the world as it is, with the openings that might be for her to exploit, morally and intellectually. Like Hillary Clinton, she is the ultimate realist who understands when power risks becoming a burden rather than a choice.

Let Europe be wise and not ask the impossible which might lead to the return of very unwelcome memories, if let out of control. The streets in Athens already show very disturbing images. We don’t need the plague to cure the ill. Angela Merkel chooses to keep her distance and resists unreasonable appeals of the have-nots. Germany leads, but reluctantly. In doing so Merkel shows both statesmanship and understanding of Thomas Mann’s dictum, which was premonitory in 1953 and more valid than ever in 2012.

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