European Council on Foreign Relations

Germany in Europe: no longer understood

After years of travelling to the US only to hear that Europe really doesn't matter any longer (or at all) for America, I can tell - coming back from the States this week where I did the roll out of my book in different academic and foreign policy circles - that it does matter again, and more so. Germany especially is a hip country once again when it comes to foreign policy analysis on the other side of the Atlantic. The reasons for this, however, are rather worrisome.

It’s hard to detect what matters more: German behavior over Libya or its course in the management of the Euro-crisis, but, in short, most US analysts believe that Germany got both wrong. On Libya, the US seems happy to welcome a ‘normal’ Germany, as long as normal would still mean signing up with the US on matters of international security. The US is puzzled about the loss of a strategic compass in Germany, which starts to be an overall discussed theme in Berlin, too: The famous German historian Hans-Peter Schwarz and Adenauer-Biographer just wrote a book about the loss of compass. For this discussion finally to happen, the Libya case was the trigger for an apparent game change, even before tanks to Saudi-Arabia or reluctance on the Palestine recognition brought Germany into asymmetry with most European partners and raised general concerns abroad. The German establishment is apparently coming to grips with the fact that being the economic power house of Europe on the one hand, but acting like ‘big Switzerland’ on the other, does not go that well together. But does this also apply to the general public in Germany, 67% of which supported the government’s decision on Libya?

There are two things here: the one is the loss of three paradigms that composed German foreign policy over years: NATO/ Atlanticism, Europe and multilateralism are all three in dissolution. That’s the problem for the German elites to find a new strategic narrative for the country and to define what modern Germany stands for beyond selling engineering stuff to China and caring only for rare earth as strategic tool of foreign policy. Merkel’s current trip to Mongolia - she is accompanied by German business leaders who will sign huge mining contracts securing Germany’s provision with rare earth – fuels again the vision that Germany does more trade policy than foreign policy, if not trade in short.

The other is perhaps more important, because not only is Berlin the new Brussels regarding its increasing importance in Europe, but the Bundestag is the new Congress with respect to defining foreign policy issues only in the narrow confines of what is explicable to German voters: in the years of the Federal Republic, mostly huge foreign policy questions clocked the biggest domestic discussions in Germany: rearmament 1955, ”Ostpolitik”-treaties 1963-1973, Pershings in 1983 or Maastricht in 1992 and most were decided against bold public majorities, but for the sake of Germany’s well-understood national interest. Today, regional elections in Germany clock Germany’s decision on the euro (North-Rhine-Westphalia) or on Libya (Baden-Württemberg). One may call this ‘national interest’. Hence it is rather provincialism as there is a thin difference between short-term ‘national interest’ (call it electoral constraints) and  well-understood national interest in the sense of Tocqueville’s definition. If a country and its elites are no longer capable to bring Germany’s foreign policy interests into the domestic policy equation, a country is in trouble, even if ordinary voters are pleased. And this is precisely because a country like Germany that dominates the middle of the European continent cannot afford to think as if it was alone. To make the linkage between domestic and foreign policy happen, Germany needs political elites especially in the parties that are no longer as autistic towards foreign voices and messages as in recent months, be it on economic choices and discourse or the foreign policy of their country.

One thing that repeatedly came up with respect to this gap in my discussions in the US was that Germany does have these elites who could do the intellectual bridge-building; yet, they are mostly neither sitting in the German parties nor in the German administrations or ministries, but in London or US based investment firms, in the ECB or the European Commission or US east-coast universities or in NGO’s – and not in Germany. I met a couple of Germans abroad, who were utterly frustrated about the foreign policy stance of their country or the German economic policy discourse with respect to the euro crisis. But these people don't see any appeal in returning to Germany for work, either because there aren’t any interesting jobs in the party or the political system at large; or due to the fact that they have been pushed out of the German political system because they didn’t want to submit their thinking only to party or narrowly defined ‘national’ interest approaches.

Germany has no revolving doors. Moving from think tanks to administration and back and forth is not possible and this is part of the problem. It adds to the disconnection of a German foreign policy community that sits abroad or in think tanks (myself included) or international institutions, but which is disconnected from those who really run the country. Whereas in former times the foreign policy community –  like Horst Teltschik, Wolfgang Ischinger,  Egon Bahr, Karl Lamers, Karl Kaiser, Joachim Bitterlich, Christoph Bertram, just to name some – were more or less part of the political and/ or party  system and hedged Germany’s appearance in the world.

Whatever the solution, Germany needs more ears to listen to what is said about our country beyond our borders and be capable to integrate this into the domestic policy discourse. Provincialism poses a danger to the biggest country in the European heartland and being self-righteous or insisting on a different approach to many things is simply dangerous  – even if Germany does many things quite well.



Uli Speck 13th October 2011 at 06:10pm

When Europe and Germany were divided, Germany needed to think strategically. Now there is no big, existenzial “project” any more. The little foreign policy that remains can be done by the EU, and security by NATO. The country is free to focus on business. Whether this is short-sighted or not, who cares? Certainly not politicians. And in the new Germany, there are no intellectual, cosmopolitan elites who could move forward on Germany’s position in the world. The problem is: the country is big and powerful enough not to be immediately punished for its inward looking, provincial attitude.

Kimi 14th October 2011 at 12:10am

“well-understood national interest” for germany.

We should ask France and the USA what is in our “well-understood national interest”. They know best what is good for us and we should thus bow to their wishes. Or as Ulrike terms this:

“Germany needs more ears to listen to what is said about our country beyond our borders and be capable to integrate this into the domestic policy”

“not only is Berlin the new Brussels regarding its increasing importance in Europe, but the Bundestag is the new Congress with respect to defining foreign policy issues only in the narrow confines of what is explicable to German voters”
Laughable. The french went to war with Libya without even asking. There was no EU vote on it, there was no Mrs Ashton or anything. Yet, the Bundestag is the new congress of europe? Defining european foreign policy only looking at german voters? Look at reality. Germany is powerless. The greek vice-finance minister (in his capacity as european judge…political judge..whatever) warned the BVerfG that it should not pick a fight with the european court because “both would loose” in his speech to “celebrate” 60 years BVerfG even though their expertises are totally different. Brussels presses through whatever demands in money it has, no matter what the german people think. No matter at all. France ignores EU protocoll on Roma and Sinti, on War with Libya, Italy with the refugees from Algeria…
But yes, Germay is the problem. The EU doesnt want to be lead and was never made in a way that would even allow a leader. Leadership is unwanted in the EU.

Gott 14th October 2011 at 02:10am

Na na na, so NICHT Frau Ulrike Guerot. Seit wann ist denn die Verteidigung von Deutschlands Freiheit und Souveränität zum Verbrechen geworden? Wer das verbietet ist für mich Faschist in Person.
Sie vergessen bei ihrem ganzen Geschwafel, dass die Völker Europas sich niemals für diese EU, ganz zu schweigen vom Euro, entschieden haben. Die EU wurde 1955 beim Bilderbergtreffen beschlossen und den Menschen in Europa seitdem von oben eignetrichtert, wobei sie sich massiv dagegen gewehrt haben. Man hat daher die Menschen NICHT einmal BEFRAGT zur Gründung der EU oder zur Einführung des Euros. Länder wie Irland, welche befragt wurden zum EU-Vertrag, hat man so lange abstimmen lassen, bis das Ergebnis gepasst hat. So viel zur putinschen Demokratie, welche von Brüsselokraten erst erfunden wurde. Genau dasselbe ist erst diese Woche geschehen, als die Slowaken GEGEN den Ausbau der Vereinigten Staaten von Europa gestimmt haben, und heute dann DAFÜR, wie geht das denn?

Sie haben Deutschland ausverkauft, unsere Kinder und Kindeskinder für die nächsten 1000 Jahre an die Bankiersfamilien versklavt und dann schreiben Sie hier noch, dass die Freiheit nicht schnell genug vernichtet wird. Welch eine faschistische und menschenverachtende Aussage.

Ja, wir brauchen ein starkes Europa, aber keines, das von einem Bankierskartell von oben oktroyiert wurde, sondern eines, in dem die Menschen gleiche Freiheiten und Rechte am Markt haben, mit einem stabilen Geldsystem, welches nicht von Zentralbankern beliebig vermehrt und zerstört werden kann und dadurch den Wohlstand vollkommen vernichtet. Die Völker Europas werden selber über ihren Kontinent bestimmen, so wie sie es für richtig erachten.

Frau Ulrike Guerot, Sie stellen mit ihren Äußerungen eine Gefahr dar für die freiheitlich-demokratische Grundordnung Deutschlands.

Chris Tregenna 14th October 2011 at 03:10pm

‘‘Gott sei dank!’’  .  .  and I thought all Germans were FOR more eurocentric integration ……

kimi 15th October 2011 at 12:10pm

@ Chris Tregenna

We are for the EU. Not for ANY kind of EU the rest of europe now belatedly discovers. There is very, very few people in europe and in the EU that even know what a federation is. They think that a federation is a centralized government, presiding over different Nations. That is NOT a federation. What they want is a unitary, centralized country in which the central government does whatever they want at the expense of the others.

We’re against that kind of EU.

Kimi 15th October 2011 at 01:10pm

In general, the name of this section “Germany in Europe” is a bad joke. Mrs Guerot does not represent the german people at all in the articles she writes. She does not explain the what the german people think or want at all. She does not explain german elites. She is not giving one single tip to other nations how THEY should try to engage germany.

All she does is explaining TO germany what it should do in the interest of the other nations. She is giving tips to how germany should engage others.

She should do this in the german language, since her inteded target audience are germans, NOT non-germans. This whole series is aimed at the germans as target audience, so why have that veil of pretending that she wants to explain germany to the rest of europe? She has no idea about ordinary germans. She has no idea of german elites.

Just rename the series to “Europe about Germany” and continue to write as you did until now.
But then I suspect that this series is about making the other nations feel good about themselves, and insofar it has nothing to do with germany.

Michel 22nd October 2011 at 11:10am

>>“Whatever the solution, Germany needs more ears to listen to what is said about our country beyond our borders and be capable to integrate this into the domestic policy discourse.”<<

I really like your articles Frau Guerot but here there is a fundamentally development you seemingly just can’t accept because you are mourning it often enough.

Germany is on it’s way on a fully sovereign country again. Something it was denied by our “friends” and allies for the decades after the war.
But this old world order is changing and Washington, London or Paris are trying hard to keep on and Berlin is searching for it’s new role in the coming times.

I hope for more decisions like to stay out of the Libya mess, I fail to see why playing the poodle to the West is in our best interests anymore.

I wish for more independent decisions from Berlin, looking after Germany’s interests…they don’t necessarily are the same of the US, not anylonger.

Better Washington (and you) accept that soon.

Generalinschpeckta 24th October 2011 at 12:10pm

well, reactionary fruitcake, you certainly know that your writing, in german language, is not very helpful by any means, especially (mis-)using a weblog written in english? so what is your point? by the way, talk only for yourself, everything else is too big for your boots.

Submit a comment

Your message will be submitted to a moderator before appearing online. Name and email address are required, all other fields are optional. Your email will not be displayed.





Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Remember my personal information

Random Posts

Latest Publications

Algeria - an unsteady partner for Europe

EU approach to Algeria neglects long-term domestic stability

Protecting the European Choice

Europe must change policy towards Russia to protect partnering countries

Turkey’s illiberal turn

Turkey is sliding back on its democratisation path


How to complete Europe’s banking union

Landmark in European integration needs reforms

Georgia’s vulnerability to Russian pressure points

Exploring potential areas of Russian leverage