Germany in Europe: Berlin is the new capital of Europe


Yesterday the EU President Herman van Rompuy made his first ‘State of Europe’ address – in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The date and the setting were perfect: The pathos of Greek frescos in the back, cello music from Bach and the date of 9th November that made, in 1989, Europe ‘whole and free’ possible. Also the date of one of the most sinister chapters of German history – the Nazi pogroms of Kristallnacht in 1938 – and therefore an excellent reminder of what post-war Europe was made for in the first place: peace and freedom! All this is very good!

All this is also surprising. Or at least a very clever and perfectly choreographed move of a German government that has been put on the defensive for months. The times before the summer break, when Germany was reproached to ‘not lead’ the European Union any longer, to act ‘too little and too late’ with respect to the Greek and Euro crisis, are now finished. Berlin has woken up. Ever since ‘la rentrée’, Germany is making Europe now, with a vigour and speed that surprises. Agreement on the Euro-umbrella at the last Council; first deals on the financial framework to come that nobody expected so quickly. Most of it has happened on ‘German terms’, and with a lot of criticism from fellow EU countries.

How useful that Merkel invented the ‘Union Method’ as a replacement of the ‘community method’ in her speech in Brügge on November 2nd, which she explained again yesterday when she introduced van Rompuy. The community method, in essence, was the right of the Commission to take the initiative. With the Union method, Merkel integrates the Council dimension into the decision making and the proceedings of the EU. The member states, she said, are the ‘masters of the treaties’. Fair enough. Union method, that is ‘co-ordinated and solidarian action, each country in its competence and all for the same goal.’ Sounds  good. Sounds also like the Council is now the management board of the EU… and Merkel its CEO? Honni soit qui mal y pense…

So from now on, every year a senior figure from the EU – next year Commission President  Jose Manuel Barroso – will deliver a ‘State of the Union’ address on 9th November in……Berlin. What more to say that Berlin has become the real capital of Europe!

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