The German Political Agenda for Europe (1/2)
(Source:; posted Sept. 05, 2022)

By Alistair Davidson
PARIS --- In an Aug. 29 speech at Charles University in Prague, German Chancellor Scholz delivered an important statement on European policy, just as fundamental as the one he made before the Bundestag three days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Little underlined fact: a large part of the themes tackled had been prefigured by the President of the SPD, Mr. Lars Klingbeil, in his own speech at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation on June 21: the doctrine of "cooperative leadership” tested by Mr. Klingbeil is now concretized, clarified and illustrated by the Chancellor’s speech in Prague.

Germany's new European policy: realism, pragmatism and sovereignty

Mr. Scholz's speech is intended to be programmatic, imbued with pragmatism and realism:

--Pragmatic: “the formula of modern architecture ‘Function defines form’ must also be applied urgently to European policies,” the Chancellor said, praising the ability of European institutions to adapt quickly to Ukraine and during the Covid crisis;

--Realistic: “Realpolitik in the 21st century does not mean ignoring the importance of values or sacrificing partners on the altar of lazy compromises. Realpolitik must mean involving allies and partners who share common values and supporting them in order to be able to be strong, thanks to this cooperation, in the global competition.”

This leads the Chancellor to define Germany's role in terms very similar to those used by Mr. Klingbeil on June 21: "I believe that Germany's responsibility with regard to Europe consists in find solutions with our neighbors and make decisions together. I do not want an EU made up of exclusive clubs or sections. What I want is an EU whose members enjoy equal rights."

--Sovereign: “The second thought that I would like to share with you is linked to a term that we have often discussed in recent years: European sovereignty. What interests me here is not the semantics. After all, European sovereignty essentially means that we become more autonomous in all areas, that we take greater responsibility for our own security, that we are even more united in defending our values and our interests in the world.”

While the Chancellor did not use the expression “co-operative leadership”, unlike the President of the SPD who did not hesitate to say that "Germany must strive to adopt cooperative leadership and make a massive commitment to 'a sovereign Europe”, the idea is indeed there as the rest of his speech implicitly shows.

Europe turned towards the Great East

The Europe that Germany wishes to promote is that of a Europe turned towards the East by means of a considerable geographical enlargement: “First of all, I am in favor of the enlargement of the European Union. It is necessary to include the Western Balkan countries, Ukraine, Moldova and eventually Georgia!"

Germany will be more than ever at the heart of this Mitteleuropa, a trend that has continued to grow since its reunification in 1991 and embodied by the reorientation of the quadriga of Victory on the Brandenburg Gate towards the East since 1991. Its central position being assured, Germany now wants to play the crucial role of bridge between Western and Eastern Europe, and between Northern Europe and Southern Europe.

Guessing the case that could be made against him, the Chancellor skilfully specifies that "Germany, as a country at the heart of the continent, will do everything in its power to bring together East and West, North and southern Europe. A European Union with 30 or 36 Member States will be very different from the current Union. That goes without saying. The center of Europe will shift to the East, one might say taking inspiration from the historian Karl Schlögel.”

Structural consequences of enlargements

Aware that this programmed enlargement will take time and will require conditions, the Chancellor immediately clarified his thoughts, proposing a double reform:

--Support for reforms in the countries, which foreshadows an active German policy in the countries concerned: “Above all, the candidate countries must meet the membership criteria. We will support them in this process to the best of our abilities”.

--A reform movement within the European Union: “But we must also ensure that the EU itself is ready for this great enlargement. It will take time. That is why we need to start this process now. As we have seen during previous enlargements, the reforms undertaken within the candidate countries have gone hand in hand with institutional reforms within the European Union. This will also be the case this time around.”

To do this, Europe will have to change its rules, and the main ideas can be found in Klingbeil's speech:

--The abandonment of the right of veto: “Where unanimity is required, the risk that a country uses its right of veto and obstructs the will of all the others will increase with successive enlargements. It's a reality. That is why I proposed a gradual shift to majority voting in common foreign policy, but also in other areas, such as fiscal policy – knowing full well that this would also have repercussions for Germany.”

--The clear refusal of a differentiated integration: “A form of differentiated integration could not work because it would represent a confused entanglement – and an invitation to all those who want to harm the emergence of a united geopolitical Europe and raise us against each other. I don't want this!”

--The reform of the European Parliament: if Mr. Scholz does not go so far as to propose an increase in the number of German MEPs, he takes up the idea put forward by the head of the Federal Chancellery, Mr. Wolfgang Schmidt (SPD), who during a speech before the think-tank European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin argued that it was going to be necessary to reconsider Germany's voting arrangements and number of seats in the European Parliament, as Germany considered itself insufficiently represented compared to other countries of similar or smaller size.

For the Chancellor, in fact, “the European Parliament will not be able to avoid reforms either. The Treaties rightly provide for a limit of 751 MEPs. But we will exceed this number when new countries join the EU – at least when we enlarge the Parliament with seats to which new member states would be entitled under the rules in force so far."

--One Commissioner per country, an achievement that remains valid: “Lastly and above all, the right balance between representation and efficiency is also at stake within the European Commission. A Commission with 30 or 36 Commissioners would reach the limits of its ability to function. If, in addition, we insist that each commissioner be responsible for a separate policy area, that would lead – if you will allow me to mention another great author from this city – to a Kafkaesque situation. (…) This is why I do not want to modify the principle of one commissioner per country”.

He therefore proposes that two commissioners manage the same general management “But what is wrong with two commissioners being jointly responsible for one and the same general management? This is a feature of the daily work not only in the decision-making bodies of companies around the world, but such solutions also exist within the governments of a number of Member States – both at the level of external representation and the internal distribution of responsibilities.”

End of Part 1 -- to be continued


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