On Monday, October 5, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted a discussion regarding German leadership and the future of Europe. The event was moderated by Steve Szabo, Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy at GMF. The featured speakers included Hans Kundnani, Senior Transatlantic Fellow at GMF; Daniela Schwarzer, Senior Director for Research and Director of the Europe Program at GMF; Constanze Stelzenmüller, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; and Conrad Tribble, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. The event, held under Chatham House Rule, was attended by near 30 attendees from the diplomatic, academic, and policy spheres.
The event opened with a discussion about whether the characterization of Germany as a “reluctant hegemon” is accurate or fair. On one hand, Germany has been the largest creditor in the euro area crisis, as well as a major policy leader in the refugee crisis. However, panelists noted that the notion of a rising Germany may be misleading, as the current state of the European Union can be interpreted as chaos-driven rather than German-led. The disagreement between member states over the recent migration quotas has shown that Europe cannot be led from Berlin, and also reflects that the dynamics of solidarity that bound member states to Germany under the Eurozone and Ukraine crises are now reversed, and that Germany currently needs other member states to share the burden of accepting refugees. One speaker remarked how, in contrast to its approach in the Eurozone crisis, Germany has been unable to build a threat scenario in the refugee crisis, and thus has not been able to maintain its “power position” within Europe.
The panelists further commented on how, following the contentious outcome of the Greek austerity crisis, Germany has consciously worked on improving its damaged image, partly through its espousal of lofty humanitarian ideals in the current migration crisis, which was considered to be the most important policy stance in Germany since the country’s reunification. It was noted that the recent (legal) suspension of the Schengen Agreement was intended to prevent the overburdening of the German state with the influx of immigrants. Critically, while this decision was coordinated with the EU level authorities, it was not communicated with other member state capitals, which led to criticism and skepticism among several national governments. The effects of the current crisis will determine whether Germany will be able to continue its strong supranational leadership role, or whether it will follow the course of other large member states by defining its national interests in a narrow context. The future growth of the European Union toward further supranational integration or intergovernmentalism will greatly depend on guidance from Germany in the coming months.
The panelist discussion was followed by a lively question and answer session.