Learning on the Job
For the past five years Europe has been confronted with one fundamental crisis after the other – and each has pushed or pulled Berlin to the center of the Union’s response. When the sovereign debt crisis hit a number of member states in early 2010 and put the single currency under existential threat, Berlin unequivocally became ringleader. The German government has since been a key player both in crisis management and in reforming the euro area governance framework. Since 2014, Berlin, in cooperation with Paris, has also led the EU’s efforts to solve the Russia-Ukraine crisis. More recently, Germany has become a key actor in the EU’s struggle to find a common approach to the refugee crisis, which has been unfolding for years, but only recently reached the core of the EU with the influx of hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian refugees. While Berlin came to lead the EU’s policy response on the sovereign debt crisis and Russia more by default than by choice, it was on the refugee crisis that the German Chancellor seized leadership most actively in summer 2015.
Over the past five years, the German government has gathered relevant experience in leading EU policy responses. However, the factors that made Berlin effective on previous occasions only partially apply to the current challenge of managing the refugee crisis and solving the underlying deficiencies of the EU’s functioning in Justice and Home Affairs. From partners to power resources and leverage, the conditions for Berlin’s leadership differ significantly between the three crises – and, so far, there seems to be little carryover from one to another. As a result, Germany’s ability to move things forward in Europe with any sustainability looks uncertain.