The panel discussion organized by the GMF Warsaw Office on January 25th 2012, centered around the article written by Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff and Hanns Maull “The Limits of German Power”, and more broadly around Germany’s role in a global framework. The coauthor of the article, Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff was present along with Ambassador Janusz Reiter, the President of the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations, and Dr. Marek Cichocki, a Research director and editor-in-chief of the periodical 'New Europe Natolin Review'. Dr. Andrew Michta, the Director of the GMF Warsaw Office moderated the discussion.
In his remarks, Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff argued that by analyzing the post 1989 events, and the current ripple effects of the global financial crises, Germany might seem like a regional power with growing influence. He pointed that while some theorists rapidly infer Germany’s military ambitions as the ‘new bully’, and insinuate that it’s on the verge of breaking bonds with multilateralism, the reality is quite the opposite. He said that out of the three ‘pillars of power’ (economy, hard and soft power) that are now in crisis, only the German economy is relatively solid, whereas drastic cuts in the military budget are purposefully compensated by regional structures, like NATO. He further argued that new sources of soft power need to be fetched especially out of the growing networking society. The solution, he argued, is to invest in people and institutions, and reforms are necessary to change the current system. Addressing the three pillars simultaneously will be the most challenging aspect for German leadership.
Ambassador Janusz Reiter responded by saying that in European people are not afraid of a strong Germany but of their own weakening states. He believes that Germany is committed to restoring the European equilibrium, but Angela Merkel faces difficult times ahead, as she must make the right decisions for Germany and for Europe. He believes that a ‘more Europe’ slogan represents the traditional way of German thinking but also its limits. He points that Germany wants to make less foreign policy choices by looking for like-minded partners, which is why it further promotes the eastern aspirations to join the EU.
In response, Dr. Cichocki said that financial crises gives Germany an opportunity to make structural changes. However, he believes that Germany is not ready to take up the position of a leader despite the fact that the EU market has become too narrow for Germany’s commercial abilities. He said that Europe should think more about where Germany stands in the US - China competition and how their position will shape the European project. Although German entrepreneurs fantasize about trading with emerging global powers, Germany will not reject Europe because of the traditional concept of integration and multilateralism. Dr. Cichocki also mentioned that there is a question of ethics and legitimacy when trading with China and in that Germany is more a ‘guardian of an existing order’. With response to some comments, Dr. Cichocki said that he doesn’t believe that EU will return to nation states but it’s likely to have a stimulated political environment with strong identities.
In his concluding remarks, Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff said that preserving the current European system is key for Germany as all other alternatives have already been considered, including the exclusion of Greece from the Eurozone, as well as self-withdrawal. He believes Germany will adhere to strengthening its neighboring partners but without support of its EU neighbors, the European project will gradually deteriorate.