Europe today fears Germany’s economic strength rather than its military might, historian Andeas Rödder tells DW. At the same time, Germany is meant to lead the EU: a dilemma for all sides.
“I’m not so much afraid of German power; its German inactivity I’m starting to fear,” said Radoslaw Sikorski, then Poland’s foreign minister, while speaking in Berlin in 2011. You would never have heard a sentence like that before 1990, says German historian Andreas Rödder — certainly not coming from Poland.
The national-conservative PiS party is now in power in Poland, and the words coming out of Warsaw are very different these days. But the ambivalent relationship between Germany and its eastern European neighbor, expressed by Sikorski back then, still exists. “There’s a new expectation that Germany will take the lead in Europe,” says Rödder. “At the same time, Germany is confronted by the dilemma that this will revive old fears that Germany wants to assert its supremacy in Europe.”
German diktat on the refugee issue
There is no simple solution. Rödder believes Germany must take on the task, in the EU institutions and also, above all, at nation-state level. And in this he thinks it is more productive if it openly assumes a leading role rather than engaging in back-room politics.
“Germany made a serious mistake over the refugee crisis,” says the historian, referring to the majority decisions made by the European Council of Ministers in September 2015. At the time, some countries, led by Germany, obliged other EU members to take in quotas of refugees against their will. “That was perceived as Germany dictating to them,” says Rödder.
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Fear of Germany’s economic power
“In France, which is the decisive partner in this context,” says Rödder, “this fear originates at the latest in the war of 1870-71 and France’s traumatic experience that its eastern neighbor was structurally superior.” The two world wars also demonstrated this, he says. Although France was on the side of the victors in both, it couldn’t escape the realization that, without foreign assistance, it would have been defeated by Germany.
Rödder says this fear no longer relates to a military threat, but to the German economy. “In the 1980s, François Mitterand talked about the German atom bomb, by which he meant the Deutschmark and the Bundesbank.”
“At a time when economic power is more important than military power, Germany is quite simply strongest,” says Rödder. It’s not a situation it can get out of: “And that’s why Germany has to use this strength constructively and strategically in Europe.”
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Full article: “There is a new fear of Germany” (Deutsche Welle)