As I write, we don’t know how Germany will be governed over the next four years, and whether Angela Merkel will succeed herself.
But there’s one thing we do know. The future of Italy and most European Union states depends on the composition of the German government, its economic policy, the way it emerges from the current economic crisis and the positions its adopts at future European meetings. While there is no such thing as a political Europe, the euro, the single market, the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and half-a-century of shared experiences have given rise to a European political arena in which the goings-on in one country (Germany in particular) are everyone’s business. Everything that happens in the German Federal Republic will be relevant for years to come.
In this context it’s useful to note, first off, that Germany isn’t the nation it was 20 years ago. Then, it had some 60 million inhabitants, mostly “German-blooded,” and three central political parties, the Christian Democrats, the Social Democrats, and the Liberals. Today it has 82 million inhabitants, a citizenship law that has helped promote the integration of immigrant communities, and five political parties of which three (Liberals, Greens and the radical-tending Linke Socialists) have the potential to tip the power balance. It makes little sense to speak of the alternations between left and right under such circumstances. Better instead to liken the situation to a pendulum that swings between shadings of center-left and left-center. German chancellors can rule effectively only if they win over the center.
It’s the portion of the country both blessed with common sense and protective of its interests; skeptical of embracing the challenge of modern reforms for fear such change could endanger its acquired rights, vested interests and privileges.
Perhaps the most interesting statistic about the new Germany is the presence of some 130,000 Jews, or about a third of the number that lived in the Weimar Republic before Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933. The fact that aconsiderable number of Jews prefer to live in the nation of their one-time oppressors and murderers instead of in Israel proves among other things that Germany, even though still home to a liturgy of Holocaust atonement, is no longer coerced by political correctness. It is no longer compelled to furnish evidence of repentance to repudiate its nationalist history. In this sense, a central ingredient of its “Europeanism” has fallen by the wayside. Gerhard Schröder and Merkel have no personal memories of the war, the bombings, the rout; they don’t have first-hand recollection of refugees fleeing invaded territories or of the shock that the opening up of concentration camps produced in Europe and the United States. Neither Schröeder nor Merkel feel the same burden their predecessors did, which was to entrust Europeanism with the task of national rehabilitation. Germany’s last two chancellors haven’t seen Brussels as a place where, along with EUpartners, the futureofEurope is built. For them, it’s a place where present-day reality gets a contractual framework, including milk quotas, fiscal transparency, directives on liberalization of services, immigration, asylum, European standards for institutional credit supervision, and so on. Nothing that Merkel has done over the past four years can be considered anti-European. At key junctures, the ratification of Lisbon Treaty, for example, Germany has always made the “correct” European decisions. At the same time, nothing can any longer be considered purely “European,” at least not the way those who enthusiastically believed in the continent’s integration saw the word.
In this sense, not even the German Constitutional Court’s ruling on the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon is really European. True, the Court didn’t oppose ratification, but it did note that European states remained the sole holders democratic legitimacy. It also renewed severe criticism of the representatives of European institutions, its Parliament and Commission. Riccardo Perissich, in an excellent analysis of the ruling, wrote that “such a decided definition of the ‘democratic deficit’ had so far only been heard from the throats of declared Euroskeptics.” He added that the German court’s decision, following substantial progress made by the Strasbourg Parliament in recent years, was a “political verdict” little differen in substance from the behavior of the most Euroskeptical wing of French Gaullism.
So Germany,whoever governs it, won’t be the locomotive of European unity in times to come. That role, paradoxically, might well fall to Nicolas Sarkozy’s France. Unlike Jacques Chirac, Sarkozy knows that his country’s return to international pre-eminence depends on its taking the lead on European unity and pushing the continent toward loftier goals.
If Italy wants Europe to push ahead on the path of unity, its best partner in the coming years will be France, not Germany. An Italo-French axis in place of the now threadbare one between France and Germany? If Rome governments weren’t spending all their time cooking up an array of mediocre national concoctions, the idea might certainly be worth a try.
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