Reservations about German power case study

Germany West East

In the post-unification Germany of the present, the country seems to be caught between two worlds. Certainly, reservations about German power have tapered off. Germany has not become an irredentist nationalist power in European Union attire. In its relations with Western Europe, Germany has been successful in dispelling such fears. In Eastern Europe, the perception and the actual role of Germany is not bathed as much in the warm light of multilateralism. The challenge is not just for Germany to work harder to convince the East that it is well-intentioned. The deeper challenge however is to confront the fact that historical and structural constraints converge to create a situation of asymmetric dependence, rather than asymmetric interdependence, complicated further by the process of European integration and globalization. As being the land in between Russia and Germany, one can understand their nervousness. However, Germany is part of the West and it is this Europe that the East seeks to join, which makes understanding their German neighbor even more.

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It is the thesis of this author that Germany will continue to be influenced by its role as a rational actor in the framework of the EU and will develop better relations with the East as well as with the West, especially as shown in its actions in the sovereign debt crisis. However, the results are a mixed bag with evidence that Germany may be aiming for an economic (if not military) dominance in the East and in the West.


The growing European sovereign debt crisis has made many look to Germany, the for a solution. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has affirmed that it is Germany’s duty to contribute to securing the euro’s future. In recent months, the Chancellor has been taking a more and more leading role in the sovereign debt crisis, pledging Germany’s generous financial resources and know how to solving the crisis.1

However, not all Europeans are happy about this and some blame Germany for making the recession deeper and for doing things to benefit the Federal Republic. According to German Foreign Policy, the austerity program imposed by Berlin and Brussels is causing the indebted southern European countries to dive deeper into recession. The report points to new data the economic developments in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece. According to this, Portugal’s economy declined by 1.3% in the last quarter of 2011 and could shrink by up to six percent this year. Industrial production in Italy registered a sharp decline. Retail sales in Spain declined by almost a quarter in comparison to 2007. Greece is approaching the economic level of countries in Latin America or Southeast Asia..2 he German government was a strong supporter of the enlargement of NATO.

A key point of this “German bashing” criticism is that Germany was one of the first nations to recognize Croatia and Slovenia as independent nations, thus rejecting the concept of Yugoslavia as the only legitimate political order in the Balkans. Therefore, unlike other European powers, who first proposed a pro-Belgrade policy, Germany pursued a policy that split Yugoslavia. This is why Serb authorities sometimes referred to “new German imperialism” as one of the main reasons for Yugoslavia’s collapse. German troops participate in the multinational efforts to bring “peace and stability” to the Balkans.3 As further evidence of this, critics point to the “Weimar triangle” as Germany continues to be active economically in the states of central and eastern Europe. In the 2000s, Germany has been arguably the centerpiece of the European Union (though the importance of France cannot be overlooked in this connection).4

In a book by scholar Beverly Crawford, she argues that Germany “embeds” power into the organizations that it becomes a member of. While most scholars continue to maintain that the core of post-unification German foreign policy remains basically unchanged, Crawford observes in that policy a tectonic shift in order to bring about European-wide integration along German lines using economic levers In her book, she posits a scenario where a Europe in which European unity has stalled exactly because Europe was forced to take the “medicine” that it had prescribed to the rest of Europe. In effect, the policy backfired and had a debilitating effect upon the German economy as well.5

There are of course more positive views of German Foreign policy as it has unfolded since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. According to scholar Scott Erb, one of the issues that took so many people by surprise (including the Germans) was the incredible pace of reunification after the turmoil of the 1980s made it look as though its future looked doubtful. However, while the participation of Germany in the “new Europe” has been largely responsible, there has been a failure of what he called “integrationalism,” that is, a neofunctionalist theory of Europe in which national institutions such as the German government would give way to EU institutions. In this way, the nation-state would slowly give way to the “spillover” of powers from Brussels. What has happened is not this, but a domination of the Union by strong powers such as France and Germany. This was prefigured by the “intergovernmentalism” of former President Charles DeGaulle where he argued for negotiated cooperation between sovereign nation-states rather than the siren call of integration politically into larger European Union. This policy has been the cornerstone of German and Franco policy since. Peripheral nations such as Greece and Spain clearly developed around this core. This caused the opposition of politicians such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who charged that Germany intended to win peacefully what it had lost in war. What has essentially happened with both countries is that their economies have largely dominated the EU, giving them much of what they wanted and helping their economies in the process. 6

This joint Franco-German policy is still strong. The joint French — German resistance to the U.S. war against Iraq marked a high point in the two nations’ political cooperation and was followed by French proposals for even closer integration. Yet French and German policies and priorities differ in a number of fields. Prominent among these is the EU, where Germany has long worked for a reduction in EU spending and a redistribution of votes among the member countries. After reaching a compromise on these issues, co-operation with France on foreign and security policy has grown particularly close. This has affected Germany’s relations with Central and Eastern Europe and with the U.S., areas where Germany traditionally pursued policies different from France. At the end of the second period of the Red — Green government, Germany’s national interests have been redefined as a result of its relationship with France that has caused it to compromise. While relations have sometimes been strained, they have remained close and are a foundation stone for German policies toward its other neighbors, although this may not make all of them happy.7

The “Weimar Triangle” has been expanded to include Poland (Poland is the third edge of the “triangle). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany has been a proponent of Poland’s participation in NATO and the European Union. However German — Polish relations have historically been difficult and not always friendly (the two countries were often rivals and adversaries), but are steadily improving. The relations are sometimes strained when topics like World War II and Nazi crimes or the postwar forced expulsion of the German citizens from the territories annexed by Poland are brought up. There are sometimesxenophobic statements of conservative politicians on both sides of the border.8

The “Weimar Triangle” of France, Germany and Poland is now over twenty years old. With a mixed record of relevance and a relatively strong level of cooperation as regards regional and local actors, it is in a process of redefinition. Through policies adopted at its February high level summit (EU budget, ESDP, etc.) and its prospective integration of Russia it might become a viable and highly influent organization at the European level. At the 20th anniversary summit of the Triangle, there was a favorable attitude toward Russia from the Polish officials. Polish president Komorowski invited Russian president Dmytri Medvedev to join the Triangle’s leaders at the next summit. Seen as an “intelligent and audacious” move of the Poles, president Sarkozy hailed what he called a new act toward reaffirming the end of the Cold War. When one reflects, this might just point to the shape of things to come as many political analysts have stated a rather poor record of significant political success for this form of regional cooperation. The Weimar Triangle began losing its importance at the beginning of the 21st century as the Franco-German couple opposed the United States intervention in Iraq while Poland strongly supported this action. Moreover the election of president Kaczynski in 2005

strained even more the relations between Poland on the one hand and Germany and France on . For the reason of obsolescence, it may be possible in the future that the triangle may get several additional sides and Germany may be less assertive economically and politically.9

In building the Weimar Triangle, Germany is engaging in what has traditionally been NATO. NATO has traditionally been perceived as a community of states where the cooperation is based upon the respect of the fundamental values of democracy and market economy. This is increasingly a cornerstone of Poland’s Western European Union (WEU) efforts with its partners such as Germany and France.

As long as Western countries respect the fundamental concept of Europe’s integration, that is of democracy and free markets, they can count on the Poles to climb on board efforts to extend Western efforts (German and French) influence there.10

The new politics in Europe is being played out in the East. However, it is a continually more marginalized game that Germany is playing, even with an Eastern partner such as Poland. As Manuela Scheuermann She comments that “‘multilateralism’ includes all sorts of inter-national hierarchic and non-hierarchic constellations apart from unilateralism and bilateralism: the structural dependency within the Warsaw Pact is per definition as multilateral as the collaboration of the Triple Entente the marginally institutionalised Weimar Triangle or the highly institutionalised co-operation in the EU as a system sui generis.

“11 In other words, the favorite ability of Brussels and Berlin to build a multilateral consensus is limited in Eastern Europe, even with attempts by Poland to court and bring in the Russians into multilateral coalitions. It appears that without the old cooperation of the U.S., these attempts bear little fruit, even after the damage to U.S. reputations in the wake of the Second Gulf War.

The question then for the future of cooperation efforts is how to foster this spirit of cooperation. Certainly, the more Germany engages in efforts for the multilateral promotion of democracy and market economies, it will succeed and have support from most corners. If it attempts to dominate, then these efforts will fail. This is why scholars such as Cornelius Adebahr praise and point to these points which have been highlighted at the summit conferences and press conferences of the Weimar Triangle nations. Their efforts to engage and attract Eastern European nations voluntarily and on an equal basis should resonate well in the long-run with nations like Russia if they feel that democracy and free market principles will be respected and maintained. At the April 2010 summit in Bonn, Germany, the three nations attempted to carry this forward in the security sphere. Certainly, the efforts can not succeed without the efforts of countries such as Britain as well. However, with Britain and other such countries being in a budget crisis currently, the efforts of other nations to bolster their defense efforts should sell well as long as it does not debilitate the NATO alliance. While multilateral initiatives are not NATO per se, they have the potential to become europeanized at a later stage when circumstances make it necessary.11


As we have seen throughout this essay, Germany is in the center of Europe. It sees itself as a crossroads and seeks to function that way. When it cooperates with other nations in the true spirit of multilateralism such as is seen in the workings of the Weimar triangle, it has some success. When it tries to dominate as it did in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, it fails. The European Union now encompasses too many nations for any one state to dominate, let alone control, economically or otherwise. As long as it acts multilaterally, respecting the sovereignty of other states and promotes democracy and free-market capitalism, it will thrive and grow well in the new Europe that is growing out of the old tyranny. There will be bumps and setbacks, but on the whole few would have thought that Europe could have come as far as it has as a united entity. Germany has been an integral part of that growth and will likely continue into the foreseeable future. Without it, it is not likely that East and West will successfully connect.


Adebahr, Cornelius. The Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Management in a Concerted Weimar

Effort. Genshagen: Genshagen Foundation, 2011. 1-18.

“Berlin’s European Recession.” German-foreign-policy.. German-foreign-policy., 16 March 2012. Web.

22 Mar 2012.

Conversi, Daniele. German-bashing and the breakup of Yugoslavia. Seattle, WA: Henry M. Jackson

School of International Studies,, 1998.

Crawford, Beverley. Power and German Foreign Policy: Embedded Hegemony in Europe (New

Perspectives in German Studies) . 1st ed. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

Erb, Scott. German foreign policy: navigating a new era. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers,


Freudenstein, Roland. “Poland, Germany and the EU.” International Affairs. 74.1 (1998): –?

. Print.

Kempe, Iris. From a European Neighborhood Policy toward a New Ostpolitik — The Potential Impact

of German Policy. Munich: Center for Applied Policy Research (C AP, 2006.

Martinsen, Kaare Dahl. “The End of the Affair? Germany’s Relationship with France.” German

Politics. 14.4 (2005): 401 — 416. Print.

“Merkel says Eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis will take years to resolve.”, 02

December 2011. Web. 22 Mar 2012.


Ochmann, Cornelius. The New EU. The Consequences of the Polish EU Presidency. Berlin:

Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2012.

Scheuermann, M. (2011). Effective or multilateral? The UN-EU partnership in military crisis management. Leicestershire: Loughborough University. pp. 2-27

Sebe, Mihai. The Weimar Triangle – Between a moderate regional success and an uncertain future.

Where Does It Come From? What Is It? Where Is It Going?*. Bucharest: Civitas Politics Blog,

2001. Print. .

Solak, Janusz. “Poland Vis-A-Vis The West European Union and European Military Tools.”

Strategic Impact. 1. (2007): 32-36. Print.

1 “Meriel says Eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis will take years to resolve.”, 02 December 2011. .

2 “Berlin’s European Recession.” German-foreign-policy.. German-foreign-policy., 16 March 2012. .

3 Daniele.Conversi. German-bashing and the breakup of Yugoslavia. (Seattle, WA: Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, 1998), 54.

4 Iris Kempe. From a European Neighborhood Policy toward a New Ostpolitik — The Potential Impact of German Policy. (Munich: Center for Applied Policy Research, 2006), 8.

5 Beverley Crawford. Power and German Foreign Policy: Embedded Hegemony in Europe (New Perspectives in German Studies) . 1st ed. (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 1-2.

6 Scott Erb. German foreign policy: navigating a new era. (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2003), 111-118.

7 Kaare Dahl Martinsen. 1996. “The End of the Affair? Germany’s Relationship with France.” German Politics. 14.4, 401 — 402.

8 Roland Freudenstein. 1998. “Poland, Germany and the EU.” International Affairs. 74.1,?

— 42.

9 Mihai Sebe. The Weimar Triangle – Between a moderate regional success and an uncertain future. Where Does It Come From? What Is It? Where Is It Going?*. (Bucharest: Civitas Politics Blog, 2001), 1-5.

10 Solak, Janusz. 2007. “Poland Vis-A-Vis The West European Union and European Military Tools.” Strategic Impact. 1, 34-35.

11 Scheuermann, M. Effective or multilateral? The UN-EU partnership in military crisis management. (Leicestershire: Loughborough University 2011), 4-6.

11 Adebahr, Cornelius. The Comprehensive Approach to Crisis Management in a Concerted Weimar Effort. Genshagen: Genshagen Foundation, 2011. pp. 1-18.

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