Sunday, August 2, 2015
Berlin’s devotion to rules harms EU
August 2, 2015
The proposed bailout settlement for Greece that Germany has crafted has been criticised in many quarters for its harshness. But it is a kind of harshness for which historical analogies are elusive.
Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece, called it a kind of Versailles Treaty for the 21st century — only worse. But there was no war, at least not a real one. Others have described it as turning Greece into an economic protectorate or a new kind of colony. But the language of imperialism was woolly even when Lenin used it.
In fact, Germany’s dominance of the EU is based neither on its army nor on a colonising impulse but on rules. Rules matter, of course, but rarely have they become so synonymous with leadership. Why do they now matter so much?
In the past the nation’s might was associated less with crafting rules than with breaking them. Kaiser Wilhelm II’s generals took the military suspicion of legal constraints to extremes. Hitler went much further. He did not believe in sharing power at all.
Contemporary German politics is built upon a deep revulsion from these ideas of leadership. Berlin’s commitment to Europe is heartfelt and so is its investment in institution-building. Constructing European institutions that make decisions jointly helps allay old suspicions and make the country’s economic supremacy more palatable.