Friday 29 May 2009

And Quiet Flows the Spree ─ Merkel’s Germany in the EU

Yesterday I managed to find the full text of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s speech on Europe at the Humboldt University and to post it on this blog in Merkel’s Germany: The European Union mainstream?

Now is the time for some impressions.


The first things that come to mind are the limits set by Merkel, on the scope of the speech and the European agenda.

Nine years ago, then Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer managed to make the Humboldt University speeches into an institution, resonating around Europe. In his speech "From Confederacy to Federation – Thoughts on the finality of European integration" on 12 May 2000, Fischer spoke about “the transition from a union of states to full parliamentarization as a European Federation, something Robert Schuman demanded 50 years ago. And that means nothing less than a European Parliament and a European government which really do exercise legislative and executive power within the Federation. This Federation will have to be based on a constituent treaty.”

Merkel refused to speak about the long term goals of European integration, which she saw as potential complications for the practical next steps.

Despite the upcoming European Parliament elections, Merkel did very little to connect the European Union with the daily concerns of citizens. Instead, she chose to convey her personal views and experiences of her work with heads of state or government as well as governments of the EU member states.

Despite the oblique remarks, she did set out some clear preferences and a number of limits.

Franco-German engine

The two most populous states, Germany and France, are the “engine” of European integration in the sense that progress is difficult if they fail to agree. Anyway, Merkel’s assessment was fairly low key, far from some exalted views. (Is her silence of the third biggest country, the United Kingdom, a sign that it is more a part of the problem, than part of the solution?)

European and national interests

Merkel acknowledged that Germany looks after its own interests (and many have surmised that this tendency has been on the increase since the days of Gerhard Schröder and during the economic crisis).

But Merkel sounds credible when she argues that the German government acts with the common European interest in mind and that it is natural that Germany is a net contributor to the European Union.

The view is tempered, but responsible in the main, although many would argue that Germany has fought its corner on financial issues and defended its car industry too keenly during the recession at the expense of the common good.

Lisbon Treaty

Merkel sees the Treaty of Lisbon as a necessity for the functioning of the European Union and as a precondition for further enlargement.

On the other hand, she offers practically nothing on the need for future reform or even for progress among reform-minded countries on the basis of the Lisbon Treaty.

Still, she must be aware of how brittle the hope of effective international action and internal reform on energy and other crucial issues are, even if the Lisbon Treaty is in force.


Merkel’s view of the European Union is very much a union of heads of state or government, assisted by their governments.

The EU is clearly a force for the good in Europe, but progress is the sum of untold small steps, without a master plan.

Germany’s role is cautious and constructive.

Perhaps Merkel’s Germany in the European Union could be summed up like this:

Germany is not “in the European mainstream”, it is the European mainstream.

There is little fire, vision or engaging dreams, but a lot of determination to do the daily chores in a responsible manner.

And Quiet Flows the Spree.

Ralf Grahn

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