Germany Now Ready to Lead Europe

According to the cliché, Europe is born out of crises. However, this has proven to be inaccurate over the last decade. As the world trembled, current European Union structures and policies were repeatedly unable to cope, and European politics merely continued as before. EU leaders appeared incapable or unwilling to lead Europe. That might all change now. The new German coalition could be the deciding factor in turning the tide across Europe.  

With a major election ahead of him and the chair of the Council of the European Union in his hands starting in January, France already has an unusually “European” president in Emmanuel Macron. Italy has a capable prime minister in Mario Draghi, who openly links his political survival to the handling of the COVID-19 situation and the EU recovery funds set up to address its economic consequences. 

The debate has gotten more productive in most European capitals, while the union’s spoiler governments, Poland and Hungary have gone so far as to isolate themselves. And there is now a government in Germany that is eager to lead Europe from the front. 

The German coalition agreement, or Koalitionsvertrag, at times seems more like a pre-election party manifesto and a party that people would vote for than a weak compromise.  

The agreement gets the fundamentals right: A self-image of a European Germany” that is rooted in the European Union’s historical peace and freedom project. A sovereign EU as a stronger actor in a world shaped by uncertainty and competing for political systems. Its role and duties as a significant member country “for the EU as a whole,” which go beyond the strictly national. This is a significant departure from prior years when the logic was that what is good for Germany is good for Europe and nothing else. 

The way they fund the EU budget, via national contributions, is a problem waiting to happen. By definition, it leads to bitter battles between governments, and, as a result, funds are generally directed toward national projects. EU finances are nonsensical, both economically and politically, and the polar opposite of “European.” Instead of discontinuation, a continuation of the logic and ambition of the remainder of the coalition agreement would have resulted in a re-evaluation of the fund. But, more crucially, the new German government is eager to engage that broader discussion. 

It emphasizes the importance of the Future of Europe Conference for further reform, as well as the proposed treaty modifications that may arise from its conclusions. The stated goal of the conference is to conclude in a constitutional convention and the further building of a federal European state, which is more ambitious than any previous government to yet. 

This new Germany wants to revalue the communal method but will proceed with core groups of countries if necessary. It will strive for a stronger Parliament with a de facto, if not de jure, right of initiative. It supports a unified European electoral legislation that includes partly transnational lists and a binding system of Spitzenkandidaten, top candidates.