Germany ist gut: the birth of a soft superpower

29 08 2007

Source: Przekrój no. 3237
Author: Łukasz Wójcik
Translation for this blog: MoPoPressReview

The Germans are starting to not be ashamed of their power. Despite the Polish concerns, what they want is not hegemony – but to be a global player: who supports peace, democracy and builds prosperity.

The best view over the new Germany is from the railway station in Berlin. Unlike in most European capitals travellers do not arrive in the Old Town or near the cathedral, like in Cologne. In Berlin you arrive in the middle of the government district. When you get off the train, through the glass walls of the most modern of European railway stations, you can see all the important buildings for the German democracy: Bundestag building, the Reichstag, on the left, covered with the glass dome designed by Norman Foster. On the right the square and edgy building of Chancellor’s Office, which the locals nicknamed the “washing machine”. Only Spree and a massive lawn separate these buildings from the train station. The Berlin Republic needs to be visible.

In Bonn the state symbolism was reverse. The then-capital of the West Germany was placed in a small town near Cologne; the low-risen buildings were to demonstrate the restraint post-war political ambitions. A small castle upon a hill was towering over the city: the seat of Allies’ commandment. The first FRG Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had to run up and down the hill to run the country’s business. His successor, for the next several decades, needed to consult the Allies on important matters. The last time on uniting the two German states.

We could witness the German awakening for the first time during the last year’s football world cup: it was the first time after the war, when the Germans were so openly manifesting their Germanness. Stadia were filled with red-black-gold colours, and before each match thousands sang the German national anthem. A sight you you wouldn’t be likely to witness twenty years ago.

For the last half year the symbolic modern buildings have been filling up with content. Holding the presidency of the G8 and the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany has shown that it doesn’t want to be a global player: it is a global player. At the Heiligendamm summit the inconspicuous Angela Merkel forced the world’s most powerful countries to acknowledge global warming, and made USA to declare carbon dioxide emissions cut. Two weeks ago Angela Merkel again achieved the impossible: she reanimated the EU Constitutional Treaty, that seemed lost forever.

The awakening of the New Germany

The awakening of the new European superpower has begun nine years ago. With Gerhard Schroeder in 1998 the 1968 generation got into power. Both aware of the historical responsibility, and ready to end the national penance and open a new chapter in the country’s history. Shroeder was the first to start an active foreign policy outside the European Commonwealth.

‘Sending Bundeswehr to Kosovo was a breakthrough’ – says Piotr Buras of the Centre for Foreign Relations in Warsaw. ‘For the first time since 1945 a German soldier was to be stationed outside the country. As the then-German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping put it Germany changed the “no more wars” rule to “no more Auschwitz”. And this justified the military intervention protecting the Albanians in Kosovo, whom the Slobodan Milosevic’s troops were putting in imminent danger of genocide’.

That’s how the three-step German comeback to international politics begun. First step was to engage German troops in all possible humanitarian missions. After the successful mission in Kosovo the Bundestag, which has to issue its consent for participation in every foreign mission, started to give its consent more often. German soldiers showed up in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sudan, and Afghanistan. But when the Americans started to look for allies before their intervention in Iraq, Germany said “no”.

And that was the second stage: namely Germany making herself independent from the USA. Only Schroeder and his Foreign Office Minister Joschka Fischer could make this process happen. Due to political reasons: as having eight thousand German soldiers on UN missions was showing Germany feels responsible for the things going on in the world. But mainly due to psychological reasons: as the Kohl’s and Gensher’ humble gratefulness towards the USA was replaced with Schroder’s and Fischer’s criticism towards the American superpower. That was the influence of the 1968 revolt in which they both participated.

Denying Americans the help they wanted, Schroeder not only gained the votes of thousands of Germans opposing the war in Iraq, but also found his relationship with Jacques Chirac on a fast-track, and his profile on European political scene sky- rocketing: he was a Yankee-buster. And that was the beginning of the come-back stage. Active in humanitarian missions and openly criticising the United States, Germany went to the lead of Europe. And begun to defend their interests. They’ve become a normal country.

Reaching this point took Germany several generations. Since 1949, when Allies agreed for the FRG, German politics was being done under the Konrad Andenauer’s catchphrase “the more Europe the better for Germany”. The disaster of the Second World War made Germans realise that positioning their country tight within international organisations is the only way to peace in Europe – and at the same time – to rebuilding their country.

That’s where the German commitment to European integration comes from; regardless of the differences on national interest between France and FRG – especially in relation to America. For the Germans the USA were a guarantee that the Red Army won’t take over their country, for the French – an obstacle in regaining their position in Europe. Germans, however, thought that that if there will be French-German co-operation, other countries will follow the unlikely duo. And they were right.

Europe’s good boy

For over 40 years Germany have been acting as the “good boy of Europe”. As the heir of the Third Reich they have been doing penance and paying the largest contributions to the EU on time. In the 1980’s West Germany’s Foreign Affairs Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said that ‘Germany doesn’t have national interests, as her interests are identical to European interests’.

The people of Genscher’s generation were the last among German politician who lived through the war, and as grown-ups felt they owe the Allies the unpaid historical debt of gratitude. Their last political act was uniting West and East Germany in 1990 and launching the EU accession process of the Eastern European states. Helmut Kohl was the last politician to use the adjectives ‘German’ and ‘European’ interchangeably.

The change in the attitude would be best illustrated by comparing the German rhetoric on introducing Poland to the EU, and the way Berlin justified the Nord Stream pipeline. Kohl forced the EU enlargement in the name of historic justice and paying-off the war debts. In his logic, EU enlargement was good for Europe and therefore good for Germany.

In the pipeline case, Schroeder turned this logic over: Germany’s energy supply safety he presented as the interest of Europe. To some extent this way of thinking was also adopted by Angela Merkel in Brussels summit, when she forced double majority voting system as a solution benefiting the whole EU; not mentioning that it is at the same time very favourable for Germany.

Merkel’s personal ambitions

Germany’s awakening to the role of a superpower has three reasons: internal, external and personal. Despite the problems with economic growth, Germany are still the world’s third largest economy, and the biggest global exporter. Naturally German politicians have to take care of German enterprises businesses worldwide. And to do that they have to build their country’s strong position in international politics.

Second reason, the external, is the international community’s growing expectations towards Germany. Both USA and Europe expect Germany, which are an economical superpower, to take more responsibility for the world. Germany are now taking part in all the key international negotiations: not only with Russia, but also around Iran and Palestine.

The third reason is called Angela Merkel. The German chancellor, accused at the beginning of her term for inadequate experience in international politics, has during the last two years shown massive political talent, outdoing her predecessor by far. Some are already talking about a distinctive “Merkel style”. Heavy analyses are carried out prior to any decision – and when it comes to action, her moves are calm yet firm. She never looses her aim from her eyesight.

Merkel’s focus on the international stage have one more reason: they take attention from her failures in internal politics. Christian-Democrats and Social-Democrats coalition is falling apart, the partners are unable to agree on key reforms, and the rows caused by SPD’s falling support turned to open conflict that paralyses the government. Unable to succeed inside the country, Merkel escapes to foreign policy.

This is benefiting CDU/CSU and one social democrat: Fran-Walter Steinmeier, the former chief of Schroeder’s cabinet, and currently the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Merkel has great contacts with the Americans and Israel, to balance Steinmeier takes care about good relations with the Arab world and Russia. Building his position in SPD at the same time.

Soft superpower: no plan though

Despite the historical stereotypes and fears, the emerging superpower is not aiming at any defined target, and the successes on different fields are not conjoined with a cohesive plan of developing the German potential. It’s not domination whet the Germans are after. Their political aims do not go beyond the ambitions of a large European country: focusing on their own national interest, the need to impact international politics: as a global player – taking care about peace, supports democracy and stimulates economic growth – not a hegemony.

So far Germany is reacting, not initiating. Also on the EU level. The former German government was open that it intended to transform the EU into a federal state with its own president and government, which caused shivers down many Polish right-wing politicians’ spines. Chancellor Merkel never mentioned such a project. Like the Kaczynski brothers she doesn’t mind referring to the “national interest” of her country.

‘Angela Merkel is the best chancellor Poland could dream for’ – says Buras. ‘Her policy is foreseeable, as it’s just pragmatic. She doesn’t surrender herself to the pressures of interest groups, and surely she won’t follow Gerhard Schroeder’s footsteps and will not get a seat in the board of some Russian corporation’.

It is her attitude to Russia that should ultimately convince Polish politicians that Poland and Germany have the same road to follow. Merkel raised in the former East Germany is immune to the charm of former KGB agents, which she expressed during her May meeting with Vladimir Putin in Samara. There was no Russian-German entertaining on a hunt, and the Russian president heard some bitter words about democracy in his country. He also found out that Berlin is outraged with the Russian ban on Polish meat import.

Regardless of the worries there are in Poland, Germany will always talk with Russia over our heads. But it doesn’t always have to be another Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Berlin needs Russia to solve problems like nuclear Iran-threat or Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is the level of international politics, Polish government is rather not engaged in.

That is why Poland should strive for German support for her Eastern policy – not the other way around. Merkel has proven that she’s open to rational argumentation. If Polish government is able to convince Germany that Europe needs democratic Ukraine, that Russian games with gas are dangerous for Germany as well – it could turn out Poland has a powerful ally in her talks with Russia.

The perfect time for this is now, because the Germans are starting to do foreign policy on a scale adequate to their potential. You might of course organise a coalition-of-fear againt the giant, but maybe better it is to think where Polish and German interests overlap and try to help one another.

* * *

If you enjoyed this post why not visit Polandian, a collaborative blog on Poland.




9 responses

29 08 2007

Good morning!
Wow, that’s the most positive article about Germany I’ve read in ages! Thanks for translating and sharing!!!
Angela Merkel is very popular in Germany – and I think that the chances are good that the next German government will be a Christiandemocratic-liberal coalition. I am a liberal and I am already looking forward to these days! 🙂
Let us not forget the past, learn our lessons and build up a new Europe together!
Now I feel much better!
silke 🙂

29 08 2007
Germany’s past and present « karteikartenkasten

[…] Polish press has  just posted a very positive article from a Polish newspaper on his blog: Germany ist gut! Reading it makes me feel much better! Thanks for sharing, […]

30 08 2007

Its kind of positive, but what I experienced in poland that overall attitude is no like this. Hope it changes one day.

2 09 2007
Germany » Blog Archive » Vacation Homes In Germany

[…] Source: Przekrój no. 3237 Author: Łukasz Wójcik Translation for this blog: MoPoPressReview The Germans are starting to not be ashamed of their power. Despite the Polish concerns, what they want is not hegemony – but to be a global player: who… …more […]

6 09 2007
Germany » Blog Archive » Toronto Film Festival: Final International Line-up

[…] Source: Przekrój no. 3237 Author: Łukasz Wójcik Translation for this blog: MoPoPressReview The Germans are starting to not be ashamed of their power. Despite the Polish concerns, what they want is not hegemony – but to be a global player: who… …more […]

11 09 2007

Poland and Germany have very similar needs and this article does a good job at articulating how good Merkel is at foreign policy and how she should be encouraged and assisted by Poland.

The Kaczynski twins for all their massive faults had to happen in Poland – its inevitable. They are a result of the stresses placed on the polish social conscience over the last 60 years, and just as illnesses start in the centre and work their way out to the surface as fever and sweat, so did the Kaczynskis. But that’s no bad thing, like an illness that’s nearly been overcome, they came, said their piece, relieved the polish body of its accumulated toxins and will soon go away. And the recovered Poland will be much healthier for it!

Now let the new Polish leadership, when it gets elected, pay first call to Ms Merkel and treat her to a nice meal and some pleasant words.

22 07 2008
Germany’s past and present « working aboard

[…] internet. Polish press has just posted a very positive article from a Polish newspaper on his blog: Germany ist gut! Reading it makes me feel much better! Thanks for sharing, […]

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