June 18, 2018
Some thoughts on the future of Europe
Wolfgang Munchau notes in his FT column that what is happening in Germany right now constitutes the quintessential European political crisis of our time. It is about the unresolved collective-action problem in the EU. The creation of structures such as the eurozone or Schengen is not compatible with decentralised decision-making. They require a step towards federal structure. If that is not possible, and is permanently rejected, these structures are bound to fail. What disguises itself as Angela Merkel's pragmatic style of political management is in reality merely a way of avoiding a solution to this fundamental conflict. The EU has been kicking several cans down the road - on Greece, reform of eurozone governance, and immigration. In all of these we have now reached the end of the road. Horst Seehofer wants a functioning system to deal with asylum seekers. Emmanuel Macron is seeking reforms of eurozone governance. Alexis Tsipras demands debt relief. And they all want it now. Munchau's conclusion is that the age of Merkel is drawing to an end - and with that the age of procrastination and non-solutions.
Thomas Klau offers a detailed and personal account of a very different German leader - Helmut Kohl, whose political style could not have been more different than Merkel's. He was derided for his provincialism, which stood very much in contrast to Merkel's urbane appeal.
"In his 16 years as Chancellor and 25 years as party leader, Kohl unobtrusively but efficiently defanged German conservatism. Crucially, he did this without opening up a politically risky vacuum on the far right."
Klau defines Kohl's theory of Europe as one of a gradually federalising construction. Germany would always be too weak to enforce a Pax Germanica, and too strong to get up the nose of its neighbours. A Europe of nation states could never achieve balance, and as a result power would gradually shift to the centre. Klau maintains that Kohl knew about the structural weaknesses of the eurozone, but believed that its first crisis would lead to the creation of a federal state. That was not possible to do in 1999. A delay in the introduction of the euro would have made a united Germany too powerful, and European union impossible.
We agree with Klau's characterisation of Kohl's thinking, but note that the same imbalance has now occurred with the euro as well, and in a way that ended up leveraging Germany's weight in the EU. This is the very opposite of what Kohl had wanted. We think that Kohl's error was not to have foreseen the inability of his successors to tread the fine line between an appeal to German conservatism and support for the next steps of European integration.