Opinion

John Lloyd

Germany’s renewed hegemony isn’t something Europe needs to fear

John Lloyd
Aug 22, 2014 06:48 UTC

German Chancellor Merkel attends news conference in Berlin

She can’t help it. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, is the most important leader in Europe. She tries to duck it by exhibiting a modest demeanor, presenting no charisma, no grand pronouncements, no apparent ambition to stamp her views on history. She just carries on.

Yet European leaders vie for her Mona Lisa smile (or is it a smile?). Are we comfortable with Merkel’s influence and power?

No other politician in Europe brings the gravitas she does to a meeting. No other European leader can be so definite about what Europe’s support – which has been expressed, if in varying degrees of intensity, by all member states of the European Union – amounts to as a whole. And her unrivalled, understated leadership in Europe will be again on display.

Merkel travels to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, this weekend to meet with Petro Poroshenko, the country’s president, to show support and to offer counsel before his meeting early next week with Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus. She met Poroshenko in Berlin before traveling to D-Day memorial celebrations in France in June, and once there, talked with Putin about the crisis in Ukraine. She’s the go-to woman.

Just ask Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old prime minister of Italy. He grabbed his premiership in an inner-party coup, then solidified his position with 41 percent of the vote in the May European elections, making his left-of-center Democratic Party the largest in the European parliament. Renzi’s political fortunes have been riding high ever since, high enough, it seems, to have emboldened him to approach Merkel with a request to relax her stern observance of the fiscal austerity rules all states using the euro have agreed to. She isn’t budging yet. Italy needs labor reform, higher productivity, and faster and cleaner justice so that foreign investment will flow into the country, Merkel insists. Short of these changes, the German chancellor and her still sterner finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, believe that any larger assistance or transfers to the country would create more moral hazard.

The beautiful folly of the European experiment

John Lloyd
Nov 18, 2011 16:15 UTC

We Europeans are in the mud of agony, but our hearts are among the stars of bliss. Our anthem is Beethoven’s setting – in the last movement of his 9th Symphony – of Schiller’s Ode to Joy, a work of transcendent romantic idealism, above all in its central claim – “All men will be brothers!” (“Alle menschen werden bruder”: in the fashion of the time, Schiller meant all humanity).

Adopted as Europe’s official anthem 40 years ago, it is supposed to be played rather than sung – one wouldn’t want to give the impression that Germans dominated the continent!  But it is sometimes voiced, as in 2004, when an orchestra was playing it on the German-Polish border on the occasion of Poland’s accession to the European Union, and the crowd sang Schiller’s words. Given Polish-German history, to sing that humanity will be united in love was a moving event.

The union of Europe was conceived and furthered in much that same vaulting romantic spirit. To be sure, it had its feet on the ground: a coal and steel community was the foundation of the Union. Among its most solid – and perhaps most lasting – achievements are in furthering common rules for trade, for investment and for services: the common market.

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