What do Germans think about when they think about Europe?

Jan-Werner Müller

Germany is Europe’s paymaster. Even Franco-German summits are now really ‘German-German summits’, Romano Prodi said recently. But is Germany also becoming Europe’s political master? Many Europeans seem to fear it, but it would be wrong to say that Germany has developed fantasies of continental domination or become more Eurosceptic – at least any more Eurosceptic than the rest of the EU. There is a new German ambivalence about Europe, but that’s because, after paying dearly for unification and suffering a decade of wage restraint and benefit cuts, the last thing Germans want is a ‘transfer union’ in which they have to finance a load of supposedly lazy southerners. The Germans also worry about inflation: selective memory no doubt, but not completely irrational. Germany differs from the other member states of the EU in the particular economic ideology that holds sway there, and is supported by the country’s elites – not just those on the right. Ordoliberalism isn’t exactly the same as Anglo-American neoliberalism – it sees more of a role for the state. Many Germans believe it was responsible for the economic miracle of the 1950s (as well as the mini-miracle of the last two years). Ordoliberalism is what Angela Merkel wants for the Eurozone as a whole: rigid rules and legal frameworks beyond the reach of democratic decision-making. In this sense – but this sense only – Thomas Mann’s nightmare of a German Europe, instead of a European Germany, might come true.

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[*] Seagull, 83 pp., £6, November 2011, 978 085742 023 7.