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Euro crisis and Germany: Is this 'indispensable' nation to be feared, or welcomed?

The euro crisis revives 'the German question.' Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had deep qualms about German reunification, predicting the country would dominate Europe. Today, Poland's foreign minister worries Germany is not leading strongly enough. Both are right.

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Thatcher said then what is surely on Cameron’s mind today: “All this is flatly contrary to all my ideals. Some people say you have to anchor Germany to Europe to stop these features from coming out again. Well, you have not anchored Germany to Europe, but Europe to a newly dominant Germany. That is why I call it a German Europe.”

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In the 1995 discussion, neither Bush nor Gorbachev shared Thatcher’s alarm. “I felt German unification would be in the fundamental interest of the West,” Bush said. “I felt the time had come to trust the Germans more, given what they had done since the end of World War II.” Despite the Soviet Union’s early opposition to German unity, Moscow ultimately agreed. As Gorbachev put it: “President Bush was right about Germany. The Germans had accepted democratic values. They had behaved responsibly. They had recognized their guilt. They had apologized for their past, and that was very important. So, as difficult as it was to accept, it was inevitable that the Soviet leadership took decisions consistent with this reality.”

The ultimate retort to Thatcher’s historical anxiety has come from Poland, the country that suffered most at the hands of Germany. For Poland’s current foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, German strength is a welcome anchor for Europe as it faces down the global bond market and the specter of slowing growth.

“The biggest threat to the security and prosperity of Poland,” Sikorski said in Berlin recently,”is not terrorism, not the Taliban, not German tanks, nor Russian missiles, but the collapse of the eurozone. ... I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation. You must not fail to lead.”

Thatcher and Sikorski are both right; their views are the flip side of the same euro coin. A Europe in which Germany is the indispensable nation is, in effect, a German Europe.

But a Germany ruled as it is today by the kind of democratic rectitude Thatcher would admire, not the maniacal recklessness of the Reich, is precisely the kind of anchor Europe needs.

Nathan Gardels is editor-in-chief of the Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media and NPQ. He is also a senior advisor to the Berggruen Institute.© 2011 Global Viewpoint Network/Tribune Media Services. Hosted online by The Christian Science Monitor.

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