Germany – the new mini-superpower
As its economic clout rises, Germany sheds its postwar identity, becoming more assertive in Europe and the world.
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But this thinking worries some smaller EU states and others who feel that Germany, as it rises out of the terra firma of Europe, will increasingly pursue its own self-interest and become more autonomous. Ms. Guérot notes that "history is no longer the clamp that holds Germany to NATO and the EU. The new generations see it differently."Skip to next paragraph
To be sure, from the German perspective, the road ahead is not strewn with rose petals. Some German economists predict a "golden decade." But 75 percent of German workers haven't seen a substantial pay increase in many years. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reports a shortage of labor in a workforce that is rapidly aging. Germans also worry that their export boom to Asia will eventually wane.
"We are a self-occupied giant," says Alexander Ritzmann, a former Berlin politician now with the European Foundation for Democracy. "There is a complete disconnect between the way others see Germany and how Germans see it. We always hear how well we are doing. For us, we are in crisis."
This lingering sense of insecurity is one of the forces motivating Germany economically and politically today. "Germans need a crisis to get their juices flowing," says a US executive in Berlin. "They have an incredible need to stay strong and keep stable. The Germans may be proud of their newfound confidence, but they may have difficulty expressing this in a way easy for others to take."
Certainly it hasn't been easy for some members of the EU to take. As Germany's economic clout has grown, so has its assertiveness in Europe – often abruptly and without the proper Dale Carnegie consultation. During the Greek fiscal crisis last year, Germany was initially hesitant to agree to any rescues. In May, Chancellor Merkel finally relented, amid panic for the euro, and signed on to a $1 trillion bailout fund.
Then last fall Merkel decided, along with France, to create a permanent bailout fund – one with specific conditions that may have eroded the financial position of Ireland, and possibly Portugal and Spain, by resulting in costlier debt repayments. More recently, Merkel opposed plans for a bigger bailout fund as well as the creation of euro bonds.
Underneath it all is the view that Germany is European enough already – and the fear that it will become the checkbook of Europe.
WHEN THE BERLIN WALL came down in 1989, the center of European gravity steadily shifted from the Franco-German Rhine to the middle of Europe. The rebuilt capital of Berlin is the powerful symbol unlinking Germany from its previous seat of power, Bonn, what novelist John le Carré termed "a small town in Germany." Any talk of a New Germany "has to start with Berlin," says Hans Stark, a professor at Sciences Po, a top French graduate school.
Few European capitals had a chance at rebirth late in the 20th century. But Berlin – bristling with building cranes in the 1990s – has. Unlike France with Paris, or Britain with London, Germany is not a one-city country. Berlin is Germany's intellectual and government capital, but not the commercial or industrial capital (Frankfurt and Munich, respectively).
That gives rebuilt Berlin something of an open and unfinished air. It's been compared to a combination of Boston and Washington. Social hierarchies here are newer than in traditional capitals of old Europe. You can wear your jeans to the opera. Apartments are huge by European standards, and cheap. Food is also inexpensive.