Germany – the new mini-superpower
As its economic clout rises, Germany sheds its postwar identity, becoming more assertive in Europe and the world.
(Page 7 of 7)
One German artist involved in a circle of volunteers for Neukölln families says the new German straight talk on immigrants has created some mainstream resentment. "The stereotype is that the kids sit on the street, the parents sit at home," the artist says. "The parents don't supervise the kids and are indifferent to the school system. Teachers try to be in contact but parents don't respond. They collect welfare. Meanwhile, everyone in the family seems to have the latest iPod, the latest flat-screen TV, the most expensive high-tech gear – and how is this?"Skip to next paragraph
Merkel, in the middle of the Sarrazin debate last fall, announced that "multiculturalism" had failed in Germany. She was criticized for playing to the polls. In fact, the term "multiculturalism" had been abandoned years earlier (it was designed to counter the word "assimilation") and replaced by "integration."
Many experts feel German integration is actually going well. Ritzmann says one problem is the German media. "Honor killings, head scarves, forced marriages – that's 90 percent of what you hear in the media, which always plays Islam as a sensation," he says. "We don't write that 3.5 million Muslims got up, went to work, their kids went to school, got along with everyone, worked hard, and had supper with their families."
Europe's direction in the coming decade is likely to be decided by Germany, in Berlin. In the postwar era of grainy black-and-white photos of Berlin swathed in barbed wire, Europe was famously decided by French diplomacy and German brawn. The reunification of Germany has changed all that.
Paris's postwar dream of embedding Germany in a European community is diminishing: The Soviet Union's claim to universal truth and history ended, capitalism is the world model, English is the de facto language, and the ability of the French bureaucracy to run Europe is waning.
The German "special relationship" with Russia concerns many European states, including France. Germany's eastward drift is something conceived in Berlin and, others complain, without a lot of consultation. German commitment to NATO is repeated, but less ardently.
Merkel's model of a Europe of nation-states, not a "community of nations" as she recently put it, is the emerging German idea. As a fiscal union, the German concept is also different.
"The Germans aren't particularly Keynesian," says Charles Grant, director of the Center for European Reform, a London-based think tank. "They want to save and build, cut budgets, force austerity. The problem is how do states that are already immobilized cut their way to growth? Having said that, German elites are still committed to Europe. But they feel misunderstood right now as others in Europe complain."
Whether Merkel's Germany is simply changing the model and habits of Europe, or is drifting away, is a question the best and brightest theorize about. Much of Merkel's explanation for her behavior, whether on immigration or fiscal rules, is based on what Mr. Grant calls "public opinion" in Germany. Yet public opinion is not created in a vacuum.
"Merkel has not succeeded in showing she is an EU leader, even the head of Europe," says a German official in the Green Party. "She has focused on German national interests. When is the last time she gave a grand speech showing the benefits of Europe to Germany and the Germans?"
One analyst in Berlin likens the situation to a schoolroom where one student, Germany, is the star pupil and always raises her hand with the right answer. "Eventually, the other students start to hate that person."
"Germany now feels it always has the right answer," the analyst adds. "But what is good for Germany is not necessarily good for the rest of Europe. Not everyone can be German."
IN PICTURES: Germany Inc