Germany and Europe share a common destiny, a destiny requiring Germany to assume a real leadership. Germany cannot disengage from Europe. In the past, famous thinkers such as Goethe, Kant, and Schiller brought Germany to the forefront of the effort to reconcile national identity, European action, and cosmopolitan responsibility. Today, Germany must once again return to its best traditions to relaunch Europe and prepare a better future.
During the current crisis, we have felt that Germany, rightly proud of its economic performance, has adopted a certain sense of self-sufficiency. But if Berlin renounces its historical role in Europe, that would spell the political end of both Europe and Germany. Nobody, not even the Germans, should be under the illusion they can go it alone: Only united will the Europeans be able to face the increasing global challenges.
I am afraid that all the Europeans, including Germans, are running the same risk. Germany might think it is too big for Europe, but it is certainly too small to face alone the new global challenges when compared to the United States or China. Therefore, Germany needs Europe, too. And it needs a “European” Europe, not a “German” one.
Monetary union has brought huge political, economic, and trade benefits to Germany. German exports to the rest of the euro countries have multiplied since the introduction of the single currency. But economic and monetary union has not been achieved. That requires not only new rules but a qualitative leap forward.
This is why Germany must assume a positive leadership, showing the way ahead. The immediate task is more effectively tackling the current crisis. The arguments for deepening integration on fiscal policy and economic governance are clear: Both debtor nations and creditor nations have lost real sovereignty. The confrontational logic which has settled in between creditors and debtors is shattering the very foundation of the European construction. And if we only stick to stricter rules and tougher conditionality, we risk further propelling centrifugal forces inside Europe. That will draw us further away from the solution we are seeking by breaking up Europe, dividing the eurozone into two areas through the buildup of a “core euro,” leaving behind the weaker countries.
Germany needs to clearly state what it means by its proposal of a “political union.” It should convince all European partners of its determination to follow the federal path and propose a clear road map toward a democratic and federal Europe – a project which cannot be postponed for five or 10 years but should start right now, in 2012, and should go hand in hand with the realization of fiscal, economic, and banking union.
Europe today has arrived at an impossible status quo. To break out, Germany should start to speak the language of truth, at home and in the rest of Europe. A political union needs a wide discussion. If one looks at the declining credibility of the political process among the European publics, such a discussion will be as difficult as it is necessary.
Germany should give up its hesitation between re-nationalization and Europeanization. We have too often felt that Germany was sitting in a rocking chair between German local elections and European summits. And too often national leaders have signaled that they do not want the changes that they are nevertheless making. Germany should shift from a “crisis agenda” to a “positive political agenda.”
And only if European countries, under the German leadership, re-engage in the European construction can we overcome the waves of mistrust between countries and against Europe. We are all paying too high a price for the lack of a political Europe. It is time to strongly advance toward political union through the front door by launching a new constitutional process.
Romano Prodi, a former Italian prime minister and president of the European Commission, is a member of the Nicolas Berggruen Institute’s Council for the Future of Europe. This article first appeared in Bild Zeitung.