A German Europe?

LISBON/RIGA – Is the Europe that is emerging from the euro crisis a German one? During the euro crisis, power in the European Union seems to have shifted towards national capitals in general, and towards one national capital in particular: Berlin. But, with Germany introverted, France downgraded, and Britain semi-detached, the big story in European foreign policy is that the time has come for the little guy who thinks big.

In this Europe, the important moves are now sometimes made in Stockholm or Warsaw, not only in Berlin, Paris, or London. And, with major foreign-policy issues on Europe’s doorstep – whether in Egypt, Belarus, or now Syria – useful European initiatives are to be welcomed, regardless of where they originate.

Germany, in foreign policy as well as in economics, can exert decisive leadership in the EU – when it wants to. For example, together with Poland, it led the EU’s attempt to develop a coordinated approach to Russia, and it flexed its muscles on Serbia. But, on other issues – for example, Libya – Germany did not so much lead as use its newfound room for maneuver to follow its own preferences in the face of other EU members.

So the answer today to Henry Kissinger’s famous question about whom he should call when he wants to speak to Europe, is not necessarily “the German chancellor.” While Berlin is increasingly imposing its economic preferences on others in the eurozone, it is not prepared to use military force as a foreign-policy tool, as it demonstrated in the case of Libya.