Merkel worried Steffi Loos/getty images

The Danger of a Post-German Europe

Whatever government eventually emerges in Germany following the collapse of the talks to form a new coalition probably won’t be in a strong position to advance much-needed institutional reform of the European Union. The danger is that the EU will remaining in a holding pattern – an outcome that the bloc can ill afford.

MADRID – Over the last two centuries, the “German question” – how to contain a Germany whose dominance was buttressed by its commanding size, high productive capacity, and geographic position at the heart of Europe – has occasioned much worry and not a little warfare. Today, with the collapse of negotiations to form a new government coalition, the question has been turned on its head. European leaders worry that Germany is becoming incapable of assuming enough leadership to guide and champion Europe in a globalized world.

Since World War II, the solution to the original German question has been to ensconce the country in European institutions. From the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community, to the Maastricht Treaty, which created the European Union and the eurozone, Germany served as half of the critical Franco-German axis that lay at the core of the European project.

By the early 2000s, Germany had overcome the challenges of reunification, and was in a position to assert even more influence on Europe. Yet France was not so certain about further integration, reflected in its 2005 vote against the proposed European constitution. With that, the era of German ascendancy began.