German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron address a joint press conference TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP/Getty Images

The German Rules Trap

To acknowledge that the eurozone can function only on a foundation of solidarity and interdependence would be to engage in precisely the kind of thinking that German ordoliberals have always rejected. But, as French President Emmanuel Macron well knows, that is precisely the kind of thinking Europe needs today.

PARIS – Europe has a new German problem. Unlike in the past, it stems neither from hegemonic ambitions nor from the sort of weakness that might tempt aggression. Instead, it is rooted in Germany’s abdication of any sense of shared responsibility for Europe, despite boasting as robust an economy as it has had since 1945. The result of Germany’s approach – “do as we do, or leave us alone” – is inertia, at a moment when Europe desperately needs momentum.

For a long time, Europe was at the center of German concerns. In 1994, for example, Wolfgang Schäuble – then parliamentary leader of the Christian Democratic Union, and now President of the Bundestag – and his CDU colleague Karl Lamers wrote a paper calling for the EU’s “core” countries, including France, to move swiftly toward closer integration, including political union.

France resisted German pressure because it was extremely suspicious of political federalism. Then-president François Mitterrand did not want to move beyond the Maastricht framework. After the 2010 eurozone crisis, the debate shifted toward structural reforms. France advocated for more economic integration, but Germany conditioned any discussion of the eurozone’s future on French structural reforms. President François Hollande agreed in principle to that trade-off, but lacked the time and political support to implement it.

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