Portrait of German philosopher Immanuel Kant Stock Montage/Getty Images

A Good German Idea for 2018

While many Europeans agree that institutional reforms are needed to revive integration efforts, there is deep disagreement on what to do, and how to do it. The place to start is to recognize, with Immanuel Kant, that to be rational means more than being able to deploy your means efficiently in order to achieve your ends.

ATHENS – By 2016, almost all Europeans had realized that radical policy and institutional reforms were essential to revive the European project. Yet serious reform was impeded by the usual disagreement about what should be done – a dispute that Emmanuel Macron, France’s new president, once described as a “holy war” between German and French elites.

The year just ended, highlighted by the election of a French president much to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s liking, demonstrated that, ultimately, it does not really matter who rules in Berlin and in Paris, or how much they like each other. The “holy war” persists, even if the missiles with which each side demolishes the other’s proposals are now wrapped in diplomatic velvet.

At the heart of this Franco-German war is the clash between two Rs: the German commitment to rectitude versus the French penchant for redistribution. German officials greet every French government proposal by mentally computing its cost for German taxpayers. And, behind every German counter-proposal, French officials see a ploy to hide behind rules and regulations so that the German elites can have their cake and eat it. Europe’s continued slide into stagnation and disrepute is the natural outcome.

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