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The Return of the Ugly German

BERLIN – During the long night of negotiations over Greece on July 12-13, something fundamental to the European Union cracked. Since then, Europeans have been living in a different kind of EU.

What changed that night was the Germany that Europeans have known since the end of World War II. On the surface, the negotiations were about averting a Greek exit from the eurozone (or “Grexit”) and the dire consequences that would follow for Greece and the monetary union. At a deeper level, however, what was at stake was the role in Europe of its most populous and economically most powerful country.

Germany’s resurgence after World War II, and its re-establishment of the world’s trust (culminating in consent to German re-unification four and a half decades later), was built on sturdy domestic and foreign-policy pillars. At home, a stable democracy based on the rule of law quickly emerged. The economic success of Germany’s welfare state proved a model for Europe. And Germans’ willingness to face up to the Nazis’ crimes, without reservation, sustained a deep-rooted skepticism toward all things military.

In terms of foreign policy, Germany rebuilt trust by embracing Western integration and Europeanization. The power at the center of Europe should never again become a threat to the continent or itself. Thus, the Western Allies’ aim after 1945 – unlike after World War I – was not to isolate Germany and weaken it economically, but to protect it militarily and firmly embed it politically in the West. Indeed, Germany’s reconciliation with its arch-enemy, France, remains the foundation of today’s European Union, helping to incorporate Germany into the common European market, with a view to the eventual political unification of Europe.