Harold James: Germany Über Alles: How Angela Merkel Made Her Peace With Power





Harold James is the Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies at Princeton University.

...It’s important to point out that [a] shift [of power in Europe to Germany] has been a long time in coming. It was prefigured by the famous photo from the cemetery at the great World War I battlefield of Verdun, which depicted the massive figure of Chancellor Helmut Kohl holding hands with the diminutive President Francois Mitterand. But what irrevocably altered the balance in the Franco-German pairing was German unification in 1990. Germany’s addition of territories with a new population of some 16 millions upset the almost precise demographic equality of the European area, which until then had contained four large countries with almost the same population and economic size (the other two were politically unstable Italy and politically semi-detached Great Britain). For a time, the implications of the addition were hidden because of the enormous financial cost of rebuilding the eastern German territories, run down by the legacy of catastrophic communist central planning....

In that way, the clearest evidence of Germany’s newfound comfort with its power is the language now used by Frau Merkel. Sometimes she addresses the European situation, and the need for austerity to be imposed on southern Europe, with a bluntness of language that reminds of nobody so much as Otto von Bismarck. In May 2010, pleading to the German parliament, the Bundestag, to accept the first Greek rescue package, Merkel explained that “the rules must not be oriented toward the weak, but toward the strong. That is a hard message. But it is an economic necessity.” It had overtones of the Iron Chancellor’s 1862 “iron and blood” speech to the Budget Commission of the Prussian parliament, in which he explained that German unity would be achieved through demonstrations of Prussian strength, not Prussian liberalism. Three wars followed in short order, and German was, indeed, unified....



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