Why Europe Needs German Leadership

Ulrich Speck

The European debt crisis has forced Germany to assume a leadership role, argues Dr. Ulrich Speck, a senior analyst in Wikistrat’s expert community and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. “The alternative to German leadership is to have no leadership at all in Europe.”

Wikistrat asked Dr. Speck — who was previously an associate fellow at the Madrid-based think tank FRIDE and a correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty — about his thoughts on German leadership.

He pointed out that whereas after the Cold War, the United States led with a vision of “Europe whole and free,” it had abdicated that position, even though it remains heavily engaged in European security. The role of the European Union has grown, but Brussels is unable to provide leadership as power rests in the capitals of the big member states. France is struggling with its economy and Britain is toying with leaving the EU altogether. That leaves Germany, Europe’s biggest and central economy, as the only power capable to lead.

But German leadership rests on shaky grounds, Speck cautions:

It is informal and somehow contradicts the institutional set-up of the EU; it is not driven and supported by the German public; it relies heavily on the skills and network of a single individual, German chancellor Angela Merkel (who will run for a fourth term in 2017 and very likely win).

Yet German leadership has worked well. Berlin has managed to unite Europe in a tough response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and recently persuaded a far-left government in Greece to enact structural reforms in return for a third bailout.

Speck attributes much of this to Merkel, the only European leader that presidents in Washington, Moscow and Beijing respect as their peer. “She is a terrific coalition-builder at home and inside the EU.”

The alternative to German leadership, Speck warns, is the disintegration and decline of the EU:

Europe would become an open playing field for Russia and China, who could then play divide-and-rule. Only if Germany continues to see the EU as a crucial level of governance, which allows beneficial interaction with neighbors and other powers, will the EU stay relevant.

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