'Germany plays a larger role than people think'

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8 Oct, 2013 Updated Tue 8 Oct 2013 12:15 CEST
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With the spotlight this week on Germany’s foreign policy, The Local asks if Europe’s biggest economy should play a greater role in world affairs? Foreign policy expert Professor Walter Russell Mead explains.

In the last week Germany’s president Joachim Gauck has called on the country to take more responsibility in the international arena and told the Germans: “Our country is not an island.”

Meanwhile, troops have handed over a key base in Afghanistan as the country withdraws from a conflict which has already claimed 54 German lives. This week both Syria and Iran have also looked to Germany to help solve their disputes with the West.

But is it time for Germany to step up on the global stage? At an event at the US Embassy in Berlin on Monday The Local asked US author and foreign policy expert Professor Walter Russell Mead for his view.

‘Don’t underestimate the role Germany plays’

Professor Mead argued German foreign policy has been relatively successful in Europe. Asked if Germany should play a greater global role, he said: “Germany is playing a larger role in the world than people appreciate.”

But he added: “Germany should play any role it thinks it ought to play. The Europe we see today is a Europe that US presidents from Washington on would have given anything to see. Europe is doing what it wants, in many ways led by Germany. We would hope Germany would continue to play the leading role it has played in the past.”

Professor Mead, a former Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and lecturer at Yale, also praised Germany’s success in the Ukraine where the country has signed a deal with the EU, luring the country away from Russian influence.

"From the Kremlin’s point of view Ukraine’s decision is a fundamental historic development," he said. He added it was “quite remarkable” that Germany had achieved this without it being perceived as some sort of German interference.

This “quiet but very effective” diplomacy "strikes me as an example that the world could use a lot more of and doesn’t appreciate enough," he added.

‘An unhappy marriage is better than a break-up’

On the subject of Europe and the Eurozone, Professor Mead, who now lectures at Bard College in New York State, urged Germany to lead a Holy Roman Empire rather than a Prussian conquest.

“Any discussion of Germany’s world role must begin with Europe,” he told reporters. “The battle over the Euro is a really fundamental one. It looks to me that everyone is at fault – German banks, German regulators, and German politicians."

He added the country’s politicians were “terrified of admitting” the precarious financial position of German banks which had lost billions in loans and investments to southern Europe. “Germany has been squeezing southern Europe not to punish vice but to protect vice,” he said.

Meanwhile, he described the north-versus-south Europe debate as a struggle between “two sinners in a dispute about who is the saint.”

But will debt-ridden countries like Italy have to adopt German austerity for the Eurozone to survive?

“Italy and Germany cannot bear each other’s monetary systems,” Professor Mead said. But, he added, the eurozone would continue as an “unhappy marriage,” which in the short term was better than a break-up.

“Europe is rich enough to subsidize something that doesn’t make sense for a very long time,” he said. “It is about managing unhappiness.”

Professor Mead called for Germany to lead a Holy Roman Empire in Europe – a loose federation of states - instead of aggressively imposing austerity.

“Europe is hard to lead. It is resistant to leadership,” he said. “It has so many different priorities."

"Are you going to have a King of Prussia or the Holy Roman Emperor? The Holy Roman Emperor is the more sustainable. It is the least work of the two."

READ MORE: Germany hands Kunduz camp to Afghan security forces

Tom Bristow

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2013/10/08 12:15

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