Whoever controls Germany controls Europe: why Britain must better understand the German mind

Understanding the German government’s policy and the German mind remains as significant for foreign policy makers in the UK in the 21st century as ever it was.

The geographic pivot of history runs through Berlin
Benjamin Harris-Quinney
On 19 September 2011 09:05

Whoever controls Berlin controls Germany, and whoever controls Germany controls Europe were among the most famous, and perhaps most useful, words of Karl Marx.

In 1904 Halford Mackinder put forward a theory that the geographic pivot of history runs through Berlin.

One hundred years later, though much has changed, much has remained the same.

A financial system that was so recently the canon of western prowess relies again on the magnetic power of Europe’s chequered capitol to dictate its future.

The UK media discourse has focused greatly on Germany’s significance in the global economic debate, but is there any greater understanding as to its true nature and motivation as a global power?

Who controls Germany, what motivates them, and what are their goals are among the most important questions for the United Kingdom.

That we consistently fail as a nation to understand Germany has blighted our foreign policy almost routinely, from WWI, to Versailles, to Black Wednesday.

As two proximate great powers, we have always been natural competitors, and while the power structure in Europe may remain, the wider world has changed. In an increasingly competitive global climate, Germany is a crucial partner, whether we like it or not.

The UK needs to realise quickly that Germany faces a period of great uncertainty, is looking for international partners, and will be open and susceptible to external influences. This is an opportunity for greater dialogue between Germany and the UK, truly the Brandenberg Gates have never been more open, but equally challenging, as other powers stake their often more significant claim on the ear of the Reichstag.

Germany is a surprisingly eurosceptic nation among its populous, and increasingly this discord is forcing the power from the hands of civil servants and political theorists, and back into therealpolitik of a nation reflecting the will of its people. In contrapunt to Van Bismark, the great questions of the time in Germany will be decided by votes of the majority, and this could have a dramatic effect on Germany’s position on the EU over the next decade.

It is therefore important to separate euroscepticism from the realist perspective, both in Germany and in the UK. In the case of the eurozone crisis, despite its growing appetite foreuroscepticism, in the short term it would make little sense for Germany to allow faltering eurozone economies to default, and to remove itself from the single currency and European project.

Whilst many eurosceptics in the UK may balk more at the thought of an EU powered by Germany, than of Germany as a European hegemon, it is important to consider the alternative. 

The eurozone, and the EU itself, simply could not survive without Germany, and moreover without the determination of the German government to save it. For many Conservatives in the UK such a collapse may be desirable politically, but it remains inescapable that such an event would herald the beginning of an economic dark age, incomparable in living memory.

It should be UK politicians’ first task not to lose Germany in transition and let it grow into an unrestrained European hegemon. From the UK’s perspective it must be accepted that despite a period of uncertainty in Berlin such a goal cannot be achieved by challenging Germany’s political leadership head-on, and should not be achieved by pushing Berlin to embracecommunitarianism.

In the medium term, if the UK can retain much of its sovereign power with limited fiscal responsibility in Europe, whilst Germany continues  to underwrite the eurozone, it should be considered a compromise worthy enough to at least weather the storm of economic turmoil.

As George Osborne put it: “The eurozone countries need to accept the remorseless logic of monetary union that leads from a single currency to greater fiscal integration […] A disorderly outcome would be disastrous for everyone, including Britain, so we should allow greater integration to happen, while ensuring we are not part of it and our own national interests are protected”.

In the long term the our ability to work closely with Germany now will prove invaluable in ensuring that, following the eurozone crisis, a more realist, economically driven EU emerges in opposition to the increasingly political and bureaucratic entity we have all become oddly familiar with (against our collective national will).

Understanding the German government’s policy and the German mind therefore remains as significant for foreign policy makers in the UK in the 21st century as ever it was.

Benjamin Harris-Quinney is the Political Officer & Senior Council Member at the Bow Group and Chairman of the Foreign Policy & Security Committee. Dr Charles Tannock, Ben Harris-Quinney & Christophe Scholer  today publish  their paper on the Eurozone & Germany, Crisis & Opportunity via the Bow Group.

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