Germany’s campaign to save Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

By highlighting what European integration has achieved in the Ich will Europa (I Want Europe) campaign, German Chancellor Angela Merkel attempts to persuade German citizens that further sacrifices are worthwhile, argues Stratfor.

Stratfor is a Texas-based global intelligence company.

"Eleven German organisations, including the Robert Bosch, Mercator and Bertelsmann foundations, launched a campaign on 24 August called Ich will Europa (I Want Europe) in an effort to advocate increased integration in Europe.

German leaders in politics, business, entertainment, sports and science have joined in this push to highlight the benefits of a united Europe – including its contribution to economic prosperity.

In a video produced for the campaign, German Chancellor Angela Merkel points out that the European Union brought peace and prosperity to the Continent. She also reminds German citizens that Europe is going through one of its deepest crises and warns that there is no immediate solution.

By highlighting what European integration has achieved, she attempts to persuade German citizens that further sacrifices are worthwhile.

Not surprisingly, European scepticism is strong among the German population. German élites who support the European project launched the Ich will Europa campaign to address this distrust.

Recent polls reveal that 50% of Germans want their country to remain in the eurozone. Meanwhile, the European financial crisis has lingered for more than two years; the latest economic indicators show its effects are set to extend to Germany, the largest European economy in terms of gross domestic product, because of the weakening of industrial output and general economic growth.

At the same time, pressure on Germany has been mounting. Southern European states are calling on northern European states to provide more financial aid. German taxpayers feel that Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal are after their money with calls for further bailouts and debt mutualisation.

When the European Union was created, tariff walls that had previously existed between European countries were taken down to facilitate the free flow of capital and goods across the Continent.

With the creation of the euro, trade across countries was made easier still. German decision- makers understand how strategically important this currency and the European common market are to German prosperity.

The heavily export-dependent German industrial base needs access to the wider European consumer market because the domestic market is too small to absorb what it produces. This explains why Berlin – despite anti-bailout rhetoric – has done everything it can to avoid the collapse of the eurozone.

So far, Merkel has managed to project the image of being the guardian of German wealth while at the same time repeatedly agreeing to further bailouts. This image is crumbling. Eurozone countries that have received bailouts, especially Greece and Spain, have understood that Germany is in a weak negotiating position.

They will continue to challenge German conditions for financial assistance. German leadership knows that in order for the eurozone to survive, Berlin must foot the majority of the bill for these bailout countries for an indeterminate amount of time. 

The Ich will Europa campaign reflects the fact that Germany is accepting that it will have to provide more financial aid to weaker eurozone countries while receiving very few concessions in terms of budgetary or political control. 

German élites, who have managed to keep the eurozone afloat without asking Germans to continuously provide weaker EU members with taxpayer money, understand how unpalatable this situation is.

Supporting the eurozone without seeing clear improvements in their own economic situation is frustrating to German taxpayers.

In Europe, cultural, historical and linguistic boundaries continue to make the nation-state the most relevant unit of governance and self-identification. Despite decades of efforts to integrate Europe, a Berlin factory worker continues to be German first, and European second.

The least damaging solution to the crisis in Europe may be for Germany to become the Continent's financial patron. Selling this idea to German voters will be by far the biggest challenge Germany’s leadership has faced since reunification.

It will take a lot more than a public relations campaign – however well executed – to convince Germans that the survival of the European Union as we know it is worthy of the investment and sacrifice (in terms of delegation of power to Brussels) that Berlin is asking for."

 

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