The recent financial crises spreading throughout debt heavy European sovereigns has called into question the viability of the common currency and the whole European project. In its initial stages, the European Coal and Steel Community was proposed by French foreign minister Robert Schuman on May 9, 1950 as a way to prevent future war from breaking out between France and Germany. This organization became the nucleus for the future European Union. Greek sovereign debt concerns and the ensuing drama surrounding the Greek bailout by its European brethren has drawn the problem of lack of real coordinated action between euro zone states into sharp focus: without the ability to coordinate fiscal policy on a micro level, the euro on the macro level proves inviable. The constant reiteration for the European Central Bank to act as a lender of last resort for the crisis stricken nations of the euro zone posits the need for central authority as the salve to help heal and stop the spread of contagion. The reluctance of the German Bundesbank to allow for the necessary creation of eurobonds and the relinquishing of the necessary authority to do this has called Germany’s motives into question but, indeed, there are few who could blame Germany for not wanting to sacrifice its fiscal sovereignty to a group that has thus far shown no sign of understanding the concept of fiscal responsibility.
The crisis has led to criticism of Germany by the Greeks and Spanish. Now that Italy is in danger, the counterweight to German hegemony in the EU, France, is having its might called into question because of its banks heavy exposure to Italian sovereign debt. The Daily Mail discusses German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s difficulties in selling the European idea to her voters. She has reiterated the calls of experts for increased central authority and power. This has led to some on the right to interpret the euro crisis as a power grab by Berlin to concretize itself as the center of the European universe.
The Daily Mail interprets the spread of contagion from Spain, Portugal and Ireland to Greece, Italy and maybe France as necessitating increased German hegemony over the organization and governance of the euro. To quote the Daily Mail’s Simon Heffer: “They may hope their salvation, apart from pulling out of the single currency and devaluing, would be to accept Germany properly bolstering the euro and effectively colonising the Eurozone. This would entail a loss of sovereignty not seen in those countries since many were under the jackboot of the Third Reich 70 years ago. For be in no doubt what fiscal union means: it is one economic policy, one taxation system, one social security system, one debt, one economy, one finance minister. And all of the above would be German.”
Certainly, the rise of a new, menacing Germany has been a fever dream of the right for some time, just as the rise of the ‘New Soviet Union‘ masquerades as both potential political reality and as a conspiracy theorist’s fetishist fantasy. Imagining German hegemony in terms of Germany’s fascist past achieves two things: it confuses the subject at hand and polarizes the debate. Neither of these answer the questions surrounding such an assertion: namely: viability, plausibility, and sensibility. Is German hegemony over the EU a viable scenario? Yes it is because Germany’s economy and economic prowess overshadow many of its European neighbors, arming them with the material for such a position should they desire it. Is German hegemony over the EU plausible? Yes it is plausible given the nature of the crisis currently gripping the euro zone and the choices for solutions to the sovereign debt crises being exit from the currency or greater oversight and centralization. Is it sensible for Germany to have hegemonic power over the EU? No, it is not a sensible notion at this present time. While Germany reaps economic benefits from the common currency, it could also be mired in the cost of improving conditions in its neighboring states if fiscal policies were to be given over to some central EU authority. Germany does not have an interest in developing the underdeveloped portions of the EU, nor does it want to build road, rail and infrastructure in the east. While Germany loves trade and is willing to save the currency, it is not eager to take upon the monumental task of bringing developmental equality to the EU. This is why talk of a new German hegemony is both ill conceived and foolish – the costs of hegemony almost always outweigh the benefits thus notions of empire only play into interesting and staid formulations of international relations rather than informing situations at hand. The British Empire collapsed due to the cost of maintaining the empire, not its overwhelming economic benefit to the British people. In fact, post-Empire Britain has thrived economically. While only one example, conspiracy theorists and political scientists on the right become too enamored with the ideas of empire without questioning the underpinnings of empire. In the modern world, the costs of achieving empire and maintaining that empire should induce further cooperation and integration between states because of the overwhelming cost associated with conquest. Cooperation born out of this realization should not be confused imperial adventures.