Opinion | Merkel’s Germany needs to show stronger commitment and responsibility in Europe, by J. Ryan | Europp – LSE Blog


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Has Germany shown enough solidarity with other EU states during the Covid-19 outbreak? John Ryan explains that the future development of the EU will depend largely on whether Berlin is willing to assume leadership and work closely with Paris. Under Merkel’s leadership this commitment has been lacking, so it will most likely fall on a new chancellor to keep the EU and Eurozone together.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic struck, the CDU/CSU/SPD coalition government in Germany had seemingly run out of steam, and disaffection among Germans had become noticeable. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives had done badly over the last couple of years in most elections.

But now, only a few weeks later, Germans are suddenly overwhelmingly in support of their government again. Citizens clearly tend to place trust in the political leadership they know during times of crisis. Germany’s health system has proved particularly competent at responding to different stages of coronavirus infections across the country.

Despite some of these displays of structural strength, Germany, once a powerhouse in European diplomacy on the world stage, is on the retreat. The next German government is likely to either lack the political will or the consensus to significantly enhance Germany’s power in international affairs. It will take a major external shock to upset Berlin’s pragmatic inclinations. The paradigm of an “ever closer union” has been lost in German and European politics. German leaders have given up on the concept. French president Emmanuel Macron may purport to defend it, but the Gaullist ingredients of his own Europe strategy weaken his claim. Europeans will not be shapers but observers of events in the future – although this may not become obvious or painful any time soon. The EU’s return to the global stage has been lost in the muddling through of the twenty-first century and Germany bears a special responsibility for this.

It can be felt in Berlin, in Brussels, and in many other capitals around the European Union: Europe is not what it used to be. As the geopolitical winds have turned and blown into the faces of European leaders, confidence in their ability to address challenges as a union is running low. Yet Europe’s identity crisis cannot be understood without looking at Germany. Once the champions of an “ever closer union of the peoples of Europe”, the Germans appear to have lost their compass due to changes in Berlin’s status in Europe.

If Europe is not what it used to be, this is largely because Germany is not what it long wanted to be. The key question now seems to be, how much longer can the current gap remain between the challenges to Europe’s integrity, prosperity, and security on the one hand, and Berlin’s ultra-pragmatic, status quo-minded course of non-action on the other?

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Germany seems to have given in to the status quo, preferring erosion out of inaction to disruption out of ambition. Thus, the reasonable option seems to be to patiently manage the status quo, pragmatically adding bits of substance here and there when the situation allows.

Any agenda for “more Europe” would in any case fail to win a majority in the German political class today – or even among German voters, despite their rather positive attitudes towards European integration. The Germans continue to like “more Europe” as a distant vision, but they reject it as an operational strategy. The German elite has developed a taste for a national approach to the European agenda – which, conveniently, it can pursue while using widespread doubt about the feasibility of deeper integration as cover. The national approach puts the defence of one’s own short-term interests over presumed European interests; it helps fend off spending demands from others.

To be clear, pursuing a policy based on Germany’s national interest and strengthening Germany’s national means could be a new strategy for steering and advancing European integration. In this scenario, Berlin would demonstrate its ability to act independently of the EU – something that it could, in practical terms, articulate in the areas of foreign, security, and defence policy because of their low level of integration within the union. Although costly in financial and political terms, this much more capable Germany might scare its European partners into wanting deeper integration. Merkel would not want to foster such fear of Germany as she sees nothing to be gained from it – meaning that it would just raise the transaction costs for Berlin in Europe.

The German presidency of the EU will run from July to December 2020. A successful presidency, Merkel allies believe, would burnish the chancellor’s legacy as a stateswoman who helped hold Europe together and stood up for global multilateralism in turbulent times. The Covid-19 crisis has made this very difficult.

Pandemic aside, over the same period, however, a number of risks roll up against such plans. This might include: the election as CDU leader and chancellor candidate of a Merkel-sceptic with whom she could not rub along; signs that the authority split in her party might lose it the election or make Germany’s EU presidency a flop; and a CDU meltdown over China policy.

This political crisis in Germany has also cast doubt on the country’s ability to play a more prominent role internationally. The US, for instance, has often criticised Germany for not spending enough on defence, and Berlin is still far from fulfilling the pledge by NATO allies to spend 2% of GDP on defence by 2024. The German military has been under criticism for being “underequipped, understaffed and overly bureaucratic,” as a recent parliamentary report revealed. The fallout from the 2015-2016 refugee influx has polarised Germany’s political landscape and hollowed out support for the mainstream parties, leaving Merkel beleaguered on all sides.

In the Federal election campaign in 2017, Merkel declared at a packed beer hall in Bavaria that it was time for Europe to “take its destiny into its own hands.” Unfortunately, Merkel has failed to keep that pledge. The European Union’s promise to form an “ever closer union” seems more like an empty slogan than a strategy these days. Over the last year, Merkel delivered several lofty speeches about the need to maintain European Union unity and protect open societies, but she has said little about how those broad aims translate into actual policies. Merkel said in 2012 that there would be no eurobonds “as long as I live”. After nine European heads of government wrote a joint letter in March 2020 saying the EU needed to “work on a common debt instrument”, she said pointedly that that was not “the opinion of all member states”. Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party remains opposed. This could prove to be a big mistake politically and economically.

The outlook for global trade and the domestic economy is very pessimistic, especially due to the Covid-19 crisis. Germany’s consistently deficient defence spending makes it dependent on other countries such as the US, UK and France. A weakened and distracted Germany is the last thing Europe needs right now and will make it much more difficult for France and Germany – the twin engines of European integration – to agree on the necessary reforms to shore up the Eurozone’s unresolved governance problems.

While Merkel may be admired outside of the country as the leader of the western world, the perspective is different from inside Germany, even if most recently Merkel’s CDU has recovered sternly in the opinion polls and her personal rating is strong. Critics worry that Merkel has done a poor job of preparing Germany for the future, and it could get worse. This is despite that fact that she appears a safe pair of hands in comparison to US President Donald Trump or UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The future development of the EU will depend largely on whether Berlin is willing to assume leadership and work closely with Paris. Under Merkel’s leadership this commitment and sense of responsibility has been lacking. It will therefore most likely be up to a new chancellor to renew the partnership with France in order to keep the EU and Eurozone together.

About the author

John Ryan – LSE
Professor John Ryan is a Visiting Fellow at LSE IDEAS and a Network Research Fellow at CESifo, Munich, Germany. He was previously a Fellow at St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge and the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin, Germany. He is on Twitter @JMTRYAN2015

New seat projections for the next European Parliament EU28 | EU Parliament Press

Parliament released today the fourth and final set of seat projections, based on a cross-section of national polls, on the composition of the next (9th) European Parliament (751 seats).

projections EP      
projections by seat at EU level 

The European Parliament has published a new set of projections on how the next chamber might look, based on polling data published in 28 EU member states until 15 April 2019. The data are based on a collection of reliable polls conducted by national polling institutes in the member states and aggregated by Kantar Public on behalf of Parliament.

The data from the previous projection, published on 29 March, have also been updated to recalibrate with UK data to facilitate comparison with the new scenario of the UK participating in May’s elections.

Parties are only allocated to existing political groups or where they are already affiliated to an associated European political party. All new political parties and movements that have not yet declared their intentions are categorised as “other”.

All data can be downloaded from the press tool kit. The European elections will take place from 23 to 26 May.

Brexit WhitePaper – Full Version: The future relationship between the UK and the European Union | HM Document

Forward to the policy paper

The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 29 March 2019 and begin to chart a new course in the world. The Government will have delivered on the result of the 2016 referendum – the biggest democratic exercise in this country’s history. And it will have reached a key milestone in its principal mission – to build a country that works for everyone. A country that is stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking.

Download the full document here


The Global Risks Report 2018 | World Economic Forum

Each year the Global Risks Report works with experts and decision-makers across the world to identify and analyze the most pressing risks that we face. As the pace of change accelerates, and as risk interconnections deepen, this year’s report highlights the growing strain we are placing on many of the global systems we rely on.

The Global Risks Report 2018 is published at a time of encouraging headline global growth. Any breathing space this offers to leaders should not be squandered: the urgency of facing up to systemic challenges has intensified over the past year amid proliferating signs of uncertainty, instability and fragility.

This year’s report covers more risks than ever, but focuses in particular on four key areas: environmental degradation, cybersecurity breaches, economic strains and geopolitical tensions. And in a new series called “Future Shocks” the report cautions against complacency and highlights the need to prepare for sudden and dramatic disruptions.

The 2018 report also presents the results of our latest Global Risks Perception Survey, in which nearly 1,000 experts and decision-makers assess the likelihood and impact of 30 global risks over a 10-year horizon. Over this medium-term period, environmental and cyber risks predominate. However, the survey also highlights elevated levels of concern about risk trajectories in 2018, particularly in relation to geopolitical tensions.

Download the full Report here

Does Europe really need Fiscal and Political Union? | Project Syndicate

Greece’s combative former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and his nemesis, former German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, were at loggerheads on Greek debt throughout Varoufakis’s term in office. But they were in full agreement when it came to the central question of the eurozone’s future. Monetary union required political union. No middle way was possible. This is one of the interesting revelations in Varoufakis’s fascinating account of his tenure as finance minister. “You are probably the one [in the Eurogroup] who understands that the eurozone is unsustainable,” Varoufakis quotes Schäuble as telling him. “The eurozone is constructed wrongly. We should have a political union, there is no doubt about it.”Of course, Schäuble and Varoufakis had different ideas regarding the ends that political union would serve. Schäuble saw political union as a means to impose strong fiscal discipline on member states from the centre, tying their hands and preventing “irresponsible” economic policies. Varoufakis thought political union would relax creditors’ stranglehold on his economy and create room for progressive politics across Europe.

Read the full Article here

COP23: Introducing a new toolkit to help support the Paris Agreement | EUROPP – LSE Blog

Countries hit hard by recent climatic events, from category 5 hurricanes in the Caribbean, to severe flooding in South Asia, are demanding swift action. Not just in terms of disaster recovery, but also with regard to adaptation and mitigation policies that can reduce and address the effects of climate change. One recommendation to come out of the climate change workshop at the 63rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference (CPC) in Dhaka this month was that ‘legal reform can make a low carbon and climate resilient development pathway possible by reinforcing policy, strengthening institutions and mobilising resources towards climate change activities’. There is high demand for a tool that can support countries in realising the nationally-driven focus of the Paris Agreement, by providing collective experience in the strengthening of national laws related to climate change.The Paris Agreement’s goal is to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C, to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C, and to achieve net zero emissions in the second half of this century. Realising such a goal will require widespread socio-economic changes in diverse societies around the world. In addition to the challenges of decarbonisation, countries face climate change consequences across themes as diverse as urban planning, potable water, sanitation, agriculture, and loss of territory due to sea-level rise.

Read the full Article here

Many EU commentators said Trump is good for Europe, will it be the same after the G20? | J.S. Nye – Project Syndicate


At a recent conference in France, a number of Europeans surprised their American guests by arguing that US President Donald Trump might be good for Europe. With Trump returning to Europe for the G20 summit in Hamburg, it’s worth asking whether they are right. By most accounts, Trump’s presidency has been terrible for Europe. He seems to disdain the European Union. His relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is cool in comparison to his friendship with Turkey’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Moreover, Trump welcomes Britain’s looming exit from the EU; upon meeting Prime Minister Theresa May for the first time, he is alleged to have asked enthusiastically, “Who’s next?” Finally, Trump only belatedly reaffirmed NATO’s Article 5 (which pledges mutual defense); he withdrew the US from the Paris climate agreement, which is very popular in Europe; and he has cut US funds for the United Nations, which has strong European support. Not surprisingly, Trump is personally unpopular across Europe. In a recent Pew poll indicates that only 22% of Britons, 14% of French, and 11% of Germans have confidence in him. But this very unpopularity – more anti-Trump than anti-American – has helped to reinforce European values.

Read the full Article here

The Future of Trade, by R.P. Medhora | Project Syndicate


The past year’s populist resurgence has brought to the fore ongoing debates about trade and underscored public concerns about internationalism. Can the mechanisms of globalization that shaped the twentieth-century world economy be salvaged to continue delivering prosperity in the coming decades? The economist Rohinton P. Medhora considers arguments by Kaushik Basu, Jeffrey Frankel, Laura Tyson, and other Project Syndicate commentators to assess the populist threat to globalization and international trade.

Read the full Article here

Brexit Talks have started but have the French and British elections changed the tone? by J.Hoerner | Europp – LSE Blogs


In 2017, citizens in the three largest EU member states have gone (or are due to go) to the ballot box. The general election in the UK was followed by the French legislative elections, while in September, Angela Merkel is facing German voters in her bid to become chancellor for the fourth consecutive time. One of the most pressing issues facing the EU is of course Brexit. And the outcome of this year’s elections in these three key member states will have a significant impact on the way the Brexit negotiations are conducted and the potential outcome. Contrary to most expectations, Theresa May could not increase her majority in the UK’s election and is now dependent on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to govern. Even though in some respects to the right of the Conservative Party, the DUP has arguably a preference for a ‘softer’ Brexit given Northern Ireland’s close trade links to the Republic south of the border. Moreover, the strong performance of the Scottish branch of the Conservative Party with their socially liberal leader Ruth Davidson could potentially influence the balance of power within the party. Finally, against expectations, the Labour Party, which has a more ambivalent position on leaving the EU, increased its seat share, as did the decidedly pro-European Liberal Democrats.

Read the full Article here