The “Germany in Europe” project
When it comes to sorting out a constructive future for Europe, Germany is truly the “elephant in the room.” This is reflected in four narratives that are at the forefront of the public debate in Germany about Europe as well as the European debate about Germany. The fact that they are essentially mutually exclusive and often counterproductive, if not outright false, makes them all the more problematic.
False Narrative 1: Germany towers above Europe
German politicians, not least because of the relative size of the German economy, are said to be keen on playing the role of hegemon inside the EU. This thinking can be found in various European countries, especially in the left-of-center political camp (see, for example, the accusation of Germany pursuing rigorous austerity policies). However, it is also prevalent in right-wing populist realms, such as in Italy.
False Narrative 2: Europe subjugates Germany
The polar opposite of that perspective – Germany losing more and more sovereignty to the EU without the ability to control that process – is prominent primarily within the German discussion (and there in the political camp to the right of center). See, for example, the discussion about Germany’s “EU paymaster” status.
False Narrative 3: Germany versus Europe
For all the pro-European talk, particularly on the part of the German federal government, its actions often pursue narrow national interests. Witness, for example, North Stream 2 and car emissions. In this narrative, Germany often is regarded as a roadblock, though not a hegemon.
False Narrative 4: The EU is far too complex
The fourth narrative – the accusation that the EU “has nothing to do with my everyday life” – reflects far more than a populist sentiment. In light of the rising level of global challenges and strained public resources, this narrative ultimately goes to the core issue of representative government and managing complexity.
How to move forward
In light of these various narratives, our “Germany in Europe” project is based on a clear commitment to constructive interaction between Germany and Europe. Our goal, at least in the medium term, is to promote acceptance and understanding of the European idea.
The core approach we use to make our contribution in this regard is to explore the dimension of cross-border learning. To that end, we basically ask two questions:
- What can Germans learn from other EU countries?
- What can other EU countries learn from Germany?
Risky, but no alternative for Europe
The idea of cross-border learning is at times regarded as an “interference in internal affairs”. Certainly as far as Europe is concerned, the odds are that without well-intentioned and carefully managed “interference”, European integration will not make any real progress.
The communications-oriented approach we pursue in this project – mainly via our Strategic Intervention Papers (SIPs) and Strategic Assessment Memos (SAMs) – aims at counteracting prevailing levels of fear or frustration about Europe. Highlighting inter-societal approaches to what are after all common problems, though neglected so far, should provide useful contributions.