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Opinion editorial : The Beckenbauer of Global Europe

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It is also true in relation to the Eurozone, which will constitute some 85% of the EU economy after Brexit. A key dimension of European power has always been its 'soft power', accurately defined by Joseph Nye as the power to attract. Magnet Europa, to recall Konrad Adenauer's phrase, will only be magnetically attractive to its neighbors, and people across the world, if the Eurozone can be enabled to flourish again, in southern Europe as well as northern. This is not a matter of economic theory or dogma. It is a question of what works. Some more pragmatic, results-oriented flexibility from Germany in relation to the Eurozone is therefore a key component of building a stronger global Europe.

At the same time, one must hope that Germany will avoid what might be called the neo-Carolingian temptation. This is the tendency, sometimes detectable in countries immediately to the west of Germany, to argue somewhat along these lines: ‘With Brexit and Trump, the Anglo-Saxons are off on their own non-European trajectory, as de Gaulle always said they would be; the Poles, Hungarians and other East Europeans are falling back into their old authoritarian nationalist ways, as we always knew they would; therefore we must concentrate on building once again the right, tight core Europe of Charlemagne'.

This cannot be the right answer for Germany. What Richard von Weizsäcker once memorably called die Erlösung von der Mittellage, the salvation from the geopolitical curse of Germany's central geographical position as the gift of post-1989 German and European unification, depends on Germany's eastern neighbours being in the same economic, political and security communities as its western neighbours.

But nor can the neo-Carolingian solution be the right answer for Europe as a whole. How can one forge an effective European policy towards Russia without the full, constructive participation of Poland and the Baltic states? The impact of Brexit will be bad enough on the foreign policy capacity of the EU; it would be foolish in the extreme to spurn Prime Minister Theresa May's promise that Britain, with troops newly stationed in Estonia, will remain fully involved in the security of Europe.

Can Germany be a serious global player?

The three main dimensions of state power are military, economic and soft power. German foreign policy is, for obvious reasons, particularly strong in the second and third dimensions (it has a notably well-developed cultural diplomacy), and reticent in the first.  But can Germany be a serious global player, in the European context, unless it steps up its military spending towards the NATO target of 2% of GDP? Will German politics and public opinion allow that? Even if they do, Berlin will surely want to work very closely with those more used to projecting military power, such as France, Britain and the United States, while playing a leading role in the other two dimensions of power.

If I had to summarize all this in a single metaphor, it would be that of the Global Europe football team. Germany may not be explicitly recognized as the captain or the coach. But in most great teams there is a special, central player who holds the whole team together, giving it direction, flexibility and strength. A player like Zinedine Zidane or Franz Beckenbauer. In short, Germany should be the Beckenbauer of Global Europe.

Timothy Garton Ash is Professor of European Studies at Oxford University. He was recently honoured with this year's International Charlemagne Prize.

This article was first published in THE BERLIN PULSE, Körber-Stiftung’s new guide to German foreign policy.

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