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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The German Europe

Prompted by the reset in thinking brought about by the euro crisis, there has been a flurry of publications dealing with a possible future of Europe recently. To begin with Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Guy Verhofstadt – both of the rarest of species: Well known Members of the European Parliament (EP) – published their federalist manifesto Debout l'Europe! Martin Schulz, President of the EP weighed in with his entry tellingly entitled The Tied Up Giant – Europe's Last Chance. Jürgen Habermas has also made his voice heard with an essay Zur Verfassung Europas. Even that weathercock of the subject du jour, Bernard-Henri Levy, has co-signed a manifesto on Europe ou le chaos? together with a number of other European writers.

Ulrich Beck with his short essay on The German Europe fits right into this – important – fad. In his book, he provides a criticism of the current state of Europe, while at the same time putting forward a new Rousseauian social contract for a better future Europe. His is an integrationist vision that he proclaims a necessity for Europe if it is to be “capable of finding answers for [today's] fundamental transformation and great challenges without falling into the trap of xenophobia and violence.”

For Beck, Europe has become German in a process that is determined by economic might on the one hand and “Merkiavelli's” (in)action on the other hand. Said inaction is what in particular reinforces German power. It is not the fear to be dominated by German money – or tanks – that prompts the submission to German policy preferences, it is the all-dominating fear – inherently part of modernity's risk society – of a forced exit from the Euro prompted by the absence of German money that results in the political might of the country.

This German inaction has been described and criticized (Beck: “Germany has become too powerful to allow itself not to take a decision”) elsewhere of course, Beck's analysis is nothing new in this regard then. It also comes up surprisingly short when he claims that Merkel had seized her chance and changed the balance of power in Europe. Even while admits himself, that the current situation is untenable with the crisis still very much – and once again – raging.

Germany's hesitant action at every recurring point of deep crisis might be sufficient to contain the problem of the day; an end to the crisis per se cannot come without deep structural and institutional solutions. Current German might in that regard is merely a temporary phenomenon based on a specific politico-economic problem-set that allows the country to position itself as a normative model whose policy solutions others are expected to apply.

This temporary and sectoral – because economic – hegemony might of course be translated into a more enduring institutional and structural format once a sort of new European Union (2.0) has emerged. Yet, Germany has so far produced little but a cacophony of voices advocating changes with little tangible proposals emanating from the supposed leader of the pack. It is is difficult to argue then that Merkel has – at least so far – managed to implement a lasting shift of powers within the EU's complex governance system.

Beck finally lays out his vision for a social contract for Europe. He regards this kind of contract as the overcoming of an out-dated national state of existence – Nationalzustand. Europe of course is not a society though, which means that a “post-national society of national societies” has to be constructed instead. The fact that there is no European people hardly matters in this regard since our societies are increasingly individualized in the first place.

The Erasmus generation were to live this kind of individualized European life horizontally already, even while the vertical, institution-oriented process of integration, prompts their criticism of Brussels. For Beck, this new social contract needs to be accompanied by more social security at the European level especially to address youth unemployment in Southern Europe. Increased integration furthermore were to go along with an increased bottom-up democratization process, leading to aforementioned individuals emerging as the sovereign of European democracy.

The German sociologist lays out an interesting vision of a German Europe, dominated by Merkiavelli's government. Yet, his analysis is a disappointingly temporal nature, not taking into account demographic, economic, nor even institutional changes, that will seriously impact the intra-EU balance of power as he presents it. His proposed social contract, finally, is an interesting idea that Beck seems to have no idea how it could be implemented though.

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