On the evening of 23rd February, to a crowded lecture hall in St Salvator’s Quadrangle, the University of St Andrews branch of the Young European Movement delivered an event centred around one of the most existential questions facing European politics today. Against a backdrop of debt-restructuring negotiations in Greece and shellfire in Donetsk, those in attendance ruminated over whether Germany is the “Powerhouse of Europe”.
This was an event that had been much-vaunted and well-advertised across the premises of the university, and for good reason too, for the speakers were two of the most eminent to date. The first, delivering a half-hour speech, was the German Consul General to Scotland, Her Excellency Verena Gräfin von Roedern. In her part of the event, the main thrust of the argument from the Consul General revolved around Germany’s political investment in the future of the European project. For Germany, the EU and its predecessors had played the crucial role in rehabilitating the country after the Second World War, and therefore now there was no consideration of a Germany policy which was not simultaneously pro-EU, if not pro-integration. If Germany was the ‘Powerhouse of Europe’ it was fundamentally by virtue of Europe’s important in Germany politics, and not vice versa.
The second speaker was Dr Jeffrey Fear, an American academic based at the University of Glasgow whose interests specialise in interational business. He gave a more economically-founded lecture, discussing how it was that Germany, which was a divided country until 1989, had risen from fragility to responsibility in such a short space of time, and how its public was responding to this new mantel of expectation. Much of Germany’s economic success was attributed to the robus Mittelstand business model prevalent in Germany, whereby small, of provincial and family-run companies compete at an international level through monopolising the manufacture of highly-specialised, albeit common, products. Dr Fear highlighted the difficulty in Germany funding transfer payments to less wealthy EU member states owing to the lack of fiscal union in the EU, as well as the growing reluctance of the German electorate to condone such generosity. A further point was made concerning the nervousness of the Germany, given its historical reputation, to assertively participate in EU foreign policy, especially when assertiveness could entail in military expeditions. For Dr Fear, Germany may well have the potential be the ‘Powerhouse (or at least engine) of Europe, but perceptions of its history and political culture restricted it from assuming any such position with alacrity and immediacy, as well as the fact that being the powerhouse did not mean that it would not rely on other member states also.
However, despite the overarching nature of the speakers’ deliveries, questions from the floor focused on Germany’s dominating role in the negotiations with the new Greek government over its fiscal programme. Consul General von Roedern kept guarded in her answers, reminding the audience frequently that she was still an active diplomat and therefore the official representative of German government policy in the room. Dr Fear, although in a capacity to speak more freely, was unable to offer a definitive answer on the relative merits and demerits of the pursuit of austerity measures. Overall, there was clear consensus of Germany’s significant presence in European affairs, and a lot of historical background to the current situation provided, but the question remains, unanswered by diplomat, academic and students alike.