The United Kingdom is officially set to depart the European Union and with it’s departure, leaves a vital role that will need to be filled. While there isn’t a defacto leader nation among the EU economic bloc, The UK with it’s heavily influential economy, has long acted as a steward in diplomacy, military and other issues across the board. Who, among the EU’s big three, France, Germany and Italy, will step forward to fill this impending absence?
It is very likely that Germany, will be the country to fill the void . And despite the leadership that Britain provided, as well as its strong contributions of it’s economy, it could be argued that Germany has been the heart of The EU for a long while now. France, as a consistent world power, will also play a large role in the EU’s stewardship but it likely will not be able to match the global influence of Germany.
As 2019 comes to an end, Germany is expected to close with a GDP of $4.2 Trillion and continue its place as the strongest economy in The EU and the fourth largest economy in the world, behind Japan, China and The United States (1). This is quite impressive considering how Germany was decimated during Two world wars in the prior century.
Since the fall of The Berlin Wall and the reunification of the nation in 1990, modernizing former Communist East Germany, has cost around $70 billion a year but by 2008, this was cut down to $12 billion a year. Intriguingly, while the rest of the world was facing a financial crisis, Germany was able to free itself from it’s fiscal shackles (1).
Led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany has enjoyed consistent economic growth for thirteen years since she came into office in late 2005. She successfully tackled Germany’s then, 11.5% unemployment rate and weathered the 2008 financial crisis by installing stimulus initiatives and tax cuts (1). Her leadership has not been without difficulty however as the migration crisis that culminated in 2015 revealed.
A disaster waiting to happen, the crisis was preluded by 1.2 million refugees applying for asylum in Europe, with 75% of them being men and 40% of them being between the ages of 18-34. This created a crisis for Germany, who volunteered to take many of them into it’s borders and on News Years 2016, gangs of migrants robbed and sexually assaulted more than 600 woman (1).
The backlash from the refugee crisis has cost Merkel and her party, though she still seems to have the trust of the Majority of the German populace.
Thus in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Germany has jumped into the driver’s seat of the EU economy. With a strong manufacturing base, a tradition of excellence in tech and engineering, the country enjoys a vibrant, low cost trading relationship with it’s fellow EU members. It’s adoption of the Euro has correlated to low interest rates and this has spurred investment.
Even though Merkel’s time as Chancellor is coming to an end, her stewardship of Germany’s revival has given her the title of the Most Powerful Woman in the world.
This German reascension is important when considering the turbulent events of the late century. After the second World War, the nation was in ruins and under occupation. With the Berlin Wall and the division between East and West, it seemed absolutely impossible for the nation to revive and become a world power again. Though this is exactly what is occurring and leads to speculation of what the repercussions will be.
How will Germany evolve in the coming decade as the economic backbone and voice of the EU?
Well, with a low budget deficit, the nation has an opportunity to finally start investing in it’s armed forces. For years, Germany has been spending less than 2% of its budget on it’s military, which is less than the NATO recommendation. However, possibly due to pressure from US President Donald Trump, who has said Germany is “taking tremendous advantage,” of The United States Military power, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced in November, that Germany will meet the NATO standard and pledge 2% of Germany’s total economic output to it’s military (3).
If Germany follows through and throws off the binds of post World War II restrictions, then it could ultimately become a world power in every category and on the same level as Britain, France, The United States, Russia and China. If this occurs, it will be intriguing to see how the relationship with Russia develops. Post reunification, Germany and Russia have enjoyed a “cordial” relationship but if Germany again becomes a military power and Russia continues to resist NATO influence, then the potential of historical tensions being revived may become an enormous issue.
One thing is for certain, Germany’s future success and role as the EU leader, will depend on it successfully tackling the emigration crisis that it and the whole of Europe is facing. It is evidently clear, that the governments of the EU will not be able to successfully accommodate all the migrants who are seeking asylum or citizenship. The strain on government resources and on the native populations are already giving way to concerning anti-immigrant sentiments. And there is the factor of the assimilation of the millions already in Europe. With customs and beliefs that are in some cases, in complete opposition to Western Values of tolerance, freedom of expression and Women’s rights, successful assimilation may take awhile.
Then there is the question of who will replace Angela Merkel. Many analysts believe that Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, current leader of Merkel’s party, The Christian Democrats, will succeed Merkel as German Chancellor. Though strangely, this future is apparently now in jeopardy due to “political gaffes,” such as poking fun at activists in Berlin, advocating for gender neutral toilets. She also, alarmingly, suggested implementing rules for expressing online opinions before elections.
Both of these instances are very revelatory in nature. The first shows the country’s obsession with certain social issues that ride on the side of outrageous and distract from the more critical issues. The second reveals a crisis in the right of free speech that is not only under scrutiny in Germany, but in the wider western world as well.
Thus, who ever becomes the next German Chancellor, will certainly have their work cut out for them.
Beyond a doubt, Germany has overcome many challenges to rise to the status of a global leader once again, but how it addresses these new issues in an era of uncertainty, is hard to predict, even as it steps into a new role as leader of The EU.