It's 25 years since German MPs voted to pack their bags in Bonn and move from the banks of the Rhine to the river Spree in Berlin. Since the new Berlin Republic eventually opened its doors in 1999, a conveyor belt of crises has changed Germany and and the continent beyond recognition. Yet, when it comes to critical thinking about Germany's rapidly shifting role in Europe and the world, Berlin is still very much a small town in Germany.
One of the few people in the city producing original and bold ideas on this front is European Democracy Lab founder Prof Ulrike Guérot.After two decades riding the European express, however, she has pulled the emergency brake, warning that today’s crisis-racked European Union has become bloodless and technocratic.
And as with everything in Europe that goes wrong, she argues, no one wants to take credit for it nor does anyone know how to deal with it.
She has laid out her case in a book that is all the more compelling – and uncomfortable – because she is no loony British Eurosceptic.Guérot has worked in all of Germany's big think tanks, worked alongside former European Commission president Jacques Delors and contributed to the 1994 Schäuble-Lamers paper that proposed a two- speed Europe as a solution to stalling integration.
Guérot is a passionate European, and believes most EU citizens still believe in the European project – just not this one. The EU worked in the past because of the unresolved German question in Europe, she argues, but the normalisation of Germany after 1989 has created an abnormal situation for Europe.
After decades of European and German interests coexisting as near-concentric circles, she suggests a new German national self-image that has emerged in the past decade has contributed to an ever-decreasing overlap of German and European interests.
German interests prevail
Whenever the two now come into conflict the German interest prevails, she suggests. And anyone who points this out, she says, or suggests that the German and the European interests are no longer as synonymous can expect the empire to strike back.
In Guérot’s analysis, few in Berlin want to see what many in Europe see: an idealistic EU novice turned prickly Euro-contrarian that dictates bailouts and hands out austerity homework to the periphery while denying its feet of clay such as the distortions its budget surplus creates.
Instead of listening to critics, and accepting that many of Germany’s core economic principles are at odds with its euro partners, the German political and media elites have created a chauvinistic consensus that Germany did everything right in the past decade and the others did everything wrong.
“Germany has betrayed its European role while taking on a new European victim role,” she argues. “It is a modern stab-in-the-back theory.”
This dwindling European vocation in Germany has compounded the EU’s own failings, reviving nationalist thinking around the continent and its populist chorus, Guérot argues. And this despite daily proof that the creaking nation state concept is ill-equipped to act in the era of globalised trade and terrorism.
Guérot's modest proposal offers a new twist on the idea of more Europe, not less. Her goal: a three-pillar European democracy offering transnational sovereignty based on equality of all citizens – in place of today's Animal Farm Europe, where some countries are more equal than others.
Instead of endless arguments for and against a United States of Europe, a new European republic would unite different peoples without sacrificing national identities, Guérot argues, allowing united them define a new social contract and take back from their governments the relationship they want between the state and the market.
Though engaging on the why of a European republic, she admits she is not yet clear on the how of her utopia – though the next chapter must be as inclusive of the people as the current one is exclusive.
The reaction in Germany to Guérot’s “European RePublic” plan has been telling. While many in Berlin’s political establishment are furious that one of their own has gone rogue, younger German audiences have embraced the idea. There is still life in the European idea, it seems, just not in its current iteration.
It remains to be seen how enthusiastic other peoples will be for her idea, particularly those with longer and prouder national traditions than Germany's. For that debate to start, her very readable book Why Europe Needs to Become a Republic awaits translation from German.
A century after the 1916 Rising, Guérot offers an interesting blueprint to preserve that ideal in Ireland’s next 100 years: neither behind a national drawbridge nor drifting along in the current EU but as an equal partner in a new European republic.