Europe’s Crises Force Reluctant Germany to Accept Its Leadership Role

Europe’s Crises Force Reluctant Germany to Accept Its Leadership Role
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a statement on the Munich attack, Berlin, July 23, 2016 (AP photo by Michael Sohn).

Since 2009, the European Union has faced a nonstop string of major crises, from Greece’s debt and Ukraine’s separatist fighting, to the refugee influx and now Brexit. Throughout each one, Germany has found itself leading the EU as it muddles its way to a response. But Germany’s leadership hasn’t always been welcome, and Germany’s own relationship with its role in Europe is complicated.

Berlin has always had an important role in the EU, but historically it was the partnership between Germany and France that drove European policy. However, as the eurozone crisis grew into a pressing emergency and France was forced to deal with its domestic fiscal troubles, Germany alone had the credibility and resources to take the lead in Europe. It’s a role Berlin wasn’t comfortable with then, and with which it still struggles today.

As Europe’s biggest economy and among its most fiscally sound governments, Germany naturally wielded significant influence during the Greek bailout negotiations, which first began in 2010. Throughout the eurozone crisis, Germany’s economic weight and willingness to act as a backstop for the proposed bailout mechanisms were key to keeping the monetary union alive. But many in Greece and across the EU criticized the strict austerity measures Germany insisted upon in exchange for the series of Greek bailout packages that kept Athens afloat. Members of Greece’s governing party, the left-wing Syriza, called the terms of the most recent deal, reached in 2015, “a coup that goes directly against any kind of notion of democracy and popular sovereignty.”

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