German engagement in the European crisis was and remains the determining factor in steering the EU in one direction or another. The crisis has shown that a reformed Germany, under Gerhard Schroeder's “Agenda 2010”, should be considered an opportunity rather than a threat. Of course, this opportunity came bundled with responsibility, for varied European capitals looked wide-eyed, sweet and sincere to Berlin for help. In this context, Berlin had to play multiple angles: a German domestic game, the game in Brussels (at the European level), but also an external game with partners outside the EU. Let's look at them one by one.
The German domestic game is the key one, because regardless of the vision of a leader, if he (or she) wants to survive, he must take into account public opinion in his country. You cannot in this context ask your citizens to support budgetary efforts in order to save others, without demanding tough conditions in exchange. This would explain the "stubbornness" of which Angela Merkel was accused of during the Eurozone crisis. The fact that Merkel played the domestic game politically correct – ensuring consent of the German citizens is proven by the CDU electoral outcome in 2013. Also, we should not forget that the European Central Bank in Frankfurt is modelled on the non-inflationist German system.
The Brussels game is one of the main features of the crisis: Brussels became de facto second to Berlin, both formal and informal. First, there are more Germans than ever in key positions, and as we know blending quantity is in fact a quality in terms of influence on the decisions of the European institutions. Second, increasingly often sectoral or global vision on Europe is launched from Berlin: "shuttle diplomacy" became "shuttle decision-making". Third, the Franco-German pole of power is no longer an equal one; Paris follows Berlin’s example in most cases, which allows Germany to play with more heads of state, for example with the UK and the Netherlands to reform the European Union (de-bureaucratization). Fourth, in the coming months most German interests will be represented at the EU top either by Martin Schulz as the next president of the European Commission or more discreetly by Jean-Claude Juncker, with some last minute support – jump with gratitude later - from Merkel.
Last, but not least, the game with partners outside the EU: Berlin became the go-to response to Kissinger's question on "who do I call when I want to talk to Europe?" And, although recently both the President of the US and China were in Brussels, their visits to Berlin in recent years, and the number of phone calls with Angela Merkel still largely exceed those to Barroso and / or Van Rompuy.
Dan LUCA / Brussels