Germany and Europe

From the international and especially from the overseas perspective, Germany today is perceived as being the heart and center of the European Union, the continent’s most stable and productive economy and a major player in politics. That, however, hasn’t always been the case. Being split into two parts after a horrible war it caused, Germany has for a long time been regarded with skepticism and wariness. For this reason, there had been efforts to tie the country into a strong community early on in order to stabilize a war-stricken Europe interms of both economy and international relations. Only six years after World War II had ended, the 1951 Treaty of Paris created an association ostensibly designed to share the production of coal and steel - both belonging to the most valuable goods during the war and in the reconstruction afterwards -, but also tying together countries that not long ago had been battling, namely Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.   

The signing of the Treaty of Paris had found great support outside the six countries, largely because it appeared to be a step to tame Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy. However, there had also been protests against including Germany, most prominently by French statesman and war hero Charles de Gaulle. Germany on the other hand understood signing the treaty as a first step to becoming a “normal” country again, something the German post-war governments were eager to achieve. In fact, the European Coal and Steel Community is today considered to be the base stone for today’s European Union. This in turn was what French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman had in mind with his Schuman Declaration of 1950, in which he had called for a supranational community of European states.

The next important step in the direction of a unification of Europe was the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957 by the same six countries. This treaty was the founding document of the European Economic Community (EEC) which aimed at creating a common market without customs duties and also proposed political cooperation between member states concerning issues such as agriculture and transport. While for these first attempts at European unification the French were the driving force, eager to prevent further hostilities between neighboring countries in Europe, later Germany became one of the most outspoken supporters of the idea of creating a common market for all goods. In the 1960s, France slowly began to distance itself from the supranational community it had formerly embraced, but Germany and the other member countries continued the push towards a strong association without boundaries. In 1965, another treaty was signed in Brussels, by which all formerly separate European entities were united into one community. Denmark, Ireland and Great Britain joined this community in the following years and in 1979, the first European Parliament was elected, although this parliament would have comparatively little actual influence. In that time, the idea of a unified Europe was largely an economic concept without much significance for the everyday life of Germans. Being a strong economic power, German companies benefited from the continued development towards a common market, but for individuals, things hadn’t changed much.

This would apparently change in 1985, when the community, now expanded to include Greece, Spain and Portugal, signed the Schengen agreement, by which Germany, France and the Benelux countries expressed their intention to allow travel without a passport between member states. However, it wasn’t until 1995 that the agreement was put into effect, with the delay in part caused by the German reunification. This historic event once again caused some to fear that Germany might become too powerful as a re-united country (that had now become the largest by population within the European Union) and German governments have ever since strived to demonstrate their willingness to firmly tie Germany into the supranational European network of countries. Germany, along with France, is still considered to be the “engine” of the movement towards a unified Europe. In the meantime, thanks to the enlargement of the European Union mostly by countries from the former Eastern Bloc, Germany now finds itself right in the heart of Europe again.

Germany’s status as one of the motors of European integration has been further emphasized by its leading role in the creation of the Euro, the common currency that is now being used officially or inofficially by more than 20 countries in Europe and Africa. The Euro was introduced in coins and banknotes in 2002 with Germany being among the inaugural countries. The central bank of the Euro system, the ECB, is located in Frankfurt, Germany. In the sovereign debt crisis that shook the Eurozone from 2009 on, Germany has been forced into a leading role alongside France, due to the fact that the German economy is the strongest within the Eurozone and Germany thus has to carry the largest percentage of the payments and guarantees needed to save other Euro member states from collapsing. While most Germans today embrace the European idea, skepticism among them has grown rapidly due to these developments.