A New Wave of Understated German Pragmatism

 The world’s most practical nation is as practical as ever

In spite of its very domestic-focused, rather lackluster and far less viable political campaign, everyone around the world will nonetheless have to pay close attention to Germany as the Germans go to the polls on September 22. Certainly, most Germans would want to keep the ballots all to themselves by focusing on issues within their border. The potential impact of this election will reach far beyond Germany’s border due to its economic prowess and increasing political leverages.

Germans’ passive attitude towards being a regional leader is the kind of cultural mindset embedded in the postwar Germany. Basically, it is a notion that Germans are certainly capable of leading but are oftentimes reluctant to do so. The incumbent German Chancellor Ms. Angela Merkel, who is widely expected to win her third term in office, more or less shares the same mentality, being perhaps the most powerful woman in the world and the leader of the only European country capable of tackling the financial crisis, Ms. Merkel opts to downplay the latter role during the campaign, devoting most of her commitments to domestic politics and spending only a fraction of time on how she will plan to solve the Euro Crisis. Some have commented that the German Chancellor lacks a long-term vision and is often devoid of imagination. No one however, can deny that her pragmatic approach keeps Germany on the right track in this difficult period. Further, not only does her cautious and pragmatic political approach work, it is also firmly ingrained in Germany’s society today. Thus, even if Ms. Merkel eventually ends up losing her Chancellorship (which is highly unlikely), we will still see a Germany that is practical and fiercely domestic-focused.

Today’s Germany

Despite being dragged by their Southern European colleagues into the Eurozone Crisis, Germans are relatively well off and are quite content in their current situation. A while ago Germany’s GDP expanded by 0.7 per cent, an impressive feat considering a zero-growth in the previous quarter and a contraction before that. Sitting at about 6.8 per cent, Germany’s unemployment rate is also close to the lowest figure it has achieved in two decades. There are obviously some economic obstacles facing Germany in the future (the restructuring of the economy, deindustrialization, the search of alternative energy sources, low-birth rate and an aging population and the still imminent Euro Crisis) and some have called on Ms. Merkel, if she eventually wins, to be more swift in dealing with them. Germans are at least standing on a sound financial footing whereas some other major powers like Britain, France and the United States are still wrestling with apparent economic downturns. Having guided Germany through the period of economic difficulties, Germany’s economy is indeed one of the biggest achievements in Ms. Merkel’s political resume.

There has been a growing sense of national pride among Germans

Aside from the economy, there is also one distinctive cultural phenomenon worth mentioning. Under the leadership of Ms. Merkel, there has been a growing sense of national pride among Germans. Considering Germany’s rather contr oversial past, her effort to foster a more assertive national sentiment is quite an achievement. A sound economy and the decline of other powerhouses certainly contributed to this. However, if there is any indicator or yardstick measuring the shift of power in Europe, then Germany’s success in European football might have done the job. The final of this year’s European Champions League, featuring Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, was a German affair. It is very rare that a single country can dominate European football like this. The timing and the symbolism of the European Final Match could not be clearer; Germany has become the most powerful country in Europe, from the economy to the football field.

What does Germany’s upcoming election mean to the world?

As Germans become increasingly more powerful and with the growth of national pride, one could expect them to step up like a legitimate international powerhouse. Instead, we still see a Germany that is reluctant to be a leading voice in the international arena. Germany’s response to the recent Syrian crisis is just one example of its culture of hesitancy on display. At the height of the Syrian chemical atrocity, despite offering condemnation of the use of chemical weapons against civilians, German politicians of all stripes voiced restraint with regards to potential military intervention. The German government even went so far as to side with Russia and China rather than backing its NATO allies.

Because of its painful history, post-WW II Germany is quite skeptical and prefers to refrain from engaging extensively in security and foreign affairs. Despite this, Germany has the potential to play a leading role in directing Europe’s economic policies since Germany is the biggest economy in all of Europe. Having said that, there is little surprise that German politicians across the political lines believe in a notion that “that the country’s economic weight creates enough leverage to compensate for Germany’s failure to realize its full potential as a capable and responsible member of the Atlantic Alliance and the international community.” As such despite many calls from presses like The New York Times and The Economist to do more (such as continue leading the European integration and act more assertively in the field of international affairs), it is unlikely that we will see a dramatic shift in Germany’s approaches to the European economy, international affairs and security issues after the election.

About Brian Su

Brian Su was born in Taipei, Taiwan and immigrated to Canada in 2002. Brian graduated last October from SFU with a degree in history. He is also very familiar with contemporary history and politics of Europe, North America and Middle East. Brian takes opportunity to stay connected with political,economical and cultural events transpiring in his community as well as around the world. He is currently enrolled in UBC's certificate program in Canada's immigration system, laws and procedure and has gone back to SFU to work on his French. He hopes one day work for either the Canadian Foreign Service or CIC.