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Opinion

Opinion: Germany, a hesitant major power

Unified Germany remains a mystery: successful, powerful and loved - yet insecure. A country which no one need fear anymore, but one that remains unpredictable, according to DW editor-in-chief Alexander Kudascheff.

Germany has been reunified for 25 years. In those 25 years, East and West have grown together - yet, in many ways, they remain different and estranged.

The Germans often complain about that fact. But that, too, is typically German.

Germany's regional differences - between west and south, between north and east - are all part of its history. A centralized state, something that is so natural for our French neighbors, is not a part of Germany's national identity. Germany was always a confederation of states, of regions, of differences.

A quarter century after the political miracle of reunification, Germany is a popular country. It is recognized, and it is important. It is a country with an incredibly powerful economy. With a social security system that is admired throughout the world. It is a country that does not put its energy into military might, into weapons, but rather into diplomacy, restraint, and persuasiveness. It is a deeply civil republic - the polar opposite of the Third Reich, of which Germany's neighbors, and later the entire world, were rightly terrified.

Alexander Kudascheff DW Chefredakteur Kommentar Bild

DW editor in chief Alexander Kudascheff

A most influential country

The entire world looks to Germany - and especially to Angela Merkel. Even without a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, the world listens to Germany and to the chancellor - not just Europe. Germany - the wary, hesitant major power - is a political and economic heavyweight, and can most certainly be counted among the five most influential countries on earth.

Nonetheless, it is an uncertain country: uncertain about itself. For it has a difficult time dealing with its new role and with the expectations being put upon it. Germany knows that it must take on more responsibilities, and swears that it wants to. But in fact, deep down inside - and supported by a large majority of its citizens - it doesn't really want such responsibility. It would prefer to be a green Switzerland.

Politically, Germany is securely anchored in the West. A seesaw policy like that of the past is unthinkable today. Yet, the republic sways: between enlightened, political, rational pragmatism and a seemingly unconquerable tendency towards romanticism, exuberance, and unpredictability. Even Angela Merkel - as chancellor, the personification of rationality - is not immune to that tendency. For a start, when from she announced the energy turnaround following the Fukushima nuclear disaster - without even carrying out a cost -benefit analysis for the industrial nation. And now once again, in her approach to the refugee crisis, in which she jettisoned rules and agreements for humanitarian reasons, and threw open the borders - to the shock and dismay of our European neighbors. Startlingly, they saw in the move as an act of "moral imperialism."

A penchant for romanticism

In Europe on the other hand - for instance during the euro crisis - Germany plays the taskmaster, although the image of the "frugal Swabian housewife" is naturally more flattering. But that too, caused dismay in Madrid as well as Paris, not to mention Athens. In such instances, the country flaunts its economic muscle, it dictates the rules to its European partners. It takes on its responsibilities - and suffers when it is criticized for doing so. Such criticism seems unjust from a German point of view.

"If I think of Germany in the night, I am jolted from my sleep," wrote the German poet Heinrich Heine some 170 years ago. That is no longer the case. But Germany remains a country that Rousseau would esteem more than Voltaire or Locke. In other words: It is a country prone to give in to romantically exuberant assessments, rather than acting rationally and pragmatically. This no longer robs anyone of sleep, but it does seem strange to our friends, neighbors, and partners.

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