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Germany

The European Legacy of the Fall of the Wall

German reunification and the EU's eastward expansion have a lot to do with each other. After the Wall fell, it was clear that the other nations of Europe, now free from Soviet hegemony, were eager to be integrated.

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Reunification has proven to be tougher than many expected

In the past 15 years, the mood surrounding both German reunification and the eastern expansion of the EU has sobered significantly. Germany still has a long road to travel in mending the rift between East and West, and is only at the beginning of long-term structural reforms. Meanwhile, the enthusiasm for the grand European project, as seen in the rejection of the constitutional contract, has largely dissipated.

Welcome to the club

Fifteen years after German reunification, European unification is nearly complete. In 2004, the EU took in eight additional eastern European nations as well as Malta and Cyprus. Both processes are seen as two sides of the same coin by the EU in Brussels. As Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean Claude Juncker has said, before 1989, the back wall of the European house was the Berlin Wall. When that crumbled, the EU had to think in a new direction and take in not only the German Democratic Republic, but also other former Communist states.

EU Gipfel in Brüssel Verfassung Joschka Fischer

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer strongly supports EU integration

In retrospect, there was no alternative to the integration of Germany and Europe -- something German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is fond of emphasizing today. Initial reservations concerned with reunification are no longer raised by British and French diplomats. The German government proved during the 1990s that it would remain an engaged supporter of European integration. Parallel to reunification, Germany supported the economic and monetary union and increased political integration, as sealed in the 1993 Maastricht Treaty.

Financial strains of reunification

The increased political power of the united, most populous European country is not seen as a cause for concern in Brussels today. Much more worrying is the deep structural crisis in Germany's economic and social systems, which affects all of Europe. When German economic growth is weak and the deficit grows, this weighs heavily on the economic strength of Europe as a whole.

That this is partially a result of German reunification is clear to EU monetary commissioner Joaquin Almunia. In the reformed stability and growth pact of the EU, the German minister of finance is permitted to make a special allowance for the deficit difficulties resulting from Germany's reunification process. Because of Germany's internal transfers of aid money, its net payments to Brussels have been cut in half since the mid-1990s. Germany's reunification thus plays out on Europe's financial situation.

The effects of German reunification and the subsequent increased integration of Europe have also been felt in the balance of power within the EU. The focus of the bloc has shifted further eastwards. The Franco-German "motor" is no longer so important, and its right to drive the EU is openly called into question.

The national interest

Europafest vor Brandenburger Tor

Not all Germans are wildly enthusiastic about EU expansion

The crisis which has enveloped the European Union due to fractious budgetary talks and the failure to ratify the constitution has sharpened the European dilemma. The constitutional contract, the last great shared political project through which Europe's statesmen, including Germany's foreign minister, had hoped to make a mark, has been lost for the time being. The EU is looking for a new leadership structure, and reunited Germany, its largest member state, can't deliver.

In the past few years, the country has fallen, in the view of Brussels, from the model European to a braking force which, like France and Great Britain, looks out for its national interest. The currently weak EU Commission has therefore been focusing on promoting the goals of the Lisbon Process. But given the insecure future of German leadership, the growing budget gap and the unwillingness for reform, things are looking grim.

Eurocrats and members of the European Parliament also find it regrettable that Germany appears to be less enthusiastic about Europe. This discomfort has only been increased through the red-green government, according to the chairman of the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee, Elmar Brok (CDU), who says the current government has been portraying itself as a hero fighting against supposed overregulation in Brussels. The fraternization of bar room talk and national governments against Brussels is a phenomenon observable not only in Germany, but in many EU member states. This regularly leads to dismal voter turnout at European elections and the strengthening of anti-Europe sentiment.

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