Germany and the European Union
- Simon BulmerSimon BulmerDepartment of European Politics, University of Sheffield
The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was a founder member of the European integration process, namely the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) created in 1952. However, the circumstances were very different from the 2010s. Germany was a divided and defeated state until 1990. Integration provided important political and economic support to West Germany. From the 1970s, it strengthened the FRG’s foreign policy reach, for the new state was constrained by Cold War politics as well as other legacies, notably the Holocaust. European integration provided a framework for building trust with western neighbors, particularly France. The collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1989 and its absorption into the FRG through unification in 1990 brought about significant change to Germany’s relationship to European integration. The unified Germany became the largest member state. Initial concerns about German power in Europe were allayed by Chancellor Helmut Kohl pursuing deeper integration to bind the unified Germany further to integration: through creating the European Union (EU) itself and setting a course toward monetary union. Specific concerns about German power only really emerged in the 2010s, as the EU was bedeviled by several crises.
In seeking to offer a comprehensive understanding of Germany’s relationship with the EU, coverage is organized around four broad themes: the historical dimension of the relationship; the substance of Germany’s European policy; the sources of Germany’s European policy; and Germany’s role and power in the EU.
The historical dimension of Germany’s relationship with European integration is important as a first theme. It is no exaggeration to suggest that European integration helped emancipate the FRG from the historical legacy of turbulent relations with France, Nazi tyranny, and the opprobrium of the Holocaust. European integration afforded a complementary framework for Germany’s political and economic order. The importance of embedding German unification in a context of European integration should not be underestimated.
Germany’s European policy has displayed considerable consistency up to the contemporary era. Support for further integration, for enlargement, the market order, and the development of an EU “civilian power” have been key components. These policies are important contributors to understanding Germany’s role in the EU: the second theme.
The political and economic system of the FRG forms an important backdrop to understanding Germany’s policy and role in the EU: the third theme. From the 1960s until the 2010s, EU membership was subject to cross-party consensus and permissive public support. These circumstances allowed the federal government autonomy in pursuing its European policy. However, the political climate of European policy has become much more contested in the 2010s.
Germany’s role was placed in the spotlight by the succession of crises that have emerged within the EU and in its neighborhood in the 2010s, particularly the eurozone and migration crises. The fourth theme explores how the question of German power re-emerged. These four themes are important to understanding Germany’s role in the EU, especially given Berlin’s centrality to its development.