In 2010, over breakfast at a German-sponsored workshop in Stellenbosch, I found myself enduring heated reactions to my innocent sharing with my German colleagues an article on ‘the renationalisation of Europe.’ It was penned by US Council on Foreign Relations scholar Charles Kupchan reprinted in The Sunday Independent. The anti-American hostility evoked by the temerity of Kupchan suggesting a reversal in the fortunes of European integration was palpable. What right did an American have commenting on things European or pontificating on what Europeans should be doing? Americans should mind their own business. The German reactions could not have been more militantly ant-imperialist than had they been expressed by a third world revolutionary from somewhere in the non-West.
Fast-forward to 2012. The Eurozone crisis is daily news staple amid the predicted rise of Germany into European dominance. What are we witnessing? Article after article on the threatened demise not only of the euro but of the EU itself under the hegemonic regimen of German-imposed austerity. The historic ‘German Question’ has devolved into an existential crisis for the EU. This is where a much anticipated ‘European Germany’ is begetting a ‘German Europe,’ one threatening the social democratic compact upon which a progressive alternative to Anglo-American neoliberalism was predicated; Anglo-American capitalism itself in crisis along with its erstwhile ‘Washington Consensus.’
Just as Republican extremism on the other side of the Atlantic is trying to impose an austerity regime of tax and spending cuts without generating revenues upon which a modern urban industrial commons is sustainable, something comparable is underway in Europe. The front-loaded austerity regimen of the EU ‘stability’ pact has already destabilized the European political landscape outside the troubled peripheral economies. This was indicated by the French elections and the collapse of the German allied pro-austerity government in the Hague. Yet the international crescendo of advice on the need for a balanced rescue of the euro that includes substantial growth measures breaking a vicious cycle of austerity and endless recession seems to fall on deaf earns in Berlin, preoccupied as its leaders are with retaining the support of German voters.
But then this only underlines the challenge facing European integration in an integrated global economy that must inexorably evolve into a global political-economy. And here, the German-induced European predicament has global resonance in as much as the EU has been on the pedestal as the model-of-choice for all other integration projects, whether in Africa, Asia or in the Americas. But almost as much as to say ‘I told you so,’ that very same Kupchan, commenting on the anti-integration proposals thrown up by electioneering in France opined that “especially in the midst of the union’s political and economic fragility, unilateral French moves risk exacerbating the renationalization of political life” that has been eating away at European solidarity.
Threatening the Franco-German axis of this solidarity, the proposals put forth, such as renegotiating the stability pact along with more anti-European sentiments on the extreme left and right, would be totally anathema to Berlin and Brussels. But the French elections and the coalition collapse in the Netherlands epitomize the limits of political tolerance at the national level amongst electorates facing the grim realities of austerity-induced decline. All the more ironic in as much as Germany fashions itself as belonging in the same league as the emerging powers of BRICS as much as being a member of the Atlantic alliance.
Does this mean that Germany sets itself apart from a West in decline as the economic centre of gravity shifts east and as it becomes apparent that it is one of the main drivers of such a shift? Germany rising with the BRICS at the expense of Europe and an enfeebled transatlantic community? Not only is there an increasingly close Sino-German nexus, but there is added irony of the very real prospect that BRICS may be a stepping stone for Russia’s leveraging its own integration into Europe via Germany on its own terms.
But apart from BRICS, it is not for nothing that Germany has been a prime mover behind a ‘GIBSA’ academic initiative involving India, Brazil and South Africa. Given the need for global North-South dialogue and convergence, such an initiative cannot be begrudged for its positive potential. But it is suggestive of German identity tensions amid the manner in which it attempts to transform Europe.
However, Germany’s restlessness in its quest for its own great power identity revisits very fundamental questions about integration not only in Europe but globally. As Financial Times commentator Philip Stephens recently noted: “Powers that once resided in nation states have been lost to global economic integration.” This being the case, which can hardly be in dispute, the break-up of Europe into a renationalized zone of political and economic turmoil probably is not in the cards. But the global economic destabilization that may result from its readjustments may be unavoidable (such as US President Barack Obama not being re-elected).
Obviously, the reality of nation states having lost powers over their destiny to global economic integration has not sunk in among political elites and definitely not among their electorates and citizenries. Yet the Westphalian paradigm that died in World War II awaits burial along with its far-flung fragmenting and destabilizing legacies the world over. This ranges from the partitioning of Africa which haunts us in today’s conflicts in a number of areas of the continent to the cauldron of repression and resistance in the northern tier of the Middle East revolving around the fate of Syria to fault-lines of confrontation in the Hindu-Kush and South Asia.
Eventually what tends to be dismissed as utopianism may have to be confronted for what all this implies. The transformation of regional economic integration as hybrid forms of transnational multilateralism into full-fledged regional and continental political integration. As such, the real democratic deficit in the EU is the lack of political federation. This, in turn, may be the only way to tame the Eurozone’s economic and financial demons (and global fallout), in the process, reverse the Germanisation of Europe and its renationalizing potential, by re-Europeanising Germany. The logic is impeccable in as much as no one EU member of the Eurozone can, on its own, control its national economic and financial fate which now resides effectively in the rating agencies.
Electorates can endlessly run their political elites out of office without changing the economic and financial trajectory of their countries and the grim socio-economic consequences and political turmoil that come with them. Popular sovereignty within the parameters of the nation-state has reached its limits in today’s world and can only be satisfied through larger political economies of scale at transnational regional and continental levels. Even then, continental and subcontinental powers on the scale of the US, Russia, China, India and Brazil are hymned in by the constraints of global interdependence. The same goes for Germany in Europe.
Sovereignty has been diluted by global economic integration into degrees of relative strategic autonomy among nation-states. This has implications for European and global governance as elites negotiate over the terms of global integration. Sovereignty has to be shared. This is where the EU has been innovative in an evolution toward what Jurgen Habermas envisions as a “pan-European democratic community” on route to greater supranationalism at the global level. As utopian as such a vision may seem, the EU/Eurozone crisis gives this ‘utopianism’ a sense of urgency. The lessons of the European experience should not be lost on South Africa and the rest of the continent.
The nation-state, as expressions of the Africanisation of colonialism (as opposed to genuine decolonization) are nowhere near as entrenched as is the case in Europe. Moreover, the Eurozone crisis challenges the primacy of the strict sequencing model of economic over political integration. Furthermore, Africa’s demographic explosion will increasingly force a softening of European imposed borders. At the same time, there is ample room on the continent for regional hegemons and regionally dominant economies like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya to fill a German-like niche without necessarily imposing German-like immiseration on neighbouring states.
This is especially so given the increasingly even distribution of minerals and energy resource endowments in need of sharing among AU member states. And while trade and development integration will remain the focus for the foreseeable future, there is ample time to carefully study what have been the strengths and weaknesses of a European project laid bare by a rising united post-cold war Germany.
Francis A. Kornegay is a senior research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue