Does Germany have too much power? The answer depends to a large extent on where you pose the question. If you were to ask people on the street in Athens many would probably nod their heads in agreement. In Berlin, however, the response would be quite the opposite.
Europe is, as always, divided. In many southern European countries, Germany is once again seen as the most dominant force on the continent, imposing austerity on weaker states. In some countries, breathless comparisons to Nazi Germany are considered legitimate. Angela Merkel is shown on magazine covers sporting a Hitler ‘tache, panzers are shown on the road to Athens. The Germans are once again viewed as the dominant force in Europe.
In Germany, meanwhile, there are public grumbles that the country is being taken for granted by other Europeans. Germany is Europe’s “magic money tree”, whose sole purpose is to transfer billions of taxpayer euros to poorer, indebted states; yet at the same time the German people have given all their rights of self-determination to Brussels.
The truth, of course, is more nuanced. Who really holds the power in Europe? The fact is, no country can make decisions in the EU alone. The EU consists of several institutions, all of which are closely linked. The best-known of these are the European Council, the EU Parliament, and the EU Commission. New EU legislation emerges after a process involving all of these institutions. And, of course, European citizens ultimately vote both for their own governments and for Members of the European Parliament.
Yet the fact remains that Germany is the most populous and economically strongest country in the EU. Therefore, Germany sends the most members of parliament to the EU Parliament (currently 96 out of a total of 751 members). In the Council, too, Germany has the most votes (together with France, Great Britain, and Italy), namely 29. It also has a lot of influence in the Commission. According to a report from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germans hold more key positions in the European Commission than any other European country.
Does Germany have too much power? The Schwarzkopf Foundation, as part of its “Understanding in Europe” project, has collected questions and comments from pupils from across Germany. We’ve taken these questions and put them to EU politicians and experts to get a response.
The first question: Does Germany have a privileged position within the EU?
To start with, we put this question to David McAllister, former Prime Minister of Lower Saxony and currently an MEP for Angela Merkel’s CDU party in the European Parliament. How would he answer this question?
Next up, we spoke to Fabio De Masi, who is an MEP for the radical left DIE LINKE party. What would he say?
Germany is the fourth-largest economy in the world and has an enormous political and economic power in the European Union, not least because Germany is selling more and more abroad than it buys, which means a high export surplus. This is why our trading partners are in debt. Germany is therefore the only country to have the fiscal ammunition for the so-called ‘Euro rescue packages’, which were, in reality, bank rescues. Thus Germany can largely dictate policy in the Eurozone.
Next we talked to Ska Keller, the vice-president of the Greens/EFA group in the European Parliament, and former Green co-candidate for European Commission President ahead of the 2014 EU Parliament elections. What does she think?
Germany is the most populous country in the EU, and this is of course something special. But I think it’s important that the government in Germany makes it clear that size is not everything. We have a special past in Germany and one should be careful that other people are also considered important. This is very, very important and unfortunately you can see that with the current federal government does not always work out.
The second student question was: Who is really in charge in the EU? Who decides?
We wanted to hear a response to this question from Fabio De Masi from DIE LINKE. What would he say?
The European Commission has the right to legislative initiative in areas where it alone is responsible. In other areas, the Commission may first be called upon by the Council of the Member States, by the European Parliament or by a European Citizens’ Initiative. In fact, the larger countries – Germany as well as France – have a de facto veto in the European Union and, therefore, rarely is anything decided against the will of their governments.
And what would David McAllister from the CDU have to say about this?
And what would Green MEP Ska Keller say?
Laws are made by the European Parliament together with the European Council, that is, the Ministers of the Member States. And before that, the Commission proposes draft legislation. Ultimately, of course, the power of European citizens underlies everything, because they choose the European Parliament. They also elect the parliament in the member states, which in turn form the governments of the member states.
Finally, we wanted to get some ideas about how the EU might become more democratic, particularly in the distribution of power between Member States. To get a response, we spoke to Astrid Lorenz, Professor of Political Science at the University of Leipzig. What would she say?
Democracy comes from the people. The citizens of the European Union must therefore first of all formulate an opinion on what they expect from the EU. […] Fairness can mean everyone has the same rights, or that everyone has the same standard of living. If fairness is the same standard of living, Europe should be redistributing on a large scale, because living conditions are still very different. This would require agreement on a distribution mechanism, which can then only be conditionally changed, and for most people this would mean an improvement, but for others, such as for example for Germans, it would mean a de facto lowering of the standard of living.
There should be a wide public debate on this subject, which is conducted across Member States’ borders. This also necessitates greater assistance from the parties, who ‘participate in the formation of the will of the people,’ as the German constitution states. European politics is not just a matter for European politicians. In Germany, a lot has happened in this respect, and various European political positions are portrayed in the media, but in many EU Member States there is no deep debate on the European Union, but rather inflamatory slogans in the run-up to elections. If a Europe-wide opinion-making process is to work, it must be better and more carefully negotiate how the will of the people in the EU should be represented.
Does Germany have too much power in the EU, or too little? Is Germany dominant because of its large population and the strength of its economy? Or is Germany just one of 28 (soon to be 27) countries, all of which have equal rights? Do you think the distribution of power in the EU is fair? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!