Britain's exit from the EU with a long-cherished deal has raised questions about the future of this supranational bloc. Recently, despite continuing scepticism, two crucial developments took place in the EU: the finalisation of the Comprehensive Agreements on Investment (CAI) with China that was braced up notably by Germany after almost seven years of diplomatic effort, and the adoption of EU's Multiannual Financial Framework for 2021-2027 which prompted several debates. Due to the changing atmosphere of international politics, it will be interesting to see how the EU weathers the US-China rivalry as well as the autocratic and assertive Russian influence. Furthermore, while juggling both national and European interests, the region needs an indispensable leader to reach sustainable prominence.
With Britain's exit, the responsibility to uphold EU's institutional policy, as well as a valid export mechanism, rests on Germany due to its continual prominence in the bloc's decision-making process. Germany's focus on shaping its economy based on extraordinary trading capacity has made it super competitive in the global market. The impact of its economy over fellow member states has been a major factor in establishing Germany as the predominant economic powerhouse.
However, recent attributes of Germany suggest that its Europe policy has become weaker, leaner and meaner as it stops pursuing a "Tamed Power'' status. Domestic pressure to pursue any policy at the EU level, the recent rise of populism aided by the AFD and the ongoing pandemic have put significant strain over its consistency towards EU policy making. It can be assumed that the domestic economic constraints, opposing public opinion as well as concerns over its constitutional court ruling have compelled Germany to execute policies in the EU stage based on its national policy interest.
Germany's indirect institutional influence
Germany's backing over the agreement with China prompted several debates. Many alleged that Germany is securing its own market since it maintains massive trade relations with China. The allegation has particular significance as well. If we consider Germany's institutional capacity for instance- possessing the highest number of EU parliament seats, having the ability to rotate any EU council decisions with three partners by its side and being the highest financial contributor in the EU budget makes it able to be a strong influencer over the EU's agenda-setting. The strong pro-European stance benefited Germany to sway its status as the least threatening EU member state. This ensured its status as the "Most Contacted" EU member state within the region. A recent survey by the ECFR suggests that any tough stance on China seems missing among EU 27 state's policy priorities. So, it is quite plausible that Germany used the opportunity to enhance institutional coordination through this financial settlement that serves both its national interests as well as those of the EU.
Additionally, this agreement satisfies the strategic concerns of Germany. The US's withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, reduction of NATO allegiance, withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran and its sanctions on Germany's Nord Stream 2 project with Russia has put the EU in a distressing situation. Climate issues are a significant concern for each of the EU members. The pandemic has also brought further attention to the region as it became the most strident victim of virus transmission. Therefore, the US must get back into its previous stance as Europe alone is incapable of forging a durable solution to this crisis. On the other hand, Trump's withdrawal of 9500 troops from Germany alarmed several EU members since they all are highly dependent on the US's defence cooperation in Europe. Additionally, Trump's withdrawal from Iran's nuclear agreement prevented free and safe passage through the Strait of Hormuz when Iran hijacked a British ship in retaliation. Regarding the Russian issue, the US's extraterritorial sanction on the Nord Stream 2 project got a repudiated response from Germany who termed this ruling as out of order.
However, with the Biden administration coming into power, the EU needs a more pragmatic approach that would prompt the new president to address the specific strategic concerns on this region. German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, "There's just a much broader scope for policy agreement with President Biden" in her response to Biden's return to the Paris Climate Accord as well as the WHO. She also averred, "We cannot now just count on a political agreement." In that regard, she later added that there will certainly be discussions about how the countries can better cooperate. The strength of Europe significantly depends on US policies since it would maintain stability throughout the region. Furthermore, Germany needs the EU's solidarity more than any other members because of its advantage from the EMU that operates in a similar pattern to its ordoliberal approach. The Eurozone also enables Germany to exercise its influence over EU decision-making. Therefore, Germany chose the strategic option that will ensure EU integration by stretching out the CAI agreement to accommodate the US-China unsettled future. Consequently, this posture would leave no other choice for the US than to provide the upper hand to the region to counter Chinese influence. Subsequently, it will benefit both the EU's and German interests.
Moreover, the EU's multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027 reflects German predominance in terms of its emphasis on certain aspects that tie in with German interests. Despite its reluctance to lead as an indispensable hegemon, Germany gets greater priority among EU member states than France. Reasonably, its central networking position enables the country to have access to both Central and Eastern Europe, i.e., the vice grad group, whose economy is growing at an astonishing pace.
Notwithstanding, Germany's centrist role in policymaking becomes ambiguous after Angela Merkel decides to step down from the next German election. However, her successor in the CDU party Armin Laschet has promised the continuation of Merkel's pragmatic EU leadership. The continuity of Merkel's legacy would bolster Germany's "Normalised Power" exercise throughout the region with a focus on EU integration to further implicit German interests. It will be interesting to see how Germany complies with the Biden administration to provide legitimacy to the EU's supranational dogma that not so long ago seemed to be in a perilous situation.
The author is a 4th-year undergraduate student at the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.