Ted Malloch: The Demise of Core Europe

Guest post by Ted Malloch author of Davos, Aspen and Yale

Remember, two World Wars were started in Europe, by Germany, and in the aftermath they have been denuded and then protected by raw American power, influence and diktat.

One telltale line during the Cold War was to “Keep the Russians out; the Germans down; and the Americans in.”


That was Europe.

Neither the Germans nor the French particularly liked it.

They seem to like it less and less.

Anti-Americanism is on the rise, particularly in the era of Trump.

Should Americans defend, support, and pay for such ungratefulness much longer?

The serious question has been put before: Could “Core” Europe move forward without a core, especially post-Brexit?

The “variable geometry” of the past always included France in the center stage, variably pairing up with the UK on foreign policy aims, or Germany on internal EU matters like the euro.

Without the UK, France is left with a functionally isolationist Germany.

Even France isn’t traditionally on Germany’s side on fiscal matters – France usually takes the spendthrift southern European stance of pushing for rich northern European countries to pay into Keynesian public investment projects all over the (southern and eastern) EU.

Germany’s consistent loss of power since 2016 doesn’t make anything easier.

Having had their elections within months of each other, the Franco-German engine of Core Europe went through tense times after Trump’s inauguration.

Higher-ups in German politics seemed to take seriously the possibility that Marine Le Pen might even pull off an upset of Trumpian proportions, likely due to the wave of anti-Brussels sentiment set off by the Paris terror attacks.

Having been abandoned by London and Washington within six months of each other, the only major ally Berlin had left was Paris – which looked to be packing its bags as well.

Never again, said some, should Germany ever find itself in a situation where one election in another country could so fundamentally alter its position in the world.

“Encircled by friends,” best describes the German position post-1991.

No country has benefited so much from the American-led liberal international order, an order they now see America criticizing.

Indeed, Germany has become one of the richest nations on the planet, with a handsome budget and trade surplus, full employment and the sort of high-value added manufacturing that once made American states like Michigan and Ohio the industrial powerhouses of the world.

The recent election result belies this message: Germany only wants more of the same, stability — and a endless free ride.

This is the nub of the current transatlantic disagreement – Germany has optimized its governance model for the pre-Trumpian era, where America provides security for the Middle East, East Asia, Oceania, Latin America, Afghanistan, the parts of Africa that aren’t handled by France, the high seas, as well as Europe.

President Trump is right to assert that Europe, particularly Germany, is developed enough to provide its own security and powerful enough to justify ambitious roles in upholding the international system from which it benefits so greatly.

The insistence on living in the past is having serious structural consequences within Germany.

The 12 percent of Germans who voted for the AfD Party weren’t living in a context of underemployment and lack of opportunities (like a rust belt Trump Democrat) – a 2017 AfD voter is a one-issue voter, be that the migrant crisis or any number of anti-EU cultural bêtes noires, which heralds the start of a culture war in Germany.

Merkel’s having to form another “Grand Coalition” with the Socialists and promise not to run again signals real weakness.

It bears remembering that the Bavarian CSU – nominally the same party as Merkel’s CDU – forced Merkel to flip flop mid-election on the migrant issue, taking a “never again” stance on letting so many migrants into Germany.

Merkel herself recently acknowledged the existence of “no-go zones” in migrant communities. Yes, she made a mistake!

The more conservative Bavarian CSU Party should be on the list of Eurosceptic parties to poach after the May 2019 election – they don’t belong in the EPP any more than Viktor Orban does, whom the CSU is closely allied with.

Another cost of forming Merkel’s coalition handed the AfD a major victory: as the largest opposition party, the AfD is guaranteed chairmanships of major parliamentary committees (Budget, for example) and other constitutionally mandated roles scrutinizing the government.

The recommendations by a group of German foreign-policy mandarins come to mind: getting rid of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Russia would ease the tension between Washington and Berlin, solidifying their commitment to the EU’s objective of energy independence from Russia – which Merkel’s government still ostensibly claims as a priority.

Such hypocrisy is inherent in governing for so long, and Merkel’s valedictory term will be filled with it as Merkel struggles to shrug off liberal aspirations for her.

In pushing for pan-European defense, she will be hobbled by her coalition partner’s opposition to the 2 percent of GDP rule. But Trump should not let her off the hook.

Frankly, this leaves Core Europe rudderless, with the obvious effect on the European project and the EU going forward, post-Brexit.

A weak Germany cements Macron’s France as the leader of Europe.

Already a shaky arrangement, Paris has lost momentum in recent months.

President Macron, in the middle of his five-year term, holds a solid majority in the legislature.

He has taken to governing as a surprisingly centrist figure: Proposing tough laws on migrants, universal mandatory military service, and democratizing parts of the European bureaucracy (a popular position).

Insofar as Macron has lost support (now at just 26 % in recent polls), it has been mainly for socialist reasons – tax increases on the middle class sparked the gilet jaunes, after all. And they will not end—now in their 22nd. Week!

In his first major foray beyond the status quo, Macron teamed up with Italy (unofficially) to delay drafting the EU budget until after the European elections.

When combined with uncertainty about whom the commissioners will be, this all promises to be a wonderful mess – especially if the UK threatens to withhold their 39bn pounds from the budget.

Armed with that much money to spread where it wants while negotiating both appointments and the budgets they will control is a delicious plot twist in the Brexit saga – Britain would never have had this much influence on what the EU does.

Macron’s situation is delicate.

His party was founded in April 2016, two years after the last European election.

Having no MEPs and no previous history in the European Parliament, his party is unaligned, and rampant speculation over which group he might join is a hot topic in Brussels – not least because his voice will be crucial to selecting President Juncker’s replacement in 2019.

Assuming the status quo reigns, Macron’s status as a pro-European federalist limit his choices: France’s Socialist party (for which Macron was Finance minister not long ago) has cornered the mainstream center-left S&D, while the French Républicains have likewise taken up the center-right EPP.

Though it is technically possible for two national parties to share a European party, Macron is too prominent a European federalist to put his party in such a situation.

More likely will be his joining the liberal, Pro-EU federalist ALDE party, but this comes at the price of accepting the established order of things: a party hierarchy, rules Macron didn’t write, figures and parties and history he may or may not want associated with himself.

Writing off the two leftist parties (The Greens; and NGL, a basket of current and “reformed” communists) and the two rightist ones a single choice remains: The reasonably Eurosceptic (they would say “Eurorealist”) European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) party, founded by David Cameron’s Conservative party to separate himself from the more fervently federalist EPP.

Short of starting a new grouping, Macron is forced to pick between ALDE and ECR.

Core Europe is thus, down, if not out.

The coming departure of the UK, post-Brexit will remove the largest, most influential party in this group, leaving space for ambitious REM apparatchiks.

But now it looks like Great Britain will have to run a EU election, selecting Brussels MEPs for a “short duration” to say goodbye after Brexit is finally passed.
Does this make any sense?

The Italian, Matteo Salvini’s new right of center nationalist-populist coalition, Alliance for Common Sense, if they perform as well is expected, will hold all the cards and it could spell the End of Europe — as we know it.

Ted Malloch is the author of Davos, Aspen and Yale

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