Merkel's EU Policy: "Kohl's Madchen" or Interest-Driven Politics?

Article excerpt

This article tries to assess the likely trajectory of Angela Merkel's policies toward the EU in contrast to her predecessor's. With Germany taking the European Council Presidency in the first half of 2007, Merkel will have had a year to put her stamp on the Presidency. By contrast, Gerhard Schroder, who took office in October 1998 had only two months before the German Council Presidency of 1999 began. I argue that Schroder's years will be remembered at the EU for a new emphasis on Germany's interests, and the decline of Germany's interest in and willingness to fund "European Grand Projects." Schroder had no great ambitions to follow Helmut Kohl's footsteps in being "reflexively European." Merkel, by contrast, shows signs early in her tenure to follow more closely her mentor's approach to the EU. I examine Germany's EU budget policies, as well as statements and policies toward the Stability and Growth Pact as the main support for the claim Merkel is different in policy not simply rhetoric.

Keywords: European Union, Germany, EU budget, Stability and Growth Pact, European integration, Angela Merkel, Gerhard Schroder.


With every new German chancellor, analysts are driven back to their keyboards to assess whether or not Germany will choose continuity or change with respect to postwar foreign policy traditions. German policies towards the European Union (EU) (1) have always been at the intersection of domestic and foreign policy, and, over time, EU policy has become more important and has moved into the chancellor's office to a much larger degree than other foreign policy areas. (2) This article will examine new Chancellor Angela Merkel's words and deeds in the first months of her term, and contrast them with outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's EU policies. The aim is to answer the question whether a Merkel-led government will prioritize European integration and the success of the EU as an integral part of its policies almost irrespective of Germany's interests, or whether Germany will continue the transition toward a more pragmatic EU policy. This renewed emphasis on domestic interests comes at a time when the German public is more skeptical about the benefits of European integration to Germany. According to the latest Eurobarometer poll taken in Fall 2005, 46 percent of Germans believe that Germany has not benefited on balance from being a member of the EU. Thus, putting EU priorities ahead of domestic economic priorities will be difficult in any case.

There is an unusual amount of agreement in the literature about Germany's role historically in the EU. Germany was an essential part of the "Franco-German motor" as well as being very Atlanticist in the foreign policy arena. This was important because it meant that European integration rarely conflicted with fundamental US interests and allowed the US to take an approach of benign neglect to integration. Moreover, Germany's Atlanticist leanings as well as its "hands off" approach to its own economy (arguably up until the 1980s) meant that it could be a bridge to the UK. Finally, its "reflexive multilateralism" coupled with its role as the facilitator of grand bargains in the EU through side payments and general checkbook diplomacy meant that Germany was the indispensable partner in EU integration progress.

Germany's acceptance of its role as primary contributor (3) to EU endeavors is the focus of this article, because the issue shows a willingness to put aside "national interest"--understood in a way even realists could support, not relying solely on rhetorical flourishes about the importance of the EU. To state this hypothesis more explicitly, one might expect Merkel to provoke more conflict in EU budget battles than Schroder did, as Germany's domestic finances continue to deteriorate, a development that compelled Schroder to be tougher than Helmut Kohl. I also examine the policy differences between SchrSder and Merkel (to the extent that they are already evident) toward the Stability and Growth Pact, which requires domestic economic sacrifice for the sake of meeting EU obligations. …