Germany's influence on European union

by Sylvain Comeau

Five years after the unification of East and West Germany, fears of a resurgent militaristic Germany have subsided and will not materialize, says Dalhousie University political science professor Florian Bail.

Bail presented a paper at a four-day conference at McGill last month on "Germany Reunified-A Five and Fifty-Year Retrospective." The conference focused on the consequences of reunification, but also examined some of the issues which led to the division of the country 50 years ago.

In a Reporter interview following his presentation, Bail reaffirmed that 'hard nationalism' is at best a marginal phenomenon in Germany today.

"Hard nationalism, a combination of militarism, xenophobia, racism and nationalism, as we have known it from German history, really doesn't have a chance to come back in a significant way. It is not so much a political problem as a criminal problem-it manifests itself mostly through racist attacks by skinheads, and is widely condemned in Germany."

After reunification, hard nationalistic forces were unable to gain a foothold in the new Germany.

"They failed to occupy the levers of power. They don't have the army, they don't have a bureaucracy, they couldn't infiltrate the legal profession, and they didn't achieve a breakthrough among intellectuals. In the long run, they couldn't even control the streets. The candlelight vigils (frequently used to protest against neo-Nazi attacks) have outshined (skinhead tactics)."

A kind of 'soft nationalism' is far more popular. Bail explained that soft nationalism takes the form of a distrust of a single European currency, which the European Economic Community hopes to put in place by 1999.

"There is a populist sentiment in Germany and among the political elites that the country must protect its hard currency, or at least make sure that whatever common currency comes in 1999 is as stable as the German mark."

Germany favors a "rather rigid regime" for the conversion criteria to a European currency based on the German Bundesbank, in which the currency would be controlled by a European central bank immune from political pressure.

If that fails, says Bail, or if Germans are dissatisfied with the process, "Germany may go it alone in Europe, which would create a 'Deutsche Mark zone' more or less controlled by a fortress Germany. This would be very much to the detriment of both Germany and its European partners. It would destablize Europe in very short order."

By maintaining the mark, Germany would force the rest of Europe to react to its monetary policies. "If the European Union fails, Germany will pursue its stable currency policy, exporting, as it were, its high interest rates, in order to protect the mark. Every other country would have to take account of the German economic policy, but could only react to it rather than be part of a negotiating, deliberating process within a European monetary union."

The Maastricht Treaty, which sets the agenda for European union, dictates that an Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) will take place next summer to 'review the process of Maastricht'.

"They will have to decide on the pace at which they will go forward on monetary union, on the role of the European Parliament, and on whether they want to go ahead with enlarging or deepening the European union."

Bail says that the success of the IGC might be threatened by soft nationalism in other European countries besides Germany.

"You can see it at work in the 'Euro-skepticism' of the British Tory party, and in practically all European countries, because people are very concerned about deepening the structures of the European union, and they will have to pay a tremendous social cost to achieve that."

This would particularly be true under the German model of high interest rates to maintain a strong currency.

"Taking into consideration the regional (economic) inequality in the European union, countries which are less developed would want to influence the decision-making process at the European central bank, to protect their regional economies."

The Canadian experience can provide some idea of the potential economic fallout of monetary policies.

"The Bank of Canada's high interest rate policy has contributed, at least to some degree, to high unemployment. The same has happened with German unification, and the same will happen in Europe. So there's a tremendous concern that if (Europe) follows monetary principles alone, they will destablize regions that can't cope."