In the nineteenth century, Germany developed the idea of ‘Sonderweg’ (special path); an approach that, in part, led to the Second and Third Reichs. Having been defeated in war twice since – and reunited after the end of the Cold War – Germany came to fully adapt to the Western style of democracy and has joined Europe in a shared cause.
It has also adopted a soft line on foreign policy, minding its own business and not getting militarily involved in other people’s affairs.
With little money wasted on defence spending and military operations, and with an enviable work ethic, partly stemming from Teutonic discipline and partly owing to a post-war savings mentality, the Federal Republic of Germany developed a robust and mighty economy.
Over the years this introspective approach has translated into a calm and grounding force amid the affluent, formidable, and often interventionist West, and a good thing, too. Germany’s reluctance to engage in aggressive global-political meddling has been valuable and, in many ways, a blessing in disguise.
But this German exception to the general Western cause has with time crossed over into exceptionalism again. Germany is once again drawing her own course in a number of key areas.
- Germany is reluctant to back NATO military operations, no matter the situation (Libya being the latest instance, where it was perhaps made clear for the first time that this reluctance is more compulsive behavior than anything else);
- It blocks investment in EU initiatives and places restrictions on free movement and employment (Poland and eastern-Europe-enlargement countries having faced the brunt of this protectionist policy until May 1, 2011, when the moratorium on eastern-European workers was finally lifted);
- It supports the single-currency euro-zone in theory, but shows staunch opposition to measures designed to help alleviate the sovereign debt crisis. Its approach toward Greece, Ireland, and the bailout fund were indecisive, teeter-tottering and dubious, on account of its de-centralized government model and the local politics that go with it.
In short, Germany, now Europe’s richest economy, is drawing its own course again, despite its Western partners’ and allies’ dissatisfaction, antagonizing the West at large, heading down a special German path.
Ironically, it does this in the name of its commitment to not meddle in other people’s affairs.
Some would call this a sonderweg for the new millennium. Others an innocent but unfortunate lack of coherent strategy, manifesting as a series of tantrums from a revamped but still issue-ridden kid on the block, indicative of strength without vision, or clout without guidance.
Whatever the case, Germany is a hard nation to understand and its tactics are making many Europeans nervous, people and politicians alike.
In times of financial and political crisis, uncertainty is not constructive. Europe could do with more coherent and less self-involved leadership.