Old habits do die hard. In the past year, and dramatically in the past month, references to German dominance of Europe have multiplied. They are motivated by Berlin's leading role in solving the Eurozone's sovereign debt crisis, including in the deal agreed to today. Direct parallels with Nazi Germany's ambitions have been dared: winner of World War II; IVth Reich; Gauleiters in Greece with the "Third Reichenbach" in the new Gestapo headquarters. Chancellor Angela Merkel's policymaking has been described as Bismarck-like. And these parallels did not emerge only from angry blogs or tabloid headlines, but in the mainstream media and in public interventions, too.
Really? Do Europeans still think that way?
There is an evident contradiction within the EU in asking for Germany to live up to its responsibility but at the same time making sure Germany does not get too powerful. More than that, Europeans have been hearing claims at the political level that Germany has finally succeeded in dominating Europe. Economic dominance has led to long-awaited political dominance. Within Germany, some are proud; elsewhere in Europe, some accuse.
Nowadays, it seems a clear separation is deliberately being made between Berlin's actions or inactions, and its intentions. In times of crisis and elections, shortcuts with the past are dangerous, easy, tempting: because Germany is the only one who can save Europe (although Germany alone cannot do much), Germany wants to dominate Europe, and it never stopped wanting to.
On Monday, during a key press conference on the future of the EU, President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel jointly condemned and warned against such amalgams, which have largely come from those out of power. Several French ministers have also come out strongly to protect France's friendship with its German ally.
Populist and nationalistic discourses in European democracies are one thing. Defending national interests and sovereignty around the negotiation table is another. But doing it by using blunt fear is dangerous and petty. It is not courage, nor determination; it is frustration and dishonesty at their worst.