Il ruolo della Germania in Europa

28/07/2015, Rome

The Istituto Affari Internazionali (International Affairs Institute, IAI) of Rome and the Europäische Akademie Berlin (European Academy of Berlin) organised a seminar on 'Germany's role in Europe'. The meeting was attended by, among others, German Minister for European Affairs Michael Roth, judge of the German Constitutional Court Peter M. Huber, and Director for Communication of the Bundesbank Michael Best. The sessions were chaired by the IAI Vice President Gianni Bonvicini, Director of the European Academy of Berlin Eckart Stratenschulte, Prof. Gianluigi Tosato of LUISS Unniversity, and columnist of the 'Il Sole 24 Ore’ newspaper Dino Pesole.

During the session dedicated to the definition of Germany's European policy, Bonvicini introduced the topic stating that Germany has transitioned from the role of reluctant leader, to a fundamental position in the area of European integration. The central role has been taken not only with respect to financial agreements, but also in the field of foreign and security policies. Minister Roth presented Germany's position and perceptions: specifying that his country is only one of the 28 partners, and that Europe is a team, he asserted that the EU has always treated Germany like the other states, and rightly so. The country is not in a dominant position, rather, it is very vulnerable because of its geographic position. The major current threats challenging the Union are youth unemployment, economic crisis, and security issues: these need to be dealt through European coordination and stronger state responsibility. If a State refuses to assume responsibility, then it goes against the European social concept: that the EU is based on plurality and multiculturalism.

As for unemployment, the problem is not restricted to Greece or Croatia, but is a pan-European issue. In this regard, there are European funds that have, however, hardly been demanded or used. The minister also commented on the Greek question, stating that it is not sufficient to analyse the most recent events; one has to wait for future successes, which will have to be gradual and demonstrable, with a political programme that has to be integrated with investment plans. Finally, concerning security issues, which have been caused by the migration emergency, Roth stated that Germany is ready to take on its responsibilities: indeed, only five states in the Union – including Germany and Italy - welcome 80% of the migrants; Italy and Germany thus need to collaborate closely, especially in the fields of foreign and security policies.

Professor of Law from LUISS University, Gianluigi Tosato, chaired the session that dealt with the role of the German Constitutional Court. He started by stating that the Court does not deserve the reputation of not being Europe-friendly, since it has handed down numerous pro-European verdicts. More specifically, with the Solange II case, the Constitutional Court renounced its prerogatives in case of European equivalence, and with the Honeywell sentence it declared that it would be open to a 'Fehlertoleranz' (tolerance of error). Judge Peter Huber acknowledged that the Court acts as a 'shield of democracy', in the sense that it promotes fundamental laws and rights. Therefore, it can be neither euro-sceptic nor pro-EU, as it is not its job to carry out a political plan. Huber believes that one has to take into account the fact that the Court is based on Member States’ sovereignty: they are the guardians of the Treaties – the EU is not a federal states; it is based on the Treaties the Member States have ratified. In the Member States' constitutions sovereignty is guaranteed. There is thus a cohabitation of two distinct ideas: the first one is the top-down concept of European institutions (such as the European Commission or the Court of Justice, etc.), while the second one is the bottom-up view of Member States.

The seminar concerning German economic policy was introduced by Jens Klose, member of the Economic Counselor Committee of the German Government. The guest explained that the committee is a council of experts, which is part of the government, but assesses the political economy of the federal government independently. Every year, the Council drafts a report which is then presented to the head of government, in which economic, European, energy, financial, and security policies are analysed. As for the growth rate, Klose stated that already in 2011 Germany had reached a pre-crisis level of growth, and today it has a steady rate of 1,8-2%. This may seem like a high rate for Europe, but it is low compared with other countries. Klose finally discussed the evolution of the German job market, which is a success story. Indeed, through pension reforms, the retirement age has been pushed to 67 years, so that Germany can protect itself from demographic stagnation and an aging population.

Finally, the Director for Communications of the Bundesbank, Michael Bes,t analysed the future of the monetary union. To face current situations, he believes, one has to look back at the decisions taken by the European Council 25 years ago. When the topic of a common currency to promote trade was initially discussed, there were two possibilities for guaranteeing the new economic policy: on the one hand, national sovereignty could be limited and joint control could be created; on the other, control could be exercised through individual responsibility. By choosing the second mechanism, Member States kept their sovereignty, with consequent responsibility for decisions. The transfer of rights would have been very unlikely, and still today national parliaments have sovereignty on fiscal policies, pension laws, job market regulations and so on. Today the same issue is being faced again: is it right to transfer economic and financial policy to the European level, or should we keep the normative framework of individual responsibility? A political union could mean a stronger monetary policy, but Member States are not ready to modify their constitutions. The consequences are that without a fiscal union and without a deferral of sovereignty, there cannot be common responsibility which, together with control, is an incentive. The way out of the crisis is thus a consolidation of the normative framework stated in the Treaties. Moreover, as Best explained, central banks are not the only game-setters, and the monetary union will survive only if every state guarantees its requirements for collaboration.

As for Greece, the guest stated that its participation in monetary union has been questioned because the government has not enacted common responsibility policies: it needs to modernise its administrative structure, and fight corruption and clientilism. Moreover, since the payment of interest has been postponed and reimbursement spread over decades, the assistance plan could violate the principles of monetary union, if it turns out to be a simple transfer of money rather than a loan.

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