Monday, June 14, 2010

Germany and the European Union

June 10, 2010

Germany and the European Union, Professor Dr. Rudolf Hrbek, Tuebingen

Professor Hrbek noted that the impulse toward the European Union came from the historical memories of the period of 1914-1945 and the experience with authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. Many exiles believed that they had an obligation to give the continent a new architecture. This desire was further included in the Basic Law of the new Federal Republic of Germany in 1949, which was inspired in part by a determination to provide world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe. The goal of peace and security, therefore, were interwoven with European cooperation after 1945.

With the Federal Republic, part of this project entailed becoming ensconced in larger, supranational organizations such as those provided by the Schuman Plan that created in 1950 the European Coal and Steel Community. This was continued with the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and the creation of the European Economic Community.

Additionally, this conflated with West Germany’s quest to rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War and its participation in the Marshall Plan. This led, however, to the division of Germany between East and West and a continuation of West Germany’s semi-sovereign status until 1990, at which time the occupation of a unified Germany finally ended.

The European Union embodies certain values: freedom, rule of law, basic human rights. There is almost no area that is not affected by these assumptions and policy integration. On the one hand, there is an insistence of co-responsibility, with certain competencies shared and others the exclusive interest of the EU. In this, Brussels must give convincing reasons why something must be done. It cannot unilaterally implement a policy without the acceptance of a majority of its members. On the other hand, member states have to understand that when they joined this club they were required to adhere to its rules. Sometimes, a country has to accept the fact that its views are going to be in the minority and that its national self interest will suffer.

The EU has undergone a series of enlargements, starting in the 1970s with Ireland and the UK, and followed in the 1980s with Spain, Portugal, and Greece, all of which had only recently thrown off the yoke of an authoritarian regime. While serious economic rationales existed for denying them membership, the political need to foster and welcome these budding democracies more than outweighed any fiscal trepidation. This expansion was followed by the addition of Finland, Sweden and Austria, and 10 new members allowed in by 2004. At present, there are four candidate lands, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Turkey. Professor Hrbek doubted whether Turkey would be allowed in, but would continue in a sort of “special relationship” with the EU.

In response to the question as to how one becomes a candidate, there are the so-called Copenhagen Criteria which lie in three groups:

1. Political criteria: Rule of law, a transparent system, and basic human rights, such as protection of ethnic minorities.
2. Economic system: The nation must have a level of development commensurate with a nation in Europe and market mechanisms.
3. Each potential member must have state capacities to administer EU policies and distribute EU structural funds. These member states must be able to implement EU policies and apply rules.

The EU distributes about 200 billion Euros each year in agriculture and regional policies aimed at redistributing wealth from payer nations such as Germany to recipient nations such as Ireland.

When asked what impact the German federal system would have on the implementation of the Bologna Accords, Professor Hrbek was emphatic in pointing out that this was a function of the Council of Europe, not the European Union. The Council of Europe was begun in 1949 to oversee cultural policies. This body includes such nations as Russia. EU educational policy focuses on exchange of students. In Germany, the Basic Law leaves all matters of education, culture and the media are the exclusive powers of the German states. Merkl and representatives have an educational summit to try to harmonize national educational policy, but whatever is instituted under the EU or the Council of Europe, it is a matter for each state to respond autonomously. There exist joint committees and institutions to coordinate amongst the states. It has to be noted that the German states were creatures of both historical developments as independent kingdoms that antedate German unification in the 19th century, but also that they were administrative and governmental units that functioned after 1945 before the creation of the Federal Republic’s creation in the spring of 1949.

To summarize, Professor Hrbek noted that in public surveys, the EU is generally seen in a negative light, but when specific issues such as controlling immigration, security, or the break-down of the economic system with Greece, public opinion sways in the other direction.

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