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M K Bhadrakumar | 

The German Question has been at the very core of geopolitics in Europe at least since 1453, a poignant year in world history signifying the notional end of the Middle Ages. Ottoman Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror put an end to the Byzantine Empire by capturing Constantinople (present-day Istanbul); France recaptured Bordeaux, marking the end of the Hundred Years’ War. For the next four centuries, the German Nation lurked as a fragmented space in the heart of the Holy Roman Empire, sucking instability from outside, until late 19th century when a reunited Germany began ‘exporting’ instability.

Macron’s speech aims at strengthening Merkel’s hands as she begins the painful process of cobbling together a new coalition government in Berlin with partners who have divergent views on European integration

The European Union project aimed at containing German revanchism following World War II by diverting its energies and attention to the Cold War struggle. But with the end of the eighties, things began changing dramatically with the unexpected unification of Germany and the unforeseen disbandment of the Soviet Union. The EU has since proved incapable of managing the re-emergence of German power and itself increasingly resembles the old Holy Roman Empire. (“I speak Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse,” Emperor Charles V once said.)

Read more: Continued Russian gas transit through Ukraine: European Union’s top priority

Against the above backdrop, Sunday’s election to the German Bundestag assumes great significance. The importance of Germany in terms of its location, size, population, economy and military strength add up to immense potential. To what extent is Germany going to ‘pull its weight’; the likely elements of continuity and change in the German Question; how the emergent internal order of Germany is going to impact European (as well as Eurasian and Euro-Atlantic) balance of power – these are big questions.

The reactions of the US, Russia, and France to the election victory of Chancellor Angela Merkel provide insight into the power dynamic. The US President Donald Trump phoned up Merkel on September 23 “to wish her country a successful election” on the next day “when Germans go to the polls” and to underscore “the steadfast bond between the United States and Germany.”

Trump has been a trenchant critic of Merkel’s move to allow over one million refugees to enter Germany in 2015. When it comes to Putin, Merkel is unforgiving on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its alleged intervention in Donbas

Trump hasn’t spoken to Merkel after she won the election on Sunday. When asked about it on Tuesday, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that “they’re working on timing for the second call of congratulations. But I don’t believe that’s taken place yet today… No, I think they’re just working on the logistics piece of both leaders coordinating.”

Read more: Is the European project sinking with the rise of Nationalism?

The Russian President Vladimir Putin called up Merkel on Tuesday and congratulated her “on CDU/CSU’s success”. The crisply worded Kremlin readout said that they “reaffirmed their readiness to carry on with business-like, mutually beneficial cooperation” between the two countries.

The French President Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, made a major speech on Tuesday at the Sorbonne, hot on the heels of Merkel’s victory, on the future of Europe. Macron reiterated his proposals for the eurozone having its own budget and finance minister to ensure the stability of the single currency union and “to weather economic shocks”.

He offered to open the French military to European soldiers and proposed other EU member states do the same on a voluntary basis. He suggested the creation of a European intelligence academy to better fight against terrorism, and a shared civil protection force

Macron also proposed a shared European military intervention force and a shared defense budget and a European defense strategy to be defined by the early 2020s. He offered to open the French military to European soldiers and proposed other EU member states do the same on a voluntary basis. He suggested the creation of a European intelligence academy to better fight against terrorism, and a shared civil protection force. He said that a European asylum agency and standard EU identity documents could better handle migration flows and harmonize migration procedures.

Read more: Brexit: Fight of ‘common British people’ against ‘global elite’

It is no secret that Merkel has had difficult relationships with both Putin and Trump. Indeed, Merkel has little in common with their ‘worldview’ and they are far from enamored of her being a flag carrier of western liberalism. Merkel’s foreign policy is very much centered on supporting global institutions and she has also remained at the forefront of defining a common European response to geopolitical challenges.

Trump hasn’t spoken to Merkel after she won the election on Sunday. When asked about it on Tuesday, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that “they’re working on timing for the second call of congratulations

Merkel’s diplomatic relations with Trump have been reserved at best and their stances on trade, climate change, and immigration are poles apart. Trump has been a trenchant critic of Merkel’s move to allow over one million refugees to enter Germany in 2015. When it comes to Putin, Merkel is unforgiving on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its alleged intervention in Donbas. At the bottom of it all, the fact remains that the ‘regime change’ in Ukraine has been Merkel’s botched up project, thanks to Russia’s counter-offensive. The bitterness and mutual suspicions cannot easily dissipate.

What salvages the German-American relationship is that ultimately it is also a close institutional relationship (which is not the case with Russia.) In the final analysis, Germany remains dependent on the US military and economic leadership.

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The Russian commentaries have caricatured that Merkel won a hollow victory. An acerbic commentary carried by RT is titled Merkel’s days as German Chancellor are probably now numbered. Disarray in German politics suits Russia since Merkel has been the main exponent of the EU sanctions against Russia. And disunity within the EU, in turn, shifts the balance in favor of Moscow, which will be far more comfortable dealing with European countries at the bilateral level, none of them individually being a match for Russia.

The European Union project aimed at containing German revanchism following World War II by diverting its energies and attention to the Cold War struggle

The alacrity with which Macron has spoken goes to show France’s keenness to preserve its axis with Germany. Merkel is Macron’s best bet in Berlin. Despite her election losses, she intends to remain at the helm of European affairs. The EU is at a historic crossroads, with Brexit and Trump’s ‘America First’ changing the alchemy of European integration. Macron’s speech aims at strengthening Merkel’s hands as she begins the painful process of cobbling together a new coalition government in Berlin with partners who have divergent views on European integration.

Read more: EU’s Impending doom: Frexit under Far-right ‘Le Pen’

Macron is due to meet Merkel on Thursday at the EU summit in Tallinn, Estonia. Read an analysis by Spiegel entitled Uncertainty Dogs Europe After German Election.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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