The best thing Angela Merkel can do for Germany is to resign. Not immediately, but after the term of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy expires, namely in one-and-a-half years. Then Merkel should become his successor. Others can govern in Germany, but Merkel is more important for her country in Brussels. In taking the position, the chancellor could demonstrate that she takes the European Union seriously, as seriously as is appropriate.
Recently, it seemed as if Merkel were feeling particularly well disposed toward Europe. During the banking crisis and the euro crisis, she represented, and still represents, what she believes to be German interests, and in doing so she alienated many of Germany's partners. Since then, Germany has come across as a national egoist. This role is not good for us.
Germany needs Europe, and Europe needs Germany. This is still true today, but for different reasons than in the past. In the first few decades after World War II, our neighbors wanted to contain Germany so that they could tame the German demon. The Germans needed Europe so that they could play a role on the international stage once again. Even back then, it was about national interests, but it was also about emotions, because Germany's enemies in the war were called upon to forgive the Germans for many transgressions. The fact that they were able to do so sparked a deep feeling of gratitude among the political generations of Chancellors Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl, who had also experienced the war. The European Union is probably the biggest product of reconciliation in history.
Merkel, too, is familiar with this gratitude, but she doesn't perceive it as deeply as the members of the war generations. But it isn't even necessary that she does. Germany should not forget the magnanimity of its neighbors, but 60 years have now passed and there is nothing wrong with coolly pursuing interest-based policies. So what are Germany's interests?
In Search of the West
In the past, the so-called Atlanticists were at odds with the Gaullists in Germany. The Atlanticists supported close ties with the United States. The Gaullists saw France as the more important partner, and they had a stronger European bent. Today there is hardly any basis left for the trans-Atlantic position, because the entity that was long called "the West" is in the process of dissolving.
The West consisted of the Western European countries, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and, as its leader, the United States. But now the leader is no longer cooperating. Ever since China began growing rapidly, a new dualism has emerged, with the two superpowers wrestling with each other while at the same time seeking compromise. But unlike the military dualism with the Soviet Union, America does not need any allies to support its relationship with China. It does not need countries to provide soldiers, tanks, aircraft and parade grounds. For this reason, Germany no longer really has a trans-Atlantic option.
The Federal Republic of Germany is a late birth of the West. Before 1949, the Germans were not interested in cooperating. Their attitudes toward what the German historian Heinrich August Winkler called the "normative project of the two Atlantic revolutions" in his major book "Geschichte des Westens" ("History of the West") ranged from skeptical to hostile. The Americans fought for democracy and its principles in 1776, while the French did so in 1789. Those principles included recognition of the sovereignty of the people, the separation of powers, the rule of law and human rights. The Western powers imposed all of this on the West Germans after the war.
As a result of its break with history from 1933 to 1945, the Federal Republic of Germany has no founding myth and no identity grounded in history, like France or the United States, whose people fought for democracy centuries ago. It was only the East Germans who successfully completed a revolution in 1989, but it wasn't enough to shape an overall German identity.
The West is Germany's political identity. Germans have incorporated the achievements of other nations, inserting the revolutions of the French, the English and the Americans into their self-image. The essence of Germany as a successful country today is based on the normative project of the Atlantic revolutions. It was not conceived as a nation-state from the very start. Instead, it was to be part of something else -- part of the trans-Atlantic alliance NATO, part of Europe and part of the West. If the United States gradually bids farewell to this classic version of the West, the only real home left for Germany will be in Europe.