Popular opinion in Germany is key to European decisions
The European Union was built on a model of consensus which was rooted in a German-French friendship for many years, writes Prince Michael of Liechtenstein.
The Paris Bonn axis drove the organisations for a long time, especially during the days of the EU’s predecessors, the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Community (EC). But the opinion and interests of other members were highly respected.
The UK played an important role, but was not the driving force.
This EU mode was clear up to the turn of the century. It had two drivers and general consensus as all other members, even the smallest, had their say. Germany’s Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1982-1998), although a dominant politician, was well aware of the importance of political balance in the union. Germany’s relationship with France was paramount.
France's role in the union has declined through a lack of leadership and reforms. The French economy has underperformed and France, like most south European countries has serious economic, fiscal and financial problems.
The internal discussions in the UK over EU membership challenge the UK's ability to participate actively in Brussels. This leaves Germany as the dominant country in the EU's decision-making process and is enhanced by the fact that Germany’ Chancellor Angela Merkel can be considered as the dominant personality on the continent's political scene due to weak leadership in most European countries.
Chancellor Merkel is highly tuned to internal politics and especially public opinion. She had no qualms about abandoning principles in order to secure majorities and electoral results. The swift decision to abandon nuclear energy in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident is just one example. This was taken without considering the long-term economic factors.
Germany is now leading Europe by default. Chancellor Merkel is decisive on major agendas at EU level such as relations with Russia, the Ukraine crisis and Greece. She was also decisive on the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission.
As the mood in Germany changes dramatically over support for Greece, it is likely that Chancellor Merkel will also drop Greece very soon.
Internal German opinions and therefore its politics, are an essential part of Europe's politics.