Germany’s (Corona) Leadership in the EU

Marija Delova is a law student in her final year. She studies at the Faculty of Law “Iustinuanus Primus” in Skopje, North Macedonia. Her main interests include: International Relations, International Law, War and Security studies.

North Macedonia | June 27, 2020 | Student Essay

With their vision of a united Europe, the pioneers laid the foundation for the European Union in which we live today. The Federal Republic of Germany was one of the six founding members of the EU. Together with the other countries, it founded the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951, which later became the European Community and the European Union. Currently, with the Corona crisis, we see again how fragile the European project is. What is needed today is, that Germany takes the leading position in order to steer Europe out of the crisis.


2020 was supposed to be the moment for Germany to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. But now with the Corona Virus, Europe is thrown into chaos. As Germany is one of the strongest export-oriented economies in the world, and also the dominant economy in the European Union, this crisis is hitting Germany particularly hard. The export industry and German financial capital are the dominant players in the German capitalism model. In recent years, the internationalization of German capital has led to an increasingly clear gain in position and power in the European power bloc. Since then, Germany has assumed the role of hegemon within the EU. A “leadership” which is explicitly based on acceptance and voluntariness. The US-American economic historian Charles P. Kindleberger has formulated a term for the role of the Federal Republic of Germany: It is about hegemonic stability. If the capitalist world economy is unstable and crisis-ridden, then the most powerful country needs to take an active leading role. Hegemony does not destabilize, but makes stability possible.  Meanwhile this is the role Germany should take, it is also what its European partners demand.

During this crises Chancellor Merkel, proposed a Recovery Plan of nearly 500 billion euros, along with the French President Macron. The European Commission, on the other hand, will present a proposal for a European Reconstruction Fund. Ursula von der Leyen has already announced that it will closely follow the Franco-German proposal. Angela Merkel’s skills will be put on a test, when Germany takes over the Council Presidency in July. A compromise that all 27 member states will approve will be difficult to find.

Michael Doyle, as he distinguishes between empire and hegemon, in his comparative study of empires between Athenian and Spartan alliance policy, best describes Germany’s position. While Athens acted like an empire, the Peloponnesian League with Sparta as the leading power was hegemony- he said. For Doyle, this is characterized by the fact that it limits its claim to dominance solely to the “foreign policy” of the Allies and refrains from intervening in their internal development.

Merkel must overcome this obstacles and succeed in preserving the integrity of the internal market, which ensures the prosperity of all of us, without dragging Europe into a new North-South crisis.

Our Europe is vulnerable,” she said in her speech in the Bundestag. Therefore cohesion and solidarity in Europe have never been more important than they are today.


It is questionable whether Germany wants to play this role. Affected by the shadow of the past, Germany seems to avoid the leadership within Europe. In addition, there is the mistrust of the other states. The Commission and the governments of southern countries worry that over the next few months, German companies that have benefited from state aid could buy up their domestic firms’ market share, or buy them up completely.

Now, as the “bonds” are on the table again, the German government under Chancellor Merkel needs to get over the next obstacle. She referred to the German taxpayer as a bulwark against a shared EU debt. So now the question arises as to how well her new proposal will be received by German voters. German taxpayers hardly want to co-finance the rest of the EU. Germany said no to corona bonds (mutualized European debt), as it rejected “euro bonds” earlier. But as the largest paymaster, German cash is still going where it’s needed, and Germans feel they should be credited. And on many EU reform proposals, it wasn’t political crises that held Germany back but a solid and long-standing consensus against issues like debt mutualization or a sizable common budget. The real danger is that Germany’s failure to ensure future prosperity, and the resulting structural economic crisis, will lay the foundations for a true radicalization of German politics, which could really blow up the Eurozone. Germany should reduce existing fears both internally and externally of being an economic colonial power and take the necessary steps for the good of Europe.

If Germany cannot progress politically or economically, neither can Europe   

The saying, that Germany has already paid enough, must somehow be balanced against the real existing situation on the ground. On the other hand I think Germans are right, to insist on reforms, despite the concerns of the southern states over an austerity policy, that would be met with tough love. But with the crisis in an advanced stage, Germany must do what one does in the worst case scenario-come to the rescue while still enforcing the basic rules. Defending the West, requires Germany to grasp the bigger picture of great-power rivalries and relearn the art of strategy.  On the long run Europe will only be able to guarantee a level playing field on the global stage if German companies are strong enough. As one can see, hegemony comes with a price, it’s double-edged. As Hellmann once said , it goes through the soft power of the markets, i.e. through competition, which impose adaptation and subjugation on actors in other EU countries It functions through dominance, disciplining through austerity policies, reduces national sovereignty and democracy, favors large states, prefers intergovernmental solutions and informal leadership circles (Hellmann 2010, 5) Last but not least as Schönberger once said: Either the Germans do it, or nobody does it, and then the structure collapses.

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