German Power and Leadership

Event date
Tuesday, September 27, 2016 - 09:00 - 14:00
Angela Merkel in German Bundestag. Photo by Tobias Koch (OTRS) [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons

On September 27, 2016, the Transatlantic Academy held the opening conference of its ninth fellowship year, which is focused on the theme of Germany and the United States in the 21st Century, at the German Marshall Fund of the United States's Washington headquarters. The conference, entitled “German Power and Leadership,” explored three closely related issues with regard to the evolving roles of Germany and the United States both in Europe and the world: the process and aftermath of German reunification; the politics of the European Monetary Union, with special attention to Germany’s role in ongoing efforts to stabilize and strengthen the eurozone; and the U.S.-German relationship in the contemporary context of multiple complex challenges facing the transatlantic community, including Great Britain’s recent decision to leave the European Union.

After a brief welcoming address, Transatlantic Academy Executive Director Stephen Szabo introduced the year’s theme and the first panel: “The Politics and Legacy of Unification.” Senior Fellow Mary Elise Sarotte focused on the perpetuation of the transatlantic security alliance after the Cold War, which (despite lacking its initial basis of existence, namely the Soviet Union) continues to strongly impact Germany’s relations with both Russia and the United States. Senior Fellow Frédéric Bozo stressed that the European dimension, not NATO, was a more significant factor in facilitating German reunification than commonly assumed. By ensuring that a reunited Germany was securely placed within the European system of states, this also had an accelerating effect on European integration and contemporary Germany’s dominant position in the European Union. Senior Fellow Stefan Fröhlich addressed the uncertainties for Germany and its allies arising from this newly dominant role and elaborated on the difficulties of how to deal with a newly emerging “German question.” The subsequent discussion was moderated by GMF President Karen Donfried.

The second panel, moderated by GMF Transatlantic Fellow Peter Sparding, explored “The Politics of European Monetary Union.” Senior Fellow Harold James described the differing economic views of both Germany and France regarding the eurozone crisis. By prioritizing either liquidity- or solvency-oriented measures, this Franco-German clash of perceptions complicated a joint European solution to the crisis. Senior Fellow Wade Jacoby highlighted the impact of trade patterns in the eurozone and refuted the claim that pronounced wage imbalances in Europe were the crucial economic variable behind Southern Europe’s relative economic stagnation. Daniela Schwarzer, the Director of GMF’s Berlin office and its Europe program, reiterated the ideological and institutional differences that underpin the different national approaches to the current crisis. Fellow Heidi Tworek elaborated on the nexus of modern news collection and dissemination, underlining ideological differences between Europe and the United States which might lead to future clashes between the two partners.

The third panel was titled “Germany and the United States after Brexit: Partners in Leadership?” and took a broad look at the two countries’ international power and leadership in the near future. Bosch Fellow Hans Kundnani argued that Germany neither can nor will be Europe’s hegemon and highlighted why the United States encouraging Germany to assume this role would be dangerous and detrimental to the European project. Fellow Yascha Mounk elaborated on the recent surge in European populism and how this trend will impact the German-American partnership. Constanze Stelzenmüller, Robert Bosch Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe, argued Germany is ironically at its greatest capacity as it is most overwhelmed by the multiplicity of European crises. She expressed astonishment at the shift towards illiberal democracy in Germany and suggested America’s role (and any partner’s role) is to create policy that enables, rather than splits, the European Union. Boris Ruge, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission of the German Embassy to the United States, argued that Germany is a positive leader on a number of issues and emphasized Berlin’s responsibility to address the social marginalization signaled by a rising populist sentiment with sound economic and social policy.

The conference closed with a solemn, but hopeful, look towards the evolving role of Germany and its partners in handling the crises both domestically and within the eurozone.