Monday

18th Feb 2019

Analysis

Germany reluctant to lead Europe in case of Brexit

  • German Chancellor merkel (l) with PM Cameron: a Brexit could force reluctant Germany into a more assertive role (Photo: Crown)

Germany has qualms about playing a more dominant role in the European Union in case of a Brexit, EU diplomatic sources have said.

German decision-makers fear that in case Britons decide to leave the EU, Berlin, whose role within the EU has already been magnified by the eurocrisis and the refugee crisis, could be forced to play an even bigger role.

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It is a scenario that neither the German political elite, nor others in Europe would like to see.

“With the UK, Germany would lose an important ally in deepening the single market, liberalizing the markets, especially vis-a-vis France, whose approach on economic issues is more interventionist and etatist,” Julian Rappold of the German Council on Foreign Relations told this website.

“Germany would be forced to take on a leading role that would create unease among German politicians and our partners. In the long-run, it could be detrimental for the political climate and create a negative atmosphere for European cooperation,” he added.

Rappold said that both in the euro and the refugee crises Germany has been seen as key to the solution and at the same time as a part of the problem. This sentiment could be reinforced, and populists in other member states could get a boost from a more assertive Germany.

Germany would need to rely on its partners to avoid becoming too powerful in Europe.

But a real worry for Berlin is its two neighbours: France, which is preoccupied with its economic woes, and Poland, where the new nationalist government has been making fiercely anti-German statements, an EU diplomatic source told this website.

German decision-makers also worry that a Brexit could reinforce pressure on Berlin to take the lead in more integration, the source added.

Pre-empting any automatic rally around building a stronger political union, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble warned several times recently that it was not the time for further integration in the bloc.

This opinion is shared by some in Brussels.

"With what we saw in recent referendums in Denmark, Netherlands and now the UK, it would not be credible to come out with a big action plan for more Europe," an EU official said.

However, one area in which to step up cooperation could be security and defence, where member states’ positions have more in common.

It's the economy

Another issue that creates unease in Berlin is whether a possible Brexit would destabilise markets, sending economic shockwaves through Europe that could influence the mood over migrants.

Germany has been able to handle the more than 1 million people it has taken in since last summer without creating massive social tensions, partly due to its stable economic and fiscal situation.

“A deteriorating economic environment [in Germany] could have unpredictable effects on domestic politics,” the source said.

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