Henry Kissinger is put on the table as soon as an EU debate shifts towards the question of leadership. Whether he actually said it or not – Kissinger is remembered for the complaint that there is not one number to dial straight to the head of Europe. And even though the Lisbon Treaty introduced the president of the European Commission as head of the EU, it doesn’t quite do the trick.
It is by far not only Kissinger who suffered from the lack of leadership in the EU. But what to do with this unsettling issue? At this point heads often turn to Germany. Especially in 2015, after the peak of the refugee crisis in Europe, all eyes were on Germany as the “moral leader of the European Union”. Much has happened since that summer, but the suggestion isn’t less popular. Wouldn’t it be quite comfortable to have Germany take the lead? After all these years finally somebody to set the sails. One strong, but cautious leader. A role model for future generations of Europeans. Ignoring national borders and European arrangements at the peak of the refugee crisis was a moral, humane and kind act of Angela Merkel. Was this action European? Some argue yes, because European values were lived. Others argue no, because of the illegitimacy of the action posed by one nation state. Enough international voices praised Merkel, many national voices were infuriated – and still are. The Times saw Merkel in 2015 as the chancellor of the Free World and the CNN describes Merkel in 2017 as the “most prominent defender of globalist Western values.” But can Germany’s Mutti be the Mum of all Europeans? And if she could, would that be desired?
Germany surely is an interesting country. Germans are the nerds, the hard-working bores. Everything is on point (except their jokes). Germans are proud to be critical thinkers, proud of the strong democracy, rich and progressive, multi-kulti and diverse, they obey their laws and love it. But concerning their nationality Germans have learnt from history to be “proud not to be proud”, as comedian Jan Böhmermann put it in 2015. Germany enjoys international respect and rightly so. But all that glisters is not gold and the EU is not in need for one particular country with its particular culture to guide the way. It needs one particular figure. Nobody is perfect. Neither Germany, nor Angela Merkel. And Europeans will point that out. If Germany puts itself – or is put – at the top of an egalitarian concept, special attention is drawn to every step. In a European Union where a hierarchy favours some over others, competition is high. And every mistake matters.
But how then is Angela Merkel supposed to convince all Europeans of her leadership skills? She and her CDU won the German elections in late September, but they could barely be described as winners. Merkel’s role as the moral leader of Europe has driven a wedge between her and the conservative Bavarian wing. In a recent interview with the German newspaper “Spiegel”, French President, and EU-superstar Emmanuel Macron described Merkel as the embodiment of Germany’s 20th century fate, as “the chancellor of Germany’s reconciliation with Europe.” But can she be the chancellor of Europe, the missing figure at the forefront of the European Union? Surely not as a German. Germans who dream of Germany’s national sovereignty denounce Merkel’s Europeanism. European-minded Germans would not want to see her as Europe’s leader, because it would be against their pure understanding of the EU system. If Merkel, then in her role as full-blood European.
In the end of the day this all is proof of an almost frantic search for a leader of the European Union. This really isn’t about Germany, the talk is mostly about Angela Merkel herself. Angela Merkel, as the embodiment of not only the reconciliation of Germany with Europe, but also as the embodiment of European values and morals. She is demanded by public and media as the unprecedented face and mouthpiece of the EU. Whether or not Merkel would be a good match for this position, it clearly shows that the EU, in fact in desperate need of a shining star for guidance, needs not a country to take the lead. Instead, it needs a reform bringing a popular figure, that shining star, on top of its institutions. The EU needs a leader who will represent Europeans as a whole, detached from nationalist sentiments. A truly European representative. But this seems quite too visionary for many, so out of pure convenience the cry for Germany continues, no matter how little sense this would make.