Beset by problems, Europe needs more cooperation between countries not lessby Peter Wilson / March 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
Germany is Europe’s giant. Its economy is equivalent to the 21 weakest European Union member states combined; it is the linchpin of the eurozone and the only EU member Russia appears to take seriously. No discussion of the UK’s future within the EU can ignore these facts.
But the shadow of the 20th century obscures much of Germany’s earlier history. Uncovering that past means looking back to when the Holy Roman Empire ruled as a loose confederation of countries in a way that, although under different circumstances, is similar to the EU. National identities were less important than we might think and borders more porous. We hear much from the Leave campaign about reclaiming sovereignty, but history tells us that we overestimate the power of the nation state, and we should remember that lesson as we look to Europe’s future now.
This argument may seem to contradict the inescapable news about resurgent nationalism in Eastern Europe (as described by Peter Pomerantsev and Anton Shekhovtsov in Prospect’s March issue) and the right-wing response to the migrant crisis and terrorism that we have seen in France. But as the world becomes more integrated and the movement of refugees and migrants increasingly unstoppable, these responses could also be seen as the final throes of the old-fashioned nation, rather than the precursor of more militant patrolling of borders and a permanent hardening of identities. The problems the world is facing are simply too vast to be solved without sustained cooperation—and Europe’s political leaders know it.
To most people, the Germans are a “nation” inhabiting a “national state” that has its origins in what is still called “unification” in 1871. The violent and incomplete nature of unification is usually blamed for the disastrous course taken by the country, which culminated in total defeat by the end of the Second World War in 1945. Many Germans believe this view of their recent history too, and their postwar leaders have tried to heal the wounds of the past through closer integration within what has become the EU. Other Europeans have broadly welcomed this,…