There is an ongoing discussion over how Europe must finally wake up and take control of its “hard power.” The truth is that if it does not do it now that Donald Trump is president of the United States, it probably never will.
This, however, is where it starts getting complicated, as a strong Europe in terms of defense, foreign policy and intelligence cannot exist without Berlin being the lead. Like it or not, this is the truth. Britain, which has significant capabilities in these fields, is in the grips of a profound and extended crisis that is depriving the country of its ability to play any role in the issue. France also wants to play a part but – despite ambitious proclamations by President Emmanuel Macron – it has serious domestic problems and open fronts that need addressing.
So the question is: Does the rest of Europe want to see Germany in a new leading role apart from the one it is already playing on economic issues? And also, does Germany want it? The Germans appear reluctant to take initiatives that will demand a more active foreign policy and an expansion of their military capabilities. This is driven, on the one hand, by the restraint and guilt imposed by Germany’s history on a section of its political class and society. On the other hand, it is the result of a conservative aversion to anything that upsets the German status quo or demands German funds for the benefit of others.
The German elite, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, understands the void left by the policies of Donald Trump and is tentatively trying to design a new strategy to deal with it. There are already serious disagreements with Washington over Berlin’s relations with Moscow, the Nord Stream pipeline, sanctions against Iran and the use of Chinese telecommunications infrastructure.
Athens is monitoring all of these developments closely, aware of the geopolitical game that is playing out on a much larger scale. We are directly affected but there is little we can do in the way of influencing the outcome.
There is one interesting point though: German officials insist – and rightly so – that the European Union will not become a serious international “player” while the rule of unanimity applies on foreign policy and security issues. Instead, it would need to introduce an enhanced majority to make decisions quickly and easily. Greece has traditionally opposed this change because it would jeopardize any leverage it has over Turkey and other neighbors. It could, however, in return demand tangible measures from the EU for securing its external borders. This is a national goal that could, at some point, be achieved through systematic work and consensus.