“During the financial crisis after 2009 and the crisis of the Eurozone which ensued, German became the leader of the EU in an unprecedented way, which aroused suspicion about the emergence of a solitary German EU dominance (rather than a multilaterally embedded one) in some member states (and among the European left), but also elicited hopes for more efficiency in the EU’s decision making processes.
Germany lost this leadership role during the Ukrainian crisis, after the internal political conflict had transformed into a military confrontation between Ukraine and Russia. The conflict could be contained by diplomatic means (including sanctions), but it could not be solved without the direct and lasting engagement of the US.
The refugee crisis confronted Germany with the biggest challenge for its multilateral approach. It managed to stall the conflict in Syria by involving the US and Russia in direct negotiations about an armistice among most of the warring conflict parties (except Al Nusra and Daesh), but failed to establish a sustainable, robust and effective relocation system within the EU. This could probably be achieved by a unilateral approach, which would need to involve more and stricter border controls, a re-direction of the refugee flows to member states so far untouched by the migratory crisis, the use of economic and financial pressure on reluctant member states and the creation of a (tomporary) core group within the EU (mini-Schengen). The current German government has so far refused to even consider such an approach, because of its unpredictable and potentially destabilizing repercussions for the Western Balkan countries, for Greece and for the stability of the whole EU, but also because of the relatively high cost of additional border controls for German trade and business.
Opposite to popular media accounts, the current German government is far from being isolated in the EU – as the most recent EU summits and council meetings show – Germany is still able to organize support of a majority of EU members and obtain the necessary qualified majority, but it is unable to bring about real compliance with EU decisions by reluctant member states and to prevent them from shirking from decisions that were commonly approved in the Council.
As a result, the EU follows a double strategy now: All member states support the “Merkel Plan”: negotiations with Turkey about the sealing of the Greek-Turkish border for migrants, improving the conditions for refugees (from Syria) in Turkey and the establishment of fixed quotas of refugees, who are to be taken over by the EU and relocated among member states in the future. At the same time, some member states follow their own (collective) agenda of creating a kind of cordon sanitaire for migrants in Macedonia (and North of it). Both approaches are likely to reduce the influx of migrants from Turkey through the Western Balkans and to speed up the emergence of alternative routes through Bulgaria, Albania. Both approaches also leave two important sources of migration untouched:
– Afghanistan, which is currently sending more and more refugees, who are not forced to pass through Turkey, but can travel through Russia (which will potentially even assist them in their journey);
– Libya, which – if Western attempts to create a unitary government are successful – is likely to become a second Turkey (with migrants from Central and Western Africa).
It is difficult to imagine, how Germany alone – or with some, but not all EU member states – will be able to bear the main burden of the task to coerce Libya (with regard to the African migration) and Russia (with regard to the Afghan migration) into similar arrangements like the one currently negotiated with Turkey.
With regard to the current internal discord in the EU, the migration crisis is likely to lead to an arrangement with Russia (over Ukraine and Syria) and with Turkey (over the country’s affiliation with the EU) which both together will partly reshuffle the balance of power in Central and Eastern Europe. In the near future, the EU’s central budget will either be much smaller or be re-taylored to the needs of the refugee crises and the rising expenditure for internal and external security (and – in the refugee-receiving member states – for refugee integration). Gains and losses will be distributed unequally –
Germany’s current economic boom and its robust labor market are unlikely to be affected negatively and its strongly decentralized political system is relatively resistant against populist and radical right wing challenges. Such repercussions are more likely to occur in centralistic countries with high unemployment rates and negative trade balances. This will create further tensions within the EU and lead to more centrifugal tendencies.” (Klaus Bachmann)