TW Viewpoint | Who Is Europe's Leader?

January 25, 2017 | Michael Heykoop

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The European Union comprises 28 nations, accounting for more than 500 million people. Who leads this growing power? The European Parliament meets in Brussels, but is that really the seat of authority for Europe? Who is Europe's Leader?

Following the devastation wrought on the continent by two World Wars, 6 nations founded the European Economic Community in 1957. It was believed that stronger economic integration and eventual integration in other areas such as defense and immigration would prevent future wars.

Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany founded what would become the global power that is today's European Union. Brussels was a logical candidate to house the new European Parliament as it does not reside in either of Europe's primary rivals-France and Germany. While still dealing with the after effects of the Second World War, housing the capital in Germany in particular would have been cause for concern for many of the founding nations.

Writing for The Guardian, Alan Posener summarized Margaret Thatcher and West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's views on the EU this way: "Both saw the European Union as a means to contain German nationalism." Posener then adds: "Indeed, this has been the raison d'etre of Europe since the very start."

With Brussels, the capital of one of the smaller nations in the union, the ability of any one nation-Germany in particular-to excerpt disproportionate influence over the council was thought to have been limited.

As the EEC prospered, several additional nations sought membership. Early expansion from 1973 through 1986 heavily favoured Western European nations bringing the total membership of the newly retitled European Union to twelve.

In November of 1989, an event occurred which would change the face of Europe-The Berlin Wall came crashing down. The Iron Curtain, which had served as a source of both fear and containment for decades, was finally pulled back allowing Eastern European nations to seek membership in the E.U.

In 1990 East Germany was officially re-united with West Germany to form the most populous nation in Europe. The re-unified Germany would also surge economically, becoming the engine of Europe.

After admitting Austria, Finland and Sweden in 1995, 12 nations were added between 2004 and 2007 with Croatia's admittance in 2013 bringing total membership to 28. Most of these new additions were Eastern European nations which had recently escaped Soviet rule. What began as a treaty primarily between North-Western European nations now spans the continent.

In many respects the balance of power in the E.U. has shifted Eastward as more nations with larger populations have joined. Having already merged Western and Eastern Europe together within its national borders, a re-unified Germany, has become the logical center for the Union.

This eastward shift will only become more apparent with the United Kingdom voting to leave the E.U. The U.K. was perhaps the last entity in Europe with the population, the economy and the political capital to act as a counterweight to German influence.

So, I'll ask again, who is really leading the European Union? Is it Brussels, or Berlin?

In order to answer this question, we should examine whose guidance is sought in times of crisis. Europe has had no shortage of these in recent years. Who did the nations turn to during the European Debt Crisis when several nations were on the verge of bankruptcy-with many still suffering nearly 10 years later?

Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski's gave a historical perspective on the crisis: "I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity." "You [speaking of Germany] have become Europe's indispensable nation . . . nobody else can do it."

Who has stepped forward as a leading voice in handling the ongoing Migrant Crisis-as nations seek to find the correct balance between hospitality and loving thy neighbour; and fear of losing national and religious identity?

They have not been finding these answers in Brussels, but in Berlin.

Headlines such as "Is Germany too powerful for Europe?" (The Guardian) and "Angela Merkel: The Real Leader of the Free World" (Maclean's) are common, confirming Berlin's position in the Union-quite the turnaround for an administration created as a means to contain German influence.

German sociologist Ulrich Beck remarked that "Germany has created an accidental empire," but should this "accident" have been foreseen?

In 1999, Dr. Douglas Winnail wrote this in Tomorrow's World Magazine: "As the 20th Century draws to a close, Germany has emerged again as the most powerful nation in Europe-the same position it held at the beginning of this century!"

Who is the leader of Europe? It is the most powerful nation, the largest nation with the strongest economy, the nation most able to balance the pulls of East and West. The leader of Europe, is-without doubt-Germany.

I'm Michael Heykoop for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.

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