Germany's wider horizons: Europe's pivotal nation must bring the east westwards, argues Timothy Garton Ash

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The Independent Online
EUROPE'S most powerful country today takes over the presidency of the European Union. It does so on the fourth anniversary of the German monetary union that paved the way for the political unification of Germany. At the same time, the still psychologically divided country has been building up, through a bevy of state as well as presidential and European elections, to the climax of the general election on 16 October.

Yet foreign policy issues have thus far played only a minor role in the election campaign. Altogether, the whole foreign policy debate in Germany since unification has been remarkably subdued. Helmut Kohl's Social Democratic rival for the Chancellorship, Rudolf Scharping, is going to extraordinary lengths to reassure German voters and the outside world that there will be almost no change in foreign policy if his party comes to power.

This emphasis on continuity is less surprising if one recalls that the foreign policy of the old, preunification Federal Republic of Germany ended in a success beyond the dreams of those who made that policy. Small wonder that their first inclination has been to stick to it. Even after the retirement of Hans-Dietrich Genscher in 1992, the motto of the foreign ministry has been: 'Herr Genscher is gone, long live Genscherism]' (Genscherism, for those who may not remember, is the art of trying to get on well with all sides, being all things to all states, while consistently working to reduce the division of Germany.)

Yet the policy that served the old Federal Republic so well is less appropriate for the new one. The state's external dependencies have been decisively reduced, but the external demands on it have significantly increased and the resources to meet those demands have not grown commensurately. The conclusion should be plain: the Federal Republic can and should make clearer choices than in the past. These are not absolute 'either-or' choices - to some extent, all major states have to 'genscher' - but choices of priorities. Let us consider four possible priorities for German foreign policy.

Carolingian Completion

The top priority would be a decisive further deepening of the existing European Union around a Franco-German core. Germany, France and the Benelux countries would 'go ahead' of other member states in the variable-speed Europe for which the Maastricht treaty in fact allows. Monetary union would be achieved in this core group around the end of the century, and prove a decisive step - as it was in German unification - to political union. In 10 years you would have, if not a United States of Europe, then at least a Confederal Republic of North-Western Europe. Charlemagne's empire in a new form.

Wider Europe

Top priority would be given to widening the EU and Nato to include Germany's eastern neighbours. Germany would do everything in its power to ensure that within 10 years the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia followed Austria and (if they vote for it) Sweden, Norway and Finland into the European Union, the Western European Union and Nato. Beyond this it would try to help the Baltic states, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and, if they really became peaceful democracies, Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia, to prepare themselves to follow over the next decade.

Naturally, this would involve further derogations from the idea of the single acquis communautaire, with long economic transition periods for these new members, and further special provisions of the kind seen in every earlier round of enlargement. None the less, Germany would aim to preserve, in this Europe of more than 20 states and more than 400 million people, the present unprecedented level of institutionalised interstate co-operation, with major elements of economic and legal integration.

Moscow First

This is the classic eastern option of German foreign policy. The new- old great power in the centre of Europe develops a new-old special relationship with what is still much the most powerful state in eastern Europe. In doing so, over the heads of the lands between, it argues that it is serving the best interests of Europe, indeed of the world. For what could be more important than a co-operative, peaceful, or at least, a 'stable' Russia?

World Power

Germany would give top priority to seeking both the rights and the duties of a world power, starting with a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. The Federal Republic would seize with both hands the United States' offer to be 'partners in leadership'. As once the US was (reluctantly) prepared to 'take up the White Man's Burden' from Britain, to use Kipling's disgracefully non-PC phrase, so now Germany would take up the GI's burden. This would mean enhancing its military power to match its economy, size and social magnetism. Thus equipped, Germany would be the captain of the great European trading bloc, dealing as an equal with the United States, the captain of the North American bloc, and with Japan and China, rival captains of the Asian bloc(s).

What will Germany choose? It will, I think, choose not to choose. True to its foreign policy tradition, the Federal Republic will try to do a little of all the above. Sowohl-als-auch, or, in the immortal words of the American sportsman Yogi Berra: 'If you see a fork in the road, take it]' This tendency will be strengthened by any likely outcome of the federal election on 16 October.

Even without Genscher, Germany will genscher. I repeat: to some extent this is inevitable, given Germany's complex geopolitical position. But with increased demands on limited resources, the danger is that by trying to do everything Germany will end up achieving nothing.

Moreover, to choose not to choose does not mean you make no choices. It means only that the choices will be made reactively, as a response to the combination of unexpected external developments (especially in eastern and south-eastern Europe) and internal pressures from political, public and published opinion.

In a probably vain attempt to make this prophecy self-negating, I shall take the liberty of saying what I think Germany should do. Germany should pursue option 2: giving top priority for the next 20 years to building a wider Europe, extending the EU and Nato step- by-step eastwards. I am deeply convinced that this is the right option both for Europe and for Germany.

Now obviously Germany could not begin to do this alone. It would need to win the agreement and active support of the United States, France, Britain, Italy, and, so far as possible, other EU partners for this priority. American support should and probably would be the easiest to secure. Although on present form one must seriously doubt the capacity of British polities to produce any coherent European policy at all, such a redefinition of European purpose - starting with the advance planning for the EU's intergovernmental conference in 1996 - could be a way out of Britain's present hiding-to-nowhere. Britain could and should take it.

Italy has traditionally been a passionate advocate of deepening rather than widening the existing European Union, but under its new government - and with scant likelihood of itself being included in any Carolingian inner core of European monetary union - Italy, too, might now be ready to embrace this priority.

The most difficult partner to win for such a course is also the most important one: France. But, helped by the United States, Britain and Italy, Germany would simply have to argue the case - and even now there are signs of a revision of France's defensive little-Europe strategy.

Inside Germany, the argument for this priority is generally made negatively, in terms of the threat of mass immigration, the dangers of 'instability' in eastern Europe, the need for a cordon sanitaire. It can and should be made positively.

The voluntary westernisation of what became West Germany after 1945 was a peaceful revolution for the better. (A revolution was proclaimed in the East, but happened in the West.) With all its faults, the old Federal Republic was a model bourgeois democracy, and the best German state in history. But the job was only half done: West Germany's inner security and peace of mind came from its firm geopolitical and existential anchoring in the West; its insecurity, and even schizophrenia came from the ghosts of the past and the fact of division.

Now it has a historic chance to complete the job. To recreate those virtues of the old Federal Republic across its larger territory, to achieve a lasting inner equilibrium, Germany not only needs to achieve the westernisation of the former East Germany. It also needs to assist in the westernisation on which the new democracies to its east have themselves embarked, and to bring them into the structures of Western and European integration to which the Federal Republic already belongs. If you really want to be a 'normal' country like Britain, France or America, then you need Western neighbours to your east.

The strategic goal of German foreign policy in the 20 years after 1970 could be summarised in one sentence from the so-called Letter on German Unity: 'to work towards a state of peace in Europe in which the German people regains its unity in free self-determination'. The strategic goal of German foreign policy for the next 20 years should be to work towards a state of freedom in Europe in which Germany has Western allies and partners to its east.

This is not only a clear, positive goal. It is also a realistic one, proportionate to the country's size, resources and the limited readiness of its citizens to sustain larger external commitments. More would be less.

A longer version of this article appears in the July/August issue of the American journal 'Foreign Affairs'. Timothy Garton Ash is a Fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford. His 'In Europe's Name: Germany and the Divided Continent' will shortly be published as a Vintage paperback.

(Photograph omitted)