|Dec 2, 12:29 PM EST|
Europe, facing abyss, embraces German might
By DAVID RISING
BERLIN (AP) -- For more than half a century, the legacy of
World War II has meant that the mere mention of a new rise of German
power sent shudders through European nations. Now, Germany is
increasingly calling the shots for the entire continent - and few seem
Polish Foreign Minister Radek
Sikorski - whose nation lost millions of people in the Nazi invasion and
occupation - shocked many this week when he made a dramatic appeal for
greater German influence.
"You know full well
that nobody else can do it," he told a largely German audience in
Berlin. "I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history
to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning
to fear German inactivity."
are panicked over unsustainable debt that could take down the entire
global economy. From the streets to the halls of power, all eyes are
trained on Germany - by far Europe's biggest economy - to lead the
continent out of crisis.
"Germany should take
on a leadership role because right now, economically, it is the one that
can," said Nacho Criado, 31, on his way to his job laying fiber optic
cable in downtown Madrid.
On Friday, German
Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed forward with a Berlin-engineered action
plan for containing Europe's crisis, calling for tougher rules to keep
national budgets under control. She set the agenda for next week's
critical European Union summit, saying it would grapple with a strategy
to make sure countries follow the rules and write those changes into EU
At the same time she talked down any fears of German preeminence in Europe.
guidelines for next week are clear, but it is important for me to say
that they have nothing to do with fears or concerns that we are reading
about or hear that Germany wants to dominate Europe or some such," she
said. "That is absurd."
Increasingly, however, such fears appear to be getting more subdued.
Chancellor Werner Faymann, whose nation often lives in the shadow of
its giant northern neighbor, dismissed out of hand any worries about
renewed German dominance.
"I'm really happy," he said of Merkel's initiatives for saving Europe.
Europeans have also contemplated with horror what would happen if
Germany got fed up with Europe's debt shambles and simply walked away.
is left of the euro if Germany says goodbye? A house of cards," Lennart
Sacredeus, a lawmaker with the Christian Democrats in Sweden's
governing coalition, wrote in the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
the crisis, Merkel has worked closely with French President Nicolas
Sarkozy, the other heavyweight leader among the nations that share the
euro. But Sarkozy, slumping in polls ahead of elections next year, has
recently proven much more willing to bend to the chancellor's way of
In particular, he has embraced
German ideas of countries ceding control of a chunk of their budgets to a
central authority, even at the expense of some national sovereignty.
Minister Francois Baroin this week talked about a "Franco-German
political impulse" to save the euro. He noted Germany's economic
successes compare favorably to France's debt difficulties, and concluded
in a radio interview: "Germany is a model that interests us."
France's political opposition, meanwhile, has attacked Sarkozy for letting Merkel call the shots.
months, it's been Madame Merkel who decides and Nicolas Sarkozy who
follows," Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande said this
But Europeans seem increasingly inclined to support Germany's leadership - or at least to go along with it.
government is not afraid of Germany," Italian political analyst Sergio
Romano said of Rome's new regime of technocrats tasked with solving the
nation's debt crisis.
"It hasn't said so
explicitly, but would say the same thing Sikorski did: We are more
afraid of a powerless Germany than a powerful Germany."
former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi bristled at German
interference, new Prime Minister Mario Monti has called the German
culture of stability one of its "better exports."
have always been considered to be the most German among Italian
economists, which I always received as a compliment, but which was
rarely meant to be a compliment," Monti said at a recent event.
incoming conservative Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is seen as
much more open to Germany's leadership than outgoing socialist Premier
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. And newspapers regularly praise the
combined Merkel and Sarkozy approach to solving Europe's problems.
Gaisse, a Madrid attorney, said Merkel's guiding role is now one people
accept as fact. But he added there is the perception that she too often
reverts to negative leadership.
preventing certain measures that could probably improve the situation,
mainly with regard to the sovereign debt problem," Gaisse said. "Until
now, the only thing she has done is say 'No, no, no' to everything."
Experts say that's because Berlin stands confident in its vision.
German administration is very convinced that their intellectual
argument has won - you need more stability, more rules, more sanctions,"
said Katharina Gnath, an economist and political scientist who is an
associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has acknowledged the dilemma,
telling foreign correspondents this week in Berlin that the government
feels like it's being pulled in opposite directions: criticized by some
for not being aggressive enough, and by others for pushing its agenda
"I feel like the firefighter," Schaeuble said, "who is being attacked by the arsonist."
Associated Press writers contributed to this report from across Europe.
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