If you’ve ever doubted that Euro-politics is confusingly inaccessible, then remember that the Council of the European Union is not quite the same thing as the European Council — or indeed the Council of Europe (which is something else altogether).
So, having cleared that up, let’s get to the point, which is that today Germany takes on the presidency of the first thing I mentioned, i.e. the Council of the European Union. This is not in itself significant — the Presidency rotates every six months between the EU’s member states.
And yet there’s something symbolic about this being Germany’s turn — because the the EU’s biggest and richest member has never been so dominant. Ursula von der Leyen, until recently a minister in Angela Merkel’s government, has the EU’s top job: President of the European Commission. In formal terms, she’s the first German in the post since the 1960s. In practice, she takes over from another German powerbroker — Martin Selmayr, who ran the show during the official reign of Jean-Claude Juncker.
Von der Leyen got the job because she was the (eventual) standard-bearer of the European Parliament’s biggest grouping, the European People’s Party (of which, the German CDU is by far the biggest component). Ironically, the European people were given no direct say in her elevation; but she had her old boss’s backing, which is what counts.
Merkel is a giant in an EU of political pygmies. She was German Chancellor when Tony Blair was British PM and Jacques Chirac the President of France. She’s still going strong, towering above her counterparts just as the German economy towers over its counterparts.
The reality of the EU can no longer be denied. It is not a union of 27 nations. It is Germany plus 26 satellite states. Even the Euro-idealists at The Economist can’t deny the evidence of their eyes. This is how their columnist, the appropriately named ‘Charlemagne’, puts it:
Headlined, ‘Germany is doomed to lead Europe’, the article suggests that the Germans never wanted to be in such a commanding position. Yet their economic dominance was no accident — it results from the distortions of the single currency, which they took advantage of with great efficiency.
Shattered by the Eurozone crisis and then by the pandemic, the less fortunate nations of Europe now look to Germany for salvation. One way or another, Germans will pay a hefty price.
Eurosceptic Brits could have told them that this was going to happen. But, then, as a nation of shopkeepers, we understand the principle of ‘you break it, you own it.’