Former US ambassador to Germany John Kornblum says Berlin will learn to lead Europe through the current crisis. He told DW it’s a role Germany may not cherish, but has no choice but to accept.
As Europe continues to battle its financial crisis, Germany has been leading calls for fundamental changes to how the European Union works. One of the divisions is between those countries that favor greater integration and those that want to weaken control from Brussels.
In an interview with DW, on the sidelines of a special debate on Europe’s future, hosted by DW and the Hertie School of Governance, former US ambassador to Germany John Kornblum said Germany will to “learn to lead” the EU through revolutionary times.
DW: You said Europe stood before dramatic changes and that Germany would assume a “natural” leading role. Why?
John Kornblum

Kornblum was the top US diplomat in Berlin from 1997 to 2001
John Kornblum: Well, the dramatic changes are clear. The world finds itself in the midst of a revolution that’s similar to the Industrial Revolution 150 years ago. Everything will be renewed. I don’t think Germany will take a “natural” leading role, because I don’t think anyone will assume a natural leading role. But Germany will have some of the greatest – if not the greatest – influence on the process, and through that, the future of Europe will be greatly influenced. It’s something which, coincidentally, Germany has always done during the past 60 years.
You’ve observed Germany’s role over the course of decades. Are the Germans prepared for this new role?
No, but no one is prepared. The Americans aren’t prepared for it. Revolutions are always unexpected and uncomfortable – so to speak. No one is prepared. But it’s important during these phases to look at the structures and foundations of a country. Germany has the structures – financially, but also politically and socially – to get on top of things. It’s probably got better structures that any other European country.
What will happen to the European institutions?
They will survive, but they will have to change. These institutions are based on a concept that is over 60 years old. The world is completely different from how it was 60 years ago. That means that the institutions will have to develop new ways and change, but they will survive – without a doubt. You could say they have already become a very important part of the whole world order.
But do you see a re-nationalization within Europe as some observers have said is going to occur?
Re-nationalization is of course a tough term. I don’t see it like that. What I see is that the citizens of Europe – its voters and politicians – are concentrating on far more concrete interests, rather than mere visions for Europe. For a long time, if something had to be done, people would say, “We have to do it for Europe.” The whole European Project was a visionary project that lacked sufficient preparation. People will get tougher, more concrete, but that doesn’t indicate a re-nationalization. It just means that the substance will be more important than the vision.
Do you think Germany could be tempted – through this new role – to rule with too much force again?
No. Even 60 years ago, [Germany’s first post-war chancellor] Konrad Adenauer said war in Europe was impossible and dictatorships were also impossible. We’ve been out of such criteria for so long that it’s not an issue. It may be more of a problem that Germany is too weak militarily. In terms of foreign policy, Germany is far too weak. On the domestic front, Germany has great influence and uses it well. But the word “herrschen” (to rule) leaves a strong taste of the past and the criteria no longer apply.
Does that mean you believe Germany still has to learn how to lead?
I think Germany will learn. It won’t have to learn – it will learn how its actions and attitudes influence countries and Europe as a whole, and it will develop a better strategic sensibility for what you can do and what you cannot do. If you think that’s learning how to lead, then that’s what it is. But I’d also say it’s – as we say – learning by doing.
It’s not that long ago that Germany was referred to as the “sick man of Europe.” How can we be sure that that won’t be the case again?
It’s possible that it may well come again. But Germany was not the sick man of Europe – Germany had the strongest national economy.
So, you didn’t believe it even then?
No, there are ups and downs. As an American, I’ve personally seen the world write off America three times, and every time it was the exact opposite. That has a lot to do with our modern media – we quickly latch onto superficial explanations and draw fast conclusions, we don’t look deep enough, often enough. It is true that between 2001 and 2002, Germany had growth problems and lacked confidence, but Germany was still the strongest country in Europe and it will stay that way.
In your view, are the changes for the good, bad, or just inevitable?
Inevitable. Inescapable. That’s just how it is. What we should bear in mind is that the fact that after a series of terrible wars and financial crises, since 1945 we’ve had a steady progress towards more democracy in Europe, more prosperity, and more freedom. And it looks as though things will continue like this. Of course it’s good. But it’s still to hard to say whether every detail has been perfect, or whether things could have been even better.
FRANCIS TAWIAH (Duisburg – Germany)

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