The German Government Must Take a Leading Role in the EU


By blocking numerous EU legislative processes, Germany’s three-party “traffic light coalition” has wreaked havoc in Brussels. Given the uncertainty surrounding the makeup of the new European Parliament and the presidential election in the United States, it is clear that a U-turn is needed in German EU policy.

We are living in a time of “polycrisis”. This is not only due to recent developments – shifting geopolitical forces, accelerating climate change, and growing anti-democratic trends in many countries – but also decades of political paralysis.

As a result of this paralysis, essential measures needed to modernise and transform our dilapidated infrastructure, as well as our dysfunctional and outdated decision-making structures, have been postponed for far too long. Meanwhile, the transformation of industry, the economy, energy supply, and mobility towards 100 per cent renewable energy resources has never materialised. The costs of this failure to act in the past are all the more evident in the present, where external shocks such as the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian war against Ukraine are exposing citizens’ disappointment and their loss of faith in the ability of politics to solve problems.

In the US, this led to the election of a demagogue who, despite his numerous offences against the rule of law and democracy, is currently ahead of current President Joe Biden in many polls. This in spite of the fact that Biden has recently brought about real change for the better with the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA, which represents reorganisation on a truly grand scale, channels investment primarily into the US regions that have been hard hit by structural change, also reaching small and medium-sized enterprises via tax rebates and creating large numbers of decent jobs through strong ties to the trade unions. The IRA also skilfully combines economic, industrial, social, and ecological objectives and will not be easy to dismantle. Sadly, the benefits brought by this initiative – many of which will take time to materialise – may well come too late for Biden.

Whatever the outcome of the election, it is clear that Europe will no longer be able to rely on the US taking its interests into consideration and contributing to the renewal of the “old continent”. With the IRA, the country has turned its back on free trade, while current debates on financial support for Ukraine and Israel are raising concerns of a US withdrawal from engagement beyond its borders. Even if the US does not leave NATO, the EU must be prepared for this scenario.

However, the situation in the European Union is complicated, to put it mildly. Viktor Orbán’s veto, used with increasing force, is calling into question the European Council's ability to act. Meanwhile, the Franco-German engine is running anything but smoothly. The German government recently blocked several EU draft laws while, last month, Chancellor Scholz and President Macron expressed starkly contrasting views on the issue of military support for Ukraine. New joint investments involving all EU states appear increasingly unlikely. Large member states such as Germany and France are also seeking exemptions from the common rules on state aid and competition, supposedly to prevent an industrial exodus, while the smaller member states simply look on.

The reality of climate change requires the EU to take a coordinated, maximally effective approach. Current data suggests that the 1.5-degree target is no longer achievable and that even the 2-degree target is looking shaky. Only the speedy and forceful implementation of the Green Deal, along with an ambitious follow-up programme in the form of a Green Industrial Deal, can do justice to the scale of the problem.

While the EU is technically still strong enough to launch a response to the Inflation Reduction Act, this would require, above all, an active leadership role for the German government in the EU. However, while Germany’s fate is inextricably linked to the European single market and the EU's regulatory action, Berlin maintains a blinkered focus on domestic economic challenges.
There is an urgent need for the German government to actively bring its policies to the European Union and to “think European” with regard to reform and investment needs – particularly on economic restructuring, achieving climate targets, social cohesion, and strengthening the security architecture. According to the 2024 edition of our long-term annual study on Germans’ views on their country’s role in the EU, published on 21 March, a clear majority of the German population would tend to agree.


Get involved! There’s no other way to be real – thus the message of Heinrich Böll, and, to this day, his encouragement is inspiring us. With this column the Presidents of the Foundation involve themselves in current social and political debates. This column will appear each month, authored, in turn, by Jan Philipp Albrecht and Imme Scholz.