by Andreea Apostol. Originally published on 2014/07/01

Around 1999, the label once given to the former Ottoman Empire as the “sick man of Europe”, framed the way Germany was perceived among its observers, partners, and peers.

Yet, considering recent times and recent decision-making processes, the global fairytale seems to have benefited the state. At this point, the country is characterised by a powerful, prosperous financial sector, meaningful infrastructure, major trade businesses and the list could continue with regard to numerous internal segments that Germany promotes within and beyond its borders.

Since, with great power comes great responsibility, Germany’s position becomes a real conundrum that divides the international actors. On the one hand we find supporters of the Western power, while on the other hand there are those who severely doubt its current and future status as a possible EU leader. From one point of view, Germany could be perceived through its own flaws and weaknesses. Criticism against the German state arises, for instance, when the European Commission pointed the finger at Germany’s high export surplus. The report released by the Commission, “echoes previous warnings from José Manuel Barroso, Commission President, who urged Germany last November to do more to address economic imbalances in the Eurozone by opening up its service market and allowing wages to rise at a faster pace” (Council Renews Criticism).

A major point can be found in the voice and the role Germany has in the Council of Europe. More precisely, according to the numbers reflecting demographic realities of the country at this point, Germany has the right to 29 votes, alongside France, Italy, and the United Kingdom, a total of 352 votes. By contrast, Malta has 3 votes of the total. This situation questions the discussion among the issue of equality and the fairness of the decision-making process as a whole. Not only for independent member states, but also for the EU as a unitary body (Council of the European Union).

Secondly, within a more recent framework, the Ukrainian crisis put into question, as well the European authority, the feedback that Germany gave for the unexpected event and the Crimean annexation. Several countries made their official positions available, but the German reaction to the conflict was the one that seemed to shape the EU’s voice and further common strategies. Simply illustrating it, as the Guardian puts it: “US President Barack Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russia that sanctions targeting whole sections of the country’s economy would be inevitable unless Moscow de-escalates the situation in Ukraine before elections later (that) month.” Considering the critical situation within Ukraine and its borders as well as its vicinity with the EU, a leading figure had to propose a solution. In the given case, Germany was expected to take up this position. Since the country preffered Western support and a cautious position, this was adopted by practically the entire Europe (Lewis).

In the same source, when explaining Europe’s further policies toward the Russian intervention, Merkel said that: “In Europe, we have taken a position that, should further destabilisation happen, we will move to a third stage of sanctions. I would like to underline this is not necessarily what we want, but we are ready and prepared to go such a step”. So as it seems, a tendency invoked by some as a new version of the Cold Era has started to be felt between Russia and the Western powers.

As a third argument, criticism could be added as well when analysing Germany’s position towards the economic crisis that is still being felt worldwide.While there are severe austerity measures in place, for example, in South European countries such as Italy, Spain or more illustrative, Greece, Germany seems to be having a modest behaviour, relying on its internal strength. Yet, this position seems not to be the one expected by other international actors.

According to ´globalEDGE Blog´, “Germany has showed great sympathy toward Greece, the heart of the sovereign debt crisis, by giving away the bailout cash (Zheng). However, it is still accused of destroying Europe’s economy. The excessive savings in the German national treasury actually inflated real-estate bubbles in Ireland and Spain.”

There is indeed a significant disagreement when trying to promote an initiative towards the crisis on worldwide spheres of interest, that would most probably be in accordance to

individual needs, individual political and economic behaviour, individual interests and individual resources. Therefore, Germany’s attitude should be interpreted both as an insider as well as an outsider in order to better understand at least slightly the state’s foreign policy in relation to the EU as a unitary structure, and also, towards member states that are more or less affected by the economic dilemma.

Leadership should not be seen as an argument, part of a trial where the judges could easily become victims themselves. As a matter of fact, those arguing the German position and bringing arguments of its instability, in defending their own position should better analyse where the German rising power is focused upon and implement it, as much as possible, on domestic matters. By raising awareness on competitiveness between states , their industries, their political behaviour, the social dynamics, better results could be better reached. Moreover, one must also take into considertion the benefits of an agreement with Germany by comparing the opposition to its actions. “Germany’s economy relies on its export prowess. The assumption is that the country can decouple from the euro zone, increasing its focus on emerging markets. But German exports to European countries form around 69% of the total, including 57% to the member states of the European Union” (Das).

In present-day realities, this could be a better option, rather than taking advantage of an Achilles heel or judging based upon relative interpretations. Germany is, doubtless, EU’s leader. It is not an occasional one, it is a leader that has proven that it can restructure itself and reinvent its posibilities in accordance to contemporary beliefs.

It may sound idealistic to encourage cooperation when a state of disarray seems to guide the European Union and the international atmosphere in its entirety.

If there is someone to be considered the “sick man of Europe”, this should be the European Union itself, since the main feature that should lead relations among member states, trust, seems to have disappeared or simply concentrated on regional points or historical ties. Or even better said: is it not only about Europe being sick but the entire international arena that needs to shape its strategies in accordance to present-day realities and resources.


Brussels Renews Criticism of German Trade Surplus. Euractiv: EU News and Policy Debates Across Languages, 2014.

Council of the European Union. European Union, 2014.

Lewis, Paul, 2014. Obama and Merkel warn Russia of Economic Sanctions over Ukraine. The Guardian.

Nie, Zheng, 2013. globalEDGE Blog: Financial Crisis, Germany’s Role in the European Union. GlobalEDGE, Your Source for Global Business Knowledge.

Das, Satyajit, 2013. Germany’s Economy isn’t as Strong as Europe Believes. Market Watch.

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