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The German choice

The way in which Europe will overcome the crisis will decide its long term development into a political union, its governance and, in reality, its place in the world in the 21st century.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has in the space of just a few months provided it with a role that it never had before. But if we do not want this new start to be just an ephemeral event the Union must now prove that it is able to establish a common economic policy; this means launching a European recovery plan to fight against economic depression. This may include what will define the Europe of tomorrow – for example energy security and the vital European distribution network that has to be built in Central Europe, leading edge technologies in the aerospace industry, nanotechnologies or the environment, transport infrastructures to open up a continent that is still greatly divided from a geographic point of view.

We are aware of Germany's reticence and we can understand why. After having succeeded applying a series of difficult reforms that others have not managed to do in time Germany had just started to reap the benefits of its hard toil – but now the financial crisis has hit the country head on. Three of the biggest regional banks have asked for the Federal State's guarantee and have asked for help from their regional shareholders. The giant BASF has announced the temporary standstill of its 80 factories, car manufacturers are reviewing their forecasts, the chemical and steel industries are forecasting a fall in production. In spite of a bank guarantee plan to a total of 480 billion euro and measures to support the economy of up to 32 billion euro over two years growth has come to an abrupt halt under the influence of the major decline in exports that in fact provide the main dynamic. However voices are being raised in Germany in line with calls from the IMF for more ambitious and more European measures. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel does not like to rush and she especially dislikes having to decide under pressure. But to date she has not been doing so badly! But what is now at stake is the ability of the major European economies to decide together with regard to the economy and finances. The issue is just as much continental as it is political and it involves the entire Union. She is therefore facing a difficult choice before an electoral year which also promises to be no less challenging. One of her predecessors, Helmut Kohl, – the memory of whom will remain in history - was forced on several occasions into the same position but he always tended towards his intuition as a committed Rhineland European. He systematically opted for the European wager preferring the construction of Europe to the mirage of short-term German national interests. Incidentally this is how Germany won its place back amongst the leaders. It is now up to Angela Merkel to make the same choice and up to France to make this possible. A Franco-German plan open to those who want to join to revive and support investment in strategic economic sectors would have significant impact. The Franco-German Council of Ministers on 24th November is therefore particularly important for Europe as a whole.