Countries, unlike human beings, can be old and young at the same time. More than 1,900 years ago Tacitus wrote a book about a fascinating people called the Germans. In his fifteenth-century treatise Germania, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, better known as Pope Pius II, praised German cities as “the cleanest and the most pleasurable to look at” in all of Europe. But the state we know today as Germany—the Federal Republic of Germany—will celebrate only its seventy-fifth birthday on May 23 this year. Its current territorial shape dates back less than thirty-four years, to the unification of West and East Germany on October 3, 1990, which followed the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.

Yet already the post-Wall era is over and everyone, including the Germans, is asking what Germany will be next. Not just what it will do; what it will be. In his excellent Germany: A Nation in Its Time, the German-American historian Helmut Walser Smith reminds us just how many different Germanies there have been over the five centuries since Piccolomini’s Germania was first printed in 1496. Not only have the borders and political regimes changed repeatedly; so have the main features identified with the German nation.

Sometimes the dominant chord was cultural: the land of Dichter und Denker (poets and thinkers); the patrie de la pensée (homeland of thought) described by Madame de Staël in De l’Allemagne (1813); the Germany that according to George Eliot

has fought the hardest fight for freedom of thought, has produced the grandest inventions, has made magnificent contributions to science, has given us some of the divinest poetry, and quite the divinest music, in the world.

After two world wars and all the horrors of the Third Reich, many people naturally identified Germany with militarism. But Smith shows how first Prussian and then German military expenditure has in fact been on a roller coaster for the past two centuries.

Very often, however, German nationhood has been identified with economic development and prowess. This point was powerfully made by the Princeton historian Harold James in a book called A German Identity, published the year the Wall came down. And James wrote presciently that Clio, the muse of history, “should warn us not to trust Mercury (the economic god) too much.”

Post-Wall Germany trusted to Mercury. After West Germany under Chancellor Helmut Kohl unexpectedly achieved its goal of unification on Western terms, the old-new Federal Republic moved its capital from the small town of Bonn to previously divided Berlin and settled down to be a satisfied status quo power. Very much in the wider spirit of those times, it was the economic dimension of power that prevailed.

The historian James Sheehan has characterized this as the Primat der Wirtschaftspolitik (the primacy of economic policy), but it was also, more specifically, the Primat der Wirtschaft (the primacy of business). “The business of America is business” is a remark attributed to US president Calvin Coolidge. If one said of the post-Wall Berlin republic that “the business of Germany is business,” one would not be far wrong. This involved the very direct influence of German businesses on German governments, enhanced by the distinctive West German system of cooperative industrial relations known as Mitbestimmung. If it was not the big automobile or chemical company bosses on the telephone to the Chancellery, it was the trade union leaders, all urging some lucrative commercial deal. (Bosses and labor leaders could argue between themselves afterward about how to divide the resulting pie.)

By 2021 a staggering 47 percent of the country’s GDP came from the export of goods and services. The most spectacular growth was in business with China, on which Germany became significantly more dependent than any other European country. And while it self-identified as a civilian power, it exported a lot of German-made weapons, including nearly three hundred Taurus missiles to South Korea between 2013 and 2018—the very make of missile that Chancellor Olaf Scholz is stubbornly refusing to send to embattled Ukraine. In the years 2019–2023 Germany had a 5.6 percent share of global arms exports, ahead of Britain although still behind France. Mars in the service of Mercury.

With the eastward enlargement of the EU and NATO, Germany no longer had the insecurities of a frontline state. As former West German president Richard von Weizsäcker put it, this was the country’s liberation from its fateful historic Mittellage (middle position) between East and West, since it was now blessedly surrounded by fellow members of the geopolitical West. Accordingly, its defense expenditure sank as low as 1.1 percent of GDP in 2005.

Particularly in the angry polemics between Northern and Southern Europe during the eurozone crisis that became acute in 2010, Germans tended to attribute their economic success to their own skill, hard work, and virtue. After all, they had not piled up debt like those feckless Southern Europeans. German industry does indeed have extraordinary strengths, as anyone knows who drives a BMW, does their laundry in a Miele washing machine, cooks dinner in a Bosch oven, or wears Falke socks. And in the early 2000s, faced with the huge costs of German unification, the government of Gerhard Schröder had worked with business and trade union leaders to push through a painful set of reforms that kept German labor costs low while they soared in Southern Europe.


Yet this economic success was also the result of a uniquely favorable set of external circumstances. The single European currency, which many Germans regarded as a painful sacrifice of their treasured deutschmark, brought considerable economic advantage to Germany, since its companies could export to the rest of the eurozone without any risk of currency fluctuation and to the rest of the world at a more competitive exchange rate than the mighty deutschmark would have enjoyed. Meanwhile the eastward enlargement of the EU enabled German manufacturers to relocate production facilities to countries with cheap skilled labor like Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia while exporting freely across the entire EU single market. In a sense, this was the achievement of the liberal imperialist politician Friedrich Naumann’s 1915 vision of Mitteleuropa as a German-led common economic area, but it was done entirely peacefully, for the most part to mutual advantage, and within the larger legal and political structure of the EU.

Even more important were the external conditions beyond Europe. The Washington-based German commentator Constanze Stelzenmüller summed this up in a sharp formula. Post-1989 Germany, she wrote, outsourced its security needs to the US, its energy needs to Russia, and its economic growth needs to China.

Countries change but still manifest deep continuities. The French long for universalism; the British cleave to empiricism. Germans were good at making things in the fifteenth century—the Mainz entrepreneur Johannes Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press, for example—and they still are. Another of those deeper German continuities is what the German-British social thinker Ralf Dahrendorf identified as a yearning for synthesis.

With these growing external dependencies, however, synthesis became not just an intellectual preference but a political imperative. Everything had to be not merely connected to but also compatible with everything else. German interests had also to be European interests. Beyond Europe, Germany had to be friends with the United States but also with Russia and with China, all at the same time. The country’s export-based business model must also be in harmony with its values-based political model. The Germans could do well while also being good.

In the case of the Federal Republic, being good has a specific meaning: to have learned the lessons from the Nazi past, and hence always standing for peace, human rights, dialogue, democracy, international law, and all the other good things we associate with the ideal of liberal international order. How Germany has fared in this respect is the subject of another outstanding book, Frank Trentmann’s Out of the Darkness: The Germans, 1942–2022, a probing moral history with a distinctly mixed verdict. “When moral principles served German interests they were flaunted,” Trentmann writes at one point, “when they stood in the way they were ignored.”

These claims for synthesis were framed within a larger view—prevalent in much of the West in the post-Wall years, but nowhere more so than in Germany—of the way history was headed. The “End of History” was an American idea, but it was the Germans who lived the neo-Hegelian dream.

So history was going our way. Germany, Europe, and the West altogether had a model on which others would eventually converge. Globalization would facilitate democratization. True, Russia and China didn’t look terribly like liberal democracies, but as they modernized, they would get better. Western investment and trade would help them down history’s preordained track, while economic interdependence would underpin a Kantian perpetual peace.

Thus the country in which the Berlin Wall had come down enjoyed the greatest successes but also nourished the greatest illusions of Europe’s post-Wall era.

Over the last sixteen years this model has collapsed in two ways: gradually, then suddenly—to recall Ernest Hemingway’s description of how one goes bankrupt. The gradual phase coincided with a general crisis of Europe’s post-Wall order that started in 2008 with two near-simultaneous events: the eruption of the global financial crisis and Vladimir Putin’s military seizure of two large areas of Georgia. The sudden arrived on February 24, 2022, with his full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For virtually all the first period—in fact from November 2005 until December 2021—Germany was led by one of the most remarkable figures in modern German history: the former East German scientist Angela Merkel. For many Germans, this was a very good time. Yet most of the problems the country faces today were accumulating in the Merkel years.


The direct primacy of business meant that there wasn’t even a proper primacy of economic policy, since the effect was to privilege the immediate interests of existing German businesses, such as the automobile and chemical industries, over the industries of tomorrow. As a result, Germany (along with the rest of Europe) is far behind the US and China in AI and other innovative technologies, and faces competition from Chinese electric cars that may be both cheaper and better than German ones.

Two extreme manifestations of fiscal conservatism—a “debt brake” written into the constitution in 2009 and the so-called “black zero,” the finance ministry’s insistence for many years on running no budget deficit—have left the country with exceptionally healthy public finances but also chronic underinvestment in infrastructure. The most visible example is the German railways—the Deutsche Bahn—on which fierce cuts were inflicted in preparation for a privatization that never happened. In my experience, you must reckon on a Deutsche Bahn intercity train being either late or canceled.

A panicky choice to abandon all civil nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2011 has made it even more difficult to make the transition to green energy, urgently required to address the climate crisis, while at the same time weaning the country off Russian fossil fuels. Merkel’s decision to let in some one million refugees from Syria and the wider Middle East in 2015–2016 was admirably humane, and most of the new arrivals have been successfully integrated into the German economy, helping to ameliorate its acute shortage of skilled labor. But the fear that this irregular immigration from faraway and often majority-Muslim countries was “out of control” and would culturally transform the country too fast gave a big boost to the hard-right nationalist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

Shockingly, the AfD is currently ahead of Scholz’s Social Democrats in nationwide opinion polls for this June’s elections to the European Parliament. It’s doing even better in east German federal states such as Saxony and Thuringia, where it seems likely to be the clear winner in state elections this autumn. Also likely to do well there is a new “left conservative” grouping headed by the East German politician Sahra Wagenknecht, who skillfully combines left-wing socioeconomic rhetoric, a culturally conservative approach to immigration, and a tendentially pro-Russian opposition to military support for Ukraine. While there has been enormous investment and significant economic growth in East Germany, the psychological divide between East and West has increased rather than decreased—even while the chancellor was an East German. Many East Germans feel an angry sense that they are treated as second-class citizens.

Change through consensus has historically been one of the keys to the success of the Federal Republic, in politics as in industrial relations. But with the fragmentation of the political landscape into seven or eight parties, felt at the federal level also through the Bundesrat (the upper house, which represents the federal states), and significant interventions by the powerful Federal Constitutional Court, it has become more difficult to achieve either consensus or change.

Meanwhile, many of the countries that were meant graciously to converge toward the liberal democratic ideal have moved in the opposite direction—even in Germany’s immediate neighborhood. Since 2010, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán has systematically demolished democracy in a nearby country where the German car industry is heavily invested. In China, the turn has been even sharper, from the high hopes of gradual liberalization that accompanied the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to the harsh authoritarianism of Xi Jinping’s rule today.

Yet German companies have continued to make major investments in these places, often turning a blind eye to any conflict with their own country’s proclaimed values. Encouraged by the Chinese regime, Volkswagen, which depends on China for some 40 percent of its sales, opened a factory in Xinjiang in 2013. China has subsequently implemented policies in Xinjiang that have credibly been characterized as genocide, with large numbers of Uighurs being interned in “reeducation” camps. Asked about the existence of these camps by a BBC interviewer in 2019, Herbert Diess, then head of VW, said, “I’m not aware of that.” When I more recently pointed out to the head of another big German automobile company that Hungary, in which he had just announced another huge investment, was no longer a democracy, he swept aside the objection with an airy wave of his hand. “We can have different terms,” my notebook records him saying. “That’s okay.”

The most dramatic misjudgment was about Russia. Merkel, a fluent Russian speaker who as chancellor had a portrait of Catherine the Great—a Russian ruler of German origin—in her office, was by far the most influential European politician when it came to dealing with Putin. One might argue that the Minsk II agreement, which Germany (along with France) was instrumental in concluding in February 2015, following Putin’s annexation of Crimea and the start of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2014, was the best that could be done to stabilize the situation at a moment when Ukrainian defenses were collapsing. Completely indefensible, however, was the German failure to change tack thereafter, realistically reassessing the Russian threat. The most telling evidence is that, far from decreasing its energy dependence on Russia, Germany increased it: by 2020 a staggering 55 percent of its gas, 34 percent of its oil, and 57 percent of its hard coal came from Russia.

To complete the trio of major extra-European dependencies, Germany depended more than ever on the United States for its security. Even Donald Trump’s challenge to European NATO partners during his presidency produced only a slow and reluctant upward adjustment of German defense spending. In a speech in Munich in 2017, Merkel did say that “the times when we could completely rely on others are to some extent past.” But there was no fundamental change of policy.

All this happened under Merkel, but for twelve of her sixteen years as chancellor her Christian Democrats were in a so-called grand coalition with the Social Democrats. The worst mistakes in relations with Russia were largely the responsibility of the Social Democrats, especially the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany, which was agreed upon and built after the beginning of the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2014. And throughout Merkel’s final term in office, her finance minister and vice-chancellor was Scholz, the Social Democrat who in December 2021, after a surprising general election victory, succeeded her as chancellor.

Then, on February 24, 2022, Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The beginning of the largest war in Europe since 1945 reduced core assumptions of post-Wall Germany—political, economic, and military, but also moral—to rubble that was less immediately visible than that of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol but no less real.

Under the shock of this horror, and as Scholz introduced a new German word into the English language with his speech about a Zeitenwende (epochal turning point), there was an appeal for Germany to initiate an immediate boycott of fossil fuels from Russia. Scholz’s coalition government decided against taking this radical step, and the way he made the argument was telling. It would plunge Germany and Europe into a recession, he said. “Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be in danger, whole branches of industry on the brink.” (The chemical giant BASF alone guzzled some 4 percent of the country’s total annual consumption of gas, delivered through its own special pipeline.) And then Scholz said—for remember, everything must be in harmony with everything else—“Nobody is served if, with eyes wide open, we put our economic substance at risk” (emphasis added). But if Putin had suddenly been deprived of a principal source of funding for his war machine, somebody would have been served: the Ukrainian people.

Instead, Germany would wean itself off Russian fossil fuel just as quickly as was compatible with avoiding a recession. The choice may be defended on the basis of what Max Weber called an “ethics of responsibility” but it was Ukrainians who paid a tragic human price for more fortunate peoples’ past mistakes. According to the most careful independent assessment, by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, in the first year of the full-scale war Germany paid Russia some $30.6 billion for gas, oil, and coal. Some of this money will actually have gone toward the production and transportation of those fuels, but prices had soared precisely as a result of Putin’s war, making much of this pure profit. Since the energy sector is an integral part of Putin’s regime, we must conclude that these payments made a significant contribution to funding Russia’s war against Ukraine. (To give a sense of scale, Russian military expenditure in 2022 was estimated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute to be around $102 billion, up from $66 billion in 2021.)

In the meantime, and to its great credit, Germany has become one of the leading supporters of Ukraine. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy’s “Ukraine support tracker,” Germany committed some €22.1 billion in military, economic, and humanitarian aid to Kyiv in the first two years of the full-scale war, second only to the US. It has taken a leading role in the provision of air defenses. By 2024 the German chancellor was even lecturing other European countries on how they must do more for Ukraine.

Yet at every stage, Scholz dragged his feet on sending more powerful weapon systems, whether Marder infantry fighting vehicles (which he described as a “fearful escalation”), Leopard 2 tanks, or—still, at this writing—the Taurus missiles with which Ukraine could threaten Russian supply lines to Crimea. Multiple often-changing arguments were advanced, but a common thread was the fear of escalation by a nuclear-armed Russia. While Scholz joined French president Emmanuel Macron in talking up “European sovereignty,” his government, unlike those of France and Britain, clung to Washington’s coattails, doing nothing in military support for Kyiv unless the current US administration did it too.

To explain Scholz’s stance, one needs to understand his cautious managerial personality and formative experiences as a Young Socialist peace activist in the 1980s, as well as the presence of a Russia-fixated appeasement tendency in his party and a domestic politics in which he hopes to win over voters by positioning himself as a Friedenskanzler (“peace chancellor”). Yet in a larger perspective Scholz can also be viewed as a representative figure of Germany in this uncertain, transitional time.

A similar disorientation can be seen in other areas, such as the German approach to Israel during the war in Gaza. Germany has derived two imperatives from its historical responsibility for the Holocaust: a particular commitment to Israel, encapsulated in official statements that Israel’s security is part of the Staatsräson (existential national interest) of the Federal Republic, and a universal commitment to stand up everywhere for human rights and international humanitarian law. Over the last ten years Germany has provided 30 percent of Israel’s arms imports, second only to the US, and it rapidly stepped up weapon supplies after the horrific Hamas terrorist attack on October 7, 2023. But the reckless way that Benjamin Netanyahu has conducted the war against Hamas in Gaza, entailing what have clearly been violations of international humanitarian law, has brought those two imperatives, the particular and the universal, into painful conflict.

Then there’s the prospect of Donald Trump being reelected on November 5—four days before the thirty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall—and putting in question the US commitment to NATO’s “all for one and one for all” Article 5 guarantee to defend European member states. At a campaign rally in South Carolina this February, Trump boasted about how as president he had told the leader of a large NATO member state that he would “encourage” Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to countries that didn’t pay more for their own defense. The response in Germany? For several days the media were full of speculation about how one might create a European nuclear deterrent to cover Germany. Thus a country that had recently completed its exit from civil nuclear power was now suddenly talking about having nuclear weapons.

Old certainties have crumbled; new directions are yet to be found.

The last chapter of David Blackbourn’s magisterial Germany in the World: A Global History, 1500–2000 is titled “The German Question Answered.” Yet it ends by anticipating the advent, in the new millennium, of a German Question “of a new kind.” That latest variant of the German Question has now arrived. So, to adapt the title of Hans Fallada’s celebrated 1932 novel Little Man, What Now?, we need to ask: Big Germany, what now?

Since this essay has been somewhat critical of Germany’s post-Wall record, it’s important to stress that other leading Western democracies merit even sharper criticisms. Germany has committed no act of national folly comparable with Britain’s Brexit. No one can begin to compete with the French when it comes to the conflation of national and European interests. Italy’s versions of the AfD are actually running the country, and the Fratelli d’Italia’s post-neofascist prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, is regarded as a moderate compared with her coalition partner, the Lega’s Matteo Salvini. If Donald Trump were to return to the homeland of his grandfather Friedrich Trump, he would have zero chance of winning a national election, whereas he has an alarmingly serious chance of being reelected in the United States.

But our subject here is Germany, and Germany is Europe’s central power. It has more than one sixth of the EU’s population and produces more than a fifth of its GDP. Does that make it a hegemon? Heinrich August Winkler, the doyen of German historians, has suggested that, like Bismarckian Germany, the Federal Republic has a “half-hegemonic position” in Europe. The phrase captures modern Germany’s classic geopolitical problem: its in-between size, too large but also too small.

Yet certainly the Federal Republic is the single most powerful country inside the European Union. Berlin may not always get what it wants in Brussels, but very little happens if Berlin doesn’t want it to. In a forthcoming multiauthored volume, Discussing Pax Germanica: The Rise and Limits of German Hegemony in European Integration, Herman Van Rompuy, who was president of the European Council of EU national leaders between 2009 and 2014, writes matter-of-factly, “In the years of my mandate, there was only one time when the position of the European Council did not correspond to the position of Germany…” So which way Germany goes matters more to Europe than the future course of any other European country.

In the seventy-five years of the Federal Republic, there have been three great moments of German strategic choice: the so-called Westbindung, its founding chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s decision to bind the fledgling Federal Republic firmly into the transatlantic West in the 1950s; Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik, the West German détente policy toward the Soviet bloc, implemented in the 1970s; and Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s commitment to embed German unification in further steps of European unification in the 1990s.

At each of these turning points, there were “Roads Not Taken,” the title of an illuminating exhibition currently on view at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. It was not obvious to the German public that this was the right way to go, and the government’s policy was often fiercely contested.

Each time, three elements came together: an individual leader, a domestic debate, and an international setting. “In the beginning was Adenauer,” to quote the biblical opening line of Arnulf Baring’s monograph on the genesis of West German democracy, but the great founding father’s choice came in the international setting of a rapidly deepening cold war division of Europe. Brandt was an inspiring leader, but his Ostpolitik was also the German version of détente policies being pursued by the US, France, and Britain. Kohl’s personal contribution, like his physical stature, was immense, but he also acted at a high tide of enthusiasm for European integration and in response to demands from European partners such as France.

The international setting today positively demands a strategic change. As for leadership, Scholz looks like a transitional figure, but someone else can emerge, at the latest after the national election due in autumn 2025. Adenauer, Brandt, and Kohl did not enter the chancellor’s office as great European statesmen—they grew on the job.

That leaves the national debate, which is already happening (and includes a nervous metadebate about what one may or may not say about Israel and Gaza). Almost every point I have made in this essay has been made, sometimes more sharply, by German scholars and commentators. German specialists on Russia and Eastern Europe have been outspoken in their critique of Berlin’s failed Russian policy and half-hearted support for Ukraine. In many ways, this reminds me of the intellectual ferment in the 1960s that gave birth to Brandt’s Ostpolitik.

There is less evidence, unfortunately, that the country’s politicians and business leaders are listening. Yet Germany today needs open, critical thinking as badly as an overweight, middle-aged man needs exercise. For the individual questions that together make up this new German Question are very challenging.

Given the fragmentation of the party landscape, how can change through consensus be achieved? What is to be done about extreme political parties like the AfD that have significant public support? If the old export-based business model is increasingly incompatible with the country’s values-based political model, what is the new business model? Or will Berlin, as the acerbic economic commentator Wolfgang Münchau anticipates, “revert to its old practice of carving out deals with Eurasian dictators for the sake of German industry”? Returning from a recent trip to China, the Bavarian leader Markus Söder tweeted his satisfaction at having acted as a political “escort” to German business, adding, “We do Realpolitik instead of Moralpolitik.” Scholz soon followed him to Beijing, accompanied by a large business delegation.

Then there’s the military question. If Germany spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense, it will have the fourth-largest defense budget in the world. Were President Trump 2.0 drastically to reduce the US presence in Europe, Germany would soon become the continent’s leading military power outside Russia. What would all these German soldiers and guns be there for? Where, how, and with what ethos would they be deployed? How would Mars sit beside Mercury?

At this February’s Munich Security Conference, there was a striking contrast between the heroic rhetoric of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who talked of Ukrainian “warriors standing against the aggressor,” and the colorless bookkeeper’s language of the German chancellor. My notebook records Scholz saying at one point, “We are really impressed by the way the Ukrainian soldiers are doing their activities (emphasis added). Er, you mean fighting? But in German, the entire language of war has been poisoned by its association with Nazism. In 2020 the head of the German army caused a stir when he said the country’s armed forces should be siegesfähig—capable of winning. (This is not a difficulty Germans have when they talk about their soccer team.) The defense minister now says the armed forces must be kriegstüchtig—war-capable. It will require imagination and judgment to find an appropriate new German vocabulary for the hard business of being ready to fight and die so that that you don’t need to fight and die.

German society has been described as “post-heroic.” In a recent poll, only 38 percent of those asked said they would be ready to take up arms to defend their country if it were attacked, whereas 59 percent said they wouldn’t. But then, unlike Poles or Estonians, let alone Ukrainians, most Germans still don’t really believe they might need to.

To talk of German angst is a hoary old cliché. But the German word Angst can mean either fear or anxiety. These are two very different things. Fear can mobilize—to “fight or flight.” Anxiety paralyzes. It’s the latter kind of angst that Germany is suffering from at the moment. The challenge for political and intellectual leadership will be to carry an anxious public to a position that is more realistic, morally consistent, and geopolitically, economically, and environmentally sustainable, without any sudden lurch from one extreme to another.

And what of Europe? “Even though the Germans speak about Europe with great warmth and conviction,” Van Rompuy writes, “Europe should not cost them too much.” Are the Germans now prepared, in their own enlightened long-term self-interest, to let the future of Europe cost them a little more? Given their own and other Europeans’ historically informed worries about the reemergence of German military power, it would make sense for them to be among the leaders in pushing for a more integrated European defense industry, a stronger European pillar of NATO, and an EU that takes defense seriously. But this would entail a pooling of sovereignty in an area even more vital and sensitive than a national currency disappearing into the eurozone. This is a challenge for all European countries, whose leaders always come up against a deep structural tension between policies that need to be European and politics that are still national.

Pending the coinage of a catchier term, I would describe the strategy Europe requires from Germany as a Gesamteuropapolitik—an all-Europe policy, putting together what have in the past been the largely separate Europapolitik, meaning EU policy, and Ostpolitik. Can Germany swing the balance of the European Union toward a genuine strategic commitment to include Ukraine, Moldova, the Western Balkans, and Georgia? Can it contribute the bold, innovative thinking needed to reform the EU, making it ready both to make another big enlargement and to face a dangerous world? Can it help shape a realistic new European policy toward Russia, not for the next twenty months but for the next twenty years? And how is Europe as a whole—including countries like self-marginalized Britain—to defend its values and way of life in a world where often reflexively anti-Western great and middle powers such as China, India, and Turkey are increasingly influential, while the US interest in Europe has diminished and will continue to diminish? Germany cannot do any of these things on its own, but without Germany none of them will happen.

Here is today’s German Question, and the only people who can answer it are the Germans themselves.

—April 24, 2024