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German foreign policy and leadership of the EU – ‘You can’t always get what you want … but you sometimes get what you need’

posted on 2023-06-08, 00:29 authored by Alan Mayhew, Kai Oppermann, Dan HoughDan Hough
Germany is still in many ways a reluctant leader, even if its economic strength and its increasingly distinctive sets of political interests dictate that, in many areas at least, lead it must. Furthermore, it is not just in Germany’s interests to do so, other states in the EU now expect Germany to act decisively not just in times of crisis but also in setting future agendas. Whilst it is self-evidently no longer the case that France and Germany can independently set the pace and tone of European integration, and more voices and interests vie to be heard, it is still to Germany that many states instinctively look when trying to solve many of their EU-related problems. The reflexive pro-Europeanism of pre-unification Germany has however given way to a more selective and ambiguous approach to European integration. At a time when German leadership in the EU is arguably more in demand than ever, in particular in the current Euro crisis, the willingness and ability of German governments to provide such leadership can subsequently no longer be taken for granted. The first part of this working paper begins by sketching out the major changes in German European policy, putting them into the broader context of whether German foreign policy in general has „normalised?. It then analyses the main drivers of these changes: first, a shift in the international and European-level opportunity structures of German policy towards European integration; and second, a tightening of the political constraints and a reappraisal of the standards of appropriateness in the making of German European policy at the domestic level. It then moves on to analysing Germany’s recent behaviour in dealing with the Eurozone crisis before concluding with some speculations on the implications that all of the above have for Germany’s European Policy in the future. The second part of the working paper investigates the economic background to German leadership of the EU. In particular, it argues that Germany’s swift recovery from the global financial crisis has once more demonstrated that the country is the major economic power in Europe. Given its economic strength, leadership in rescuing the Eurozone has been forced upon a reluctant Germany.


Publication status

  • Published


Sussex European Institute Working Paper




Sussex European Institute





Place of publication

Sussex, UK

Department affiliated with

  • Politics Publications


University of Sussex

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