Germany will lead us out of the crisis
In these dark times, it is imperative that European countries unite in a joint show of strength. There is no doubt about this in the mind of Marnix Krop, law alumnus and former ambassador to Berlin: ‘We are heading for a federal Europe, and this will benefit democracy.’
Marnix Krop recently retired after a long and successful career. He studied law in Groningen, spent a brief period working for think-tanks and a law firm, and finally joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1989. After three years representing the Queen and her government in Warsaw, he was made ambassador to Berlin and finally left service in 2013.
Krop went out with a bang. He decided to commit his thirty years of experience and ideas to paper by writing a book, putting the emphasis on developments in the country where he last served. His efforts resulted in ‘Hart van Europa, hoe Duitsland ons uit de crisis voert en tegen welke prijs’ (Heart of Europe, how Germany will lead us out of the crisis and at what price). He has taken his book on the road, giving talks and lectures to anyone who wants to listen. ‘It’s a subject that seems to interest people. They often tell me afterwards that I draw attention to things that had never occurred to them.’
Germany will lead us out of the crisis; there is no doubt about this in Krop’s mind. This sentence makes two separate statements: the crisis is not permanent, and Germany will take the lead – whether we, or the Germans, want it to or not. The ‘price’ that must be paid comprises several different developments, one of which is the formation of a federative Europe. Once again, Krop is convinced that this is the way forward, seeing it as a positive development rather than a high price to pay.
Europe’s powerlessness became evident during the recent Euro crisis. Krop has never been happy about the way the Euro was introduced, but if the currency is to survive, European countries must unite more and make clearer agreements. The power in Europe tends to be very fragmented, says Krop. A few parties are responsible for one thing and others are in charge of another, making it difficult to manage matters that need serious coordination. This is a weak link in European democracy, and it was made painfully visible during the Euro crisis. The problems permeated into so many areas that it became impossible to get all the relevant parties seated at the same table. This is why the final decisions were made by relatively small groups of people.
Krop is an enormous fan of the European project and dismisses ardent criticism of the European Union out of hand, particularly criticism of the basic idea of Europe. You can criticize the way it has been implemented, he says, but not the idea behind it. He finds the current widespread denouncement of all European collaboration in the Netherlands disheartening, and cannot understand why people are in favour of a referendum about the EU association treaty with Ukraine. But they have got their way and we will all be invited to vote next year. ‘Everyone now thinks that a “yes” vote would enable Ukraine to join, which is totally ridiculous. That’s not what this is about. It’s an association treaty; nothing more, nothing less. A treaty of this kind is something that should be left to parliament to decide.’
The idea of holding a referendum came from the weblog GeenStijl, which has been demonstrating against everything to do with ‘Europe’ for many years. The instigators of GeenPeil are convinced that matters decided in Brussels are not necessarily in the citizens’ best interests. They think that the Netherlands is giving up its autonomy, without seeking formal permission from the Dutch population through elections or referenda. Krop recognizes the sentiment, but considers it unfounded. ‘Here in the Netherlands, we have a representative democracy. This means that we elect people to make decisions on our behalf, including decisions about Europe. This is a good thing, because decisions of this kind can be highly complex. People can obviously object, but they should do this by voting for someone else at the next elections.’
According to Krop, the fragmentation within Europe is leading to failing democracy, and this is the real problem. Creating a more federal structure for Europe would go some way towards solving the problem. The matter of which decisions should be made at which level would be immediately clear for every subject, as would the views of the various politicians at all these levels. European politics would become more transparent and direct. The citizens would then have the right to vote at all these levels.
Although ideas like this are currently highly controversial in the Netherlands, things are quite different in Germany, where Krop was ambassador until 2013. ‘It might be because people in Germany are used to a federal structure. They are already used to certain matters being dealt with at the federal level and others being decided in Berlin. The system works well, so why should they be afraid of the same system in Europe?’ Krop does not think that federalization, which he considers inevitable, will lead to a single European super state. ‘Countries will retain the majority of their own responsibilities; they will always be responsible for their own domestic policy at the very least. But matters that need to be dealt with at the European level, such as the stability of the Euro, the influx of refugees or the security of Europe, would be organized more effectively and democratically.’
At present, Angela Merkel has a leading role within Europe. She is the voice of authority in many contentious issues, including issues that affect the Netherlands, even though she was not elected by the Dutch people. The Dutch recognize Merkel’s influence and the current unprecedented position that Germany occupies in post-war Europe. Krop thinks that the German people are less aware of this, or feel uncomfortable about it. Nobody wants a repetition of Germany’s last performance as the most powerful country in Europe, including the Germans themselves. They are concerned about associations with this period in their history, and are themselves afraid of too much German power in Europe. ‘But we can’t get round it. No other country in the European Union is in a position to take on this role. Germany is quite literally in the heart of Europe, which explains the title of my book. Germany is also reasonably stable and reasonably wealthy. It has no choice but to gradually shoulder more of the responsibility resulting from this position.’
So in these dark times, it is imperative that European countries unite in a common show of strength. Germany is the obvious country to take the lead. It is also a country with relatively little aversion to ‘Europe’, which gives it more clout. But Krop thinks that in the end, it will also be Germany that helps Germany to tone down its importance in the Union.
Marnix Krop (1948) studied Dutch law (1972) at the University of Groningen and gained a Master’s degree in European Studies in Bologna and Washington DC. He served many years with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was ambassador to Warsaw from 2006 to 2009 and to Berlin from 2009 to 2013. His book, Hart van Europa, Hoe Duitsland ons uit de crisis voert en tegen welke prijs was published by Prometheus Bert Bakker in 2014.
Text: Franka Hummels
Source: Broerstraat 5 (December 2015), the alumni magazine of the University of Groningen
|11 August 2022 12.17 p.m.