BRUSSELS - There is surprising gloom in the corridors of the European Parliament. It is 6 P.M. and inside the building it is as dark as it is outside. "A sign of the crisis," chuckles the guard at the entrance. "The party is over and the belt is tightening."
On one of the higher floors sits Martin Schulz, with a serious expression - or is it amusement - on his face. Several years ago Schulz, the leader of the Socialists at the European Parliament, won international attention thanks to an incident in the plenum with Silvio Berlusconi. The Italian prime minister, who had just taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union, was not pleased with the criticism leveled at him by the German parliamentarian. "Mr. Schulz," retorted Berlusconi, "I know of a movie producer in Italy who is making a film about Nazi concentration camps. I will recommend you for the part of a kapo. You are perfect!"
The storm provoked by this remark illustrated that the memory of that war is still very fresh and that even if the reconciliation in Europe is no longer fragile, there is still a lot of sensitivity.
In about three months Schulz will take up the position of president of the European Parliament. He relates to this with great respect. A German heading an international institution bears responsibility that goes beyond the usual, he says. He has to be sensitive and to conduct himself in accordance with Germany's unique responsibility. In light of its history, Germany has to be planted deep in the EU. Its supreme aim must be a "European Germany" and not a "German Europe." He said this on the eve of last weekend's summit to save the EU. However the results of the summit, say the commentators, prove that what is happening today in the EU is the diametric opposite of that lofty aim: For the first time since 1945 Germany has become the landlord in Europe, it was said.
In the context of the crisis on the continent, the German model is perceived as a magic formula. Germany is the only country in the eurozone the markets still trust. It is the key to rescuing Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel has become, in the wake of this, the first among equals. What she says, goes.
However, a Europe of the "magician from Berlin" is also a continent of order and discipline, fines and punishments. The fiscal treaty Merkel has led and the fact that she is refusing to print money and issue Eurobonds have aroused a chorus of critics against her and an admixture of stereotypes drawn from the war that ended nearly a decade before her birth.
In Britain - which was the only EU member that refused to support the fiscal treaty - there were those who used the battered comparison with Neville Chamberlain (Prime Minister David Cameron in this case ), who returned from Munich (Brussels ) with empty guarantees from Hitler (Merkel ). In France, which has recently experienced a dark wave of Germanophobia, President Nicolas Sarkozy was compared to former Prime Minister Edouard Daladier, the French partner in the Munich disgrace. Voices in the Socialist Party accused Merkel of using "Bismarckian methods" and called for fighting the "German diktat." In Italy, placards superimposed a German helmet from the Kaiser's day on Merkel's head and in Greece, a "submissive protectorate of the Fourth Reich," they dressed her in an SS uniform and replaced the stars in the EU flag with swastikas.
So yes, Europe is now speaking fluent German. But its French is also very clear. Merkel's Germany is indeed leading the EU, but it can do this only hand in hand with Sarkozy's France. Henceforth Merkozy. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder, Francois Mitterrand and Helmut Kohl, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, Charles De Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer - all of them were the "motor" of European integration, the aim of which remains the establishment of a continental federation. They raised the flag of Europe, they adopted an anthem, they established a court and a central bank and they coined a unified currency, which would lead - so they hoped - to a political unison.
The grave crisis in which they have found themselves and because of which they have decided to adopt a fiscal treaty, must pave the way to realizing that ultimate aim - the aim that will neutralize the nationalist reflexes; the aim that will eliminate the threatening German shadow and distance them from the bloody wars of the past.
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