On May 1, 2009, ten countries celebrate their fifth birthday as EU members, but eight of them don't get a birthday present from Germany. Berlin announced this week that it was keeping labor restrictions on workers from European countries. The Economist concludes: "As Germany becomes 'normal,' it looks a bit more national and a bit less European."
The true turning-point for Germany was 1998, he says, when Gerhard Schröder defeated the CDUs Helmut Kohl for the chancellorship. During his campaign, Mr Schröder accused Mr Kohl of putting European interests ahead of German ones. He had a point: Mr Kohl pushed through the single currency even though most German voters opposed it, and nasty EU rows about money usually ended with Mr Kohl pulling out Germanys chequebook. Mr Schröder was less community-minded, happy to shout, Germany is not paying for this one, at summits. It was under Mr Schröder that Germany began its quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, after years of seeking a single place for the EU. Today the picture is mixed. Ms Merkel is less impatient at EU summits than Mr Schröder. But, unlike Mr Kohl, she brings no retinue of smaller countries as allies to every meeting. And despite the recent display of Franco-German unity at the G20 gathering in London, she neither trusts nor likes Frances Nicolas Sarkozy.
German security and defense policy has become more "normal" as well, and every politician will note the huge changes at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall later in November this year. But: There are still so many shortcomings and so little strategic thinking, at least publicly.
BTW: Last night, the Atlantic Council of the United States has awarded George H.W. Bush and Helmut Kohl the Distinguished International Leader Award in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and their role in ensuring the Cold War ended peacefully. That was quite an achievement, which too many people seem to take for granted this days, although so much could have gone wrong. Kohl's strategic thinking as well as his "chequebook diplomacy" and "community-mindedness" -- to use two terms from the Economist article -- paid off.