Germany Listening – A Lecture with Brendan Simms

Brendan Simms, Professor in the History of International Relations at the Department of Politics and International Studies of the University of Cambridge as well as Chairman of the Project for Democratic Union, was our guest on 19 January 2019 at “Germany Listening”. Germany Listening is a series of events organized by Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Master of Arts International Relations at Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt University and the University of Potsdam. The title of his lecture was: “The German Question Reloaded: The End of the German Nation State, the Beginning of Europe?”

It might seem to be the case that, as far as the European Union is concerned, Germany is a model state, while the United Kingdom—in the midst of Brexit chaos—is something of a laughing stock. Yet in his lecture, Brendan Simms turned this commonplace on its head, suggesting instead that Germany should adopt a British approach to the current challenges faced by the European Union.

To explain this, Simms delved deep into the annals of European history, outlining the distinct paths followed by the two states. While Germany, in part doomed to a difficult fate as a consequence of its size and geographical position, spent centuries as a mere object of European politics, the nations that later came to comprise Great Britain managed to form a political structure that rendered them exceptionally powerful.

The path to success lay in the Act of Union of 1707, which gave Scotland parliamentary representation in Westminster and united it with England under a common foreign and security policy. The Act was an ‘event’ rather than a ‘process’: overnight, the states of England and Scotland ceased to exist, even though the respective nations remain distinct to this day.
While member states of the European Union, including Germany, have sacrificed a great deal of sovereignty, no true parliamentary union or union of foreign and security policy has been established. This is the reason why adequate, democratic solutions cannot be found to challenges such as the Eurozone crisis, the migration crisis or Russian aggression in the Ukraine. For Simms, the answer is evident: a full political union of European states analogous to that established in Great Britain in 1707.

According to Simms, unlike earlier German statesmen such as Franz Josef Strauß, Helmut Kohl or Joschka Fischer, Angela Merkel has done everything in her power to bury this goal. Yet given Germany’s power and influence, if it would only lead the way, the other nations of Europe would follow.

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