On February 23rd, Prof Brendan Simms appeared at an event hosted by the Institute for Economic Research (IFO). The event was co-chaired by Professor Hans-Werner Sinn and Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Marc Beise. Former German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer also joined the discussion.
The event took place in the CESifo Conference Center, where Simms argued how 500 years of history demonstrated the important role of Germany in European geopolitics and the character of the German question as one of mobilisation, not simply containment.
Throughout the talk, Simms stressed the importance of the German question as the main impulse behind European integration. Just like the old Holy Roman Empire, however, which ultimately broke apart, "the European Union was constructed to diffuse power rather than to concentrate it". This existing structure contributes to the fractures seen in the present construction of the European Union. At the same time, the "European project as currently constructed, originally designed to contain German power, actually increased it".
Simms further went on to highlight one of the most significant consequences for the current system. For the first time ever in history, Germany is surrounded by friendly powers and as a result, is less focused on external security. This significantly weakens the whole Union's capacity to adequately respond to Russia's aggression's along its eastern border.
Simms stressed that "successful unions emerge through sharp ruptures in periods of extreme crisis". Whether this crisis is the Moscow's recent political maneuvering, or perhaps another impending economic crisis is debatable; what remains important is that it is not the small, incremental steps that lead to meaningful historic changes, it is the 'big bangs'. "Only an existential external threat can unite Europe", he argued.
Professor Sinn, who has previously stated his sympathies for the concept of a United States of Europe, accepted the arguments put forth by Professor Simms as far as foreign policy considerations are concerned. There was however disagreement between the two regarding the economic structure of such a Union. While Professor Simms stated the need to construct a transfer Union, Professor Sinn, who starts his analysis from an economical rather than a strategic point of view, remains sceptical towards this approach.
Former German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer, who attended the talk, commented on what he perceived to be the central point of all theorizing about Europe's political future: the bond between north and south, between France and Germany. No plan, Fisher argued, that jeopardizes the Franco-German friendship can ever lead to a positive historical development of continental Europe.