Germany Looks Ahead

Charlemagne is often recognized as the founder of the French nation, but he was also responsible for the creation of the Holy Roman Empire and the development of the many small states within the Kingdom of Germany. Somewhat ironically, another French leader, Napoleon, was responsible for the fall of the Holy Roman Empire. From this old empire a new German state would emerge in 1871—the German Empire.

Over the past century, Germany has passed through five stages and is now poised for a prosperous future. In 1900, the German Empire was rapidly industrializing and developing an imperialistic attitude. Having completed an alliance with the Austrian Empire, Germany entered into a war that would involve all of the countries of Europe, as well as many other countries around the world. After the defeat of Germany in 1918, a period of political and economic turmoil existed. This came to an end when Adolf Hitler took control of the government. Hitler moved to reindustrialize and remilitarize the nation. Using the argument of reuniting the German people, he took control of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia before attacking Poland and starting World War II.

Six years later, Germany was again defeated and the Allied forces occupied all of its territory. Divided into an east and west zone, two Germanys evolved between 1949 and 1989. West Germany again industrialized and joined the military and economic organizations of Western Europe. East Germany was tied to the military and economic organizations of Eastern Europe. The building of the Berlin Wall recognized the barriers between the two countries, but West Germany allowed and encouraged trade and cultural links with East Germany. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down, and within a year, the two Germanys were reunited. This action was symbolic of the end of the cold war and a greater unity between Western and Eastern Europe in general.

The modern Federal Republic of Germany has the largest population of any state in Europe (excluding Russia) and the continent’s strongest economy. As a founding member of the European Economic Community, it is now firmly entrenched in the European Union (EU) and has significant power across the continent. The future of Germany seems bright. The EU continues to bring the countries of western Europe closer together, and Germany, as the strongest member, has the most to gain from this union in the form of increasing markets for its products. Germany and the EU need each other, thus both should grow closer together in the future.

On the global scale, the EU is creating an area with a total population and economic strength equal to that of the United States. There is a clear possibility that the world could evolve from its current condition of having one powerful country, the United States, into a world with another strong country, Germany. However, this division should not be the hostile one evident in the cold war years. The largest ongoing conflict between the United States and the European Union is with respect to subsidies paid to farmers through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This makes American food exports too expensive in Europe. As Germany is a net food importer, the CAP also makes food prices high in Germany; however, it is beneficial to farmers in the former East Germany.

Within Europe there is the ongoing problem of the social and economic integration of eastern Europe and western Europe. While this has moved along in terms of more peaceful relationships, greater economic ties can only take place by offering membership in the European Union. Germany will pay a high price for such a union, because these countries are all weak and heavily dependent on agriculture, while Germany, as the strongest member, makes the largest contribution to the EU budget. The EU has announced that it will not give full membership to any of the countries of eastern Europe before 2010. However, the future integration of eastern Europe into the EU would make the EU the world’s dominant trading block.

Germany’s economy is dependent upon trade with other nations. Global economic recessions, such as the one associated with the 2001 destruction of New York’s World Trade Center by terrorists, decrease German exports, increase unemployment in Germany, and can lead to social unrest. A prosperous Germany in the future is dependent upon a strong global economy.

The unification of East and West Germany showed how the culture of the German people could overcome 40 years of forced separation. Germans are always trying to let people know about their culture. Exchange programs with countries throughout the world are encouraged, and students from the developing countries are encouraged to come to Germany for education and training. The Goethe Institute has branches in 70 countries, which provide information and education about Germany. Germany has been described as the most stable and ideological moderate democracy in Europe; however, the German people, particularly those in the former East Germany, do not have a strong tradition of democracy. Most of German history has been developed with authoritarian rulers. There is a strong tradition of workers’ rights and a strong recognition of social class distinctions. The degree to which government planning directs the economy has not led to public unrest as the considerable powers of the state governments defuse any resentment against the federal government. Continued association with the EU, however, reduces the powers of the state governments and leaves open the possibility of regional unrest and demands for autonomy. At this point in time, it seems unlikely that Germany will split apart as did its neighbor, Czechoslovakia.

Periodic violence against foreigners has raised some concern that there could be a renewed rise of right-wing politics.

Currently, both of the major political parties are middle of the road. The extreme right wing is currently divided between three parties, the Republicans, the National Democratic Party, and the German Peoples Party. This has prevented any of them from obtaining the 5 percent of the vote necessary for parliamentary seats. Should it appear likely that they will be successful, the larger parties could shift slightly to the right and prevent any significant growth of the parties of the extreme right wing. The extent to which the German public supports hatred of foreigners is minimal, and should be further reduced as international links increase. Further, the nature of Germany’s demographics, which is highlighted by a negative growth rate if the country must solely depend on natural increase, forces the state to encourage immigration if it wants its domestic market to grow. Certainly the Germany of the future will become increasingly multicultural.

The Green Party reflects the degree to which the citizens of Germany have become more conscious of environmental issues than are North Americans. In the former West Germany, action has been taken to improve water quality and encourage recycling. The unification of Germany revealed the large degree to which industrial development in the former East Germany was obtained at the expense of air and water quality. Many factories have been closed because the costs of meeting environmental standards are too high. On the positive side, this has meant that the development of new industry in the former East Germany has been with modern environmental standards in place.

Domestic tourism is another way for Germany to expand its economy. Germans enjoy spending time outdoors and touring their own country. The coastlines are popular destinations. The Central Uplands provide a variety of settings for backpacking and outdoor adventure located close to many of the larger cities. Germany’s share of the Alps provides settings for skiing and other mountain sports. The major rivers are important for the shipment of goods and also provide scenic vistas, such as the Rhine Gorge, for tour boats. A clean environment also attracts tourists from beyond Germany and further diversifies the economy. Whereas Germany benefits greatly from international tourism, which brings billions of dollars to the country each year, Germans themselves spend even more money traveling within their own country.

At both the national and international level, many of the problems faced as a result of the division of Germany in 1945 have been overcome by its reunification, and the future of the Federal Republic of Germany appears to be filled with promise. It is clearly a leader among European nations and countries of the world.