The Berlin Wall – The Centerpiece of European Integration?

Photograph: Rex Features

Photograph: Rex Features

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989 is one of the most important geopolitical events of the late 20th century. It marks the onset of the fall of the Soviet Union, symbolizes the end of the Cold War, and launches a new round in the construction of the European Union. Germany, and especially Berlin, were celebrating on Sunday the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On the one hand, the fall is a direct celebration of the freedom and liberty of the people from state-oppression. On the other, the fall of the Wall created a series of fears and concerns in Western Europe and the US wondering about: What would a reunified Germany look like? Can a reunified Germany be left unchecked? How can the West maintain strong ties with Germany? The answer was: incorporation of the reunified Germany into the Western institutional networks, meaning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). In the case of NATO, a reunified Germany did neither affect its institutional design nor its principles, but it permitted Western powers to ‘control’ Germany on questions of defense and security. However, in the case of the EU, the reunification was an axiomatic moment leading to an unprecedented effort towards greater and deeper integration.

Even though the reunification of Germany triggered a new round in the integration process of the Union, at first Western EU Member States were extremely concerned of this geopolitical shift. Soon after the reunification of Germany, a year later, France and Britain understood the need to incorporate the unified Germany inside the European Communities (EC). But the period from November 9th, 1989 to the signature of the

Two-Plus Four Treaty (between the US, the Soviet Union, UK and France) on September 12, 1990, granting full sovereignty to Germany,  was very tense. At first, London and Paris were opposed to the reunification as they feared that it would upset the balance of power on the European chessboard. For instance, during a meeting on December 8th, 1989, Margaret Thatcher expressed her fears to her French counterpart, François Mitterrand, about the resurgence of a ‘Grand Reich.’ Additionally, France did not want to see its deep ties with West Germany being upset by a new Germany; while, the UK aspired to maintain its special relationship with the US.

Ultimately, the integration process of the EC was closely linked to the desire to ‘anchor’ the reunified Germany inside a European network of institutions, rules, principles and procedures. In parallel, Paris and London were disagreeing on the degree of European integration required. The 1986 Single European Act (SEA) laying out the foundation of the future European Monetary Union (EMU) and a 1990 intergovernmental meeting pushed the trend towards deeper political, economic and even security integration. The SEA established the common market, the heart and soul of the EU. London was not ready to accept deeper integration as it saw it as a threat to its national sovereignty (seems familiar?). Nevertheless, the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, incorporating all these dimensions, was a solution to the ‘German dilemma.’ Following the fall of the Wall, “the Treaty of Maastricht became a priority in order to solidify the Union and integrate a reunified Germany inside Europe” (refer to Chapter 5 of Debating European Security and Defense Policy).

The construction of the European experiment took a sharp turn moving from the European Communities (EC) to the European Union (EU). In a matter of three years, the Maastricht Treaty strengthened and deepened the integration process of the European construction. Maastricht laid out the EU under a three-pillars system (see illustration below):

  • the first pillar, the European Communities, dealt with the Common Market and the four freedoms linked to it (under supranational decision-making process)
  • the second pillar, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), offered the Union and its Member States an institutionalized external policy (under intergovernmental decision-making process)
  • the third pillar, the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA), dealt with the policies of the sector of justice and police (under intergovernmental decision-making process)

Undeniably, the European Communities was a passive geopolitical entity, principally focusing on trade and economics, throughout the Cold War. Such risk-aversion was possible for several reasons: NATO offering a security umbrella over the continent; and active Member States like France and the United Kingdom provided security and did not want to see the EC overshadowing their national sovereignty. As well, the European Communities was not design to be an active security and defense actor. With the end of the Cold War and the reunification of the Germany, the EU understood the importance to increase its role in geopolitics and foreign affairs. Despite the creation of the CFSP, it took almost a decade for the creation of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). The 1990s demonstrated, once again, the European inabilities to secure its neighborhood. Additionally, the integration of a reunified Germany as a full NATO member soon after the fall of the Wall was an important moment in order to lower some of the transatlantic concerns about the future of Germany as a regional actor.

Lastly, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolizes the end of an era for Western power, the victory of liberal democracy over communism (remember Fukuyama’s “End of History”) and underlines the power of individual freedoms in Germany and Europe. The fall of the Wall illustrates the end of the Cold War, which has appeared to be dearly missed in the BRITAIN-G8-SUMMITWest, especially in America. The Cold War was a period of relative stability, offered by the bipolarity of the world order (as theorized and advanced by neorealism), between two blocs, two models. 25 years later, American leadership, especially its most conservative/hawkish branch, is looking back at the Cold War with a certain degree of nostalgia. Today’s world does not hold such clear cut enemy and strategic approach to containing and/or confronting the enemy. All these narratives and actions are all intertwined inside this axiomatic moment of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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About politipond

Author - Maxime H. A. Larivé, Ph.D., is a European and transatlantic expert. His book, titled 'Debating European Security and Defense Policy. Understanding the Complexity,' is published with Ashgate.
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One Response to The Berlin Wall – The Centerpiece of European Integration?

  1. Pingback: Once upon a time, the EU was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate | politipond

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