The Washington Post
Berlin- Britain may be in danger of becoming an inward-looking nation of diminished influence following its vote to leave the European Union; however, one country could find its voice in Europe dramatically amplified: Germany.
Under the stewardship of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s largest economy has already ridden to the zenith of its post-World War II power.
Nevertheless, the pending departure of the E.U.’s second-largest economy – Britain – could thrust an even bigger burden of leadership upon Germany.
Some Europeans remain leery of German power – the very energy the E.U. was designed to harness to prevent Berlin’s reemergence as the continent’s dominant force.
Yet, almost as many now worry that Germany will shrink from its leadership role; thus leaving a rudderless Europe drifting into political and economic limbo.
Germany’s stronger voice is emerging on the back of its massive economy, but also its stability, at a time when a host of nations find themselves mired in myriad crises or focusing inward.
Yet no nation is more torn over its rise than Germany itself.
Jennifer Werthwein, a 22-year-old economics and philosophy major at the University of Mannheim, for instance, recently launched a social-media campaign with 500 others from the Green Party’s youth organization.
Their mission is to make fellow Germans stop displaying the national flag during a major European soccer tournament.
Their campaign against symbols of German power sparked a national debate.
Nonetheless, Werthwein and her group were not alone. Other student organizations have rallied to their cause.
In Berlin and elsewhere, some bars and restaurants have posted signs or Facebook updates during the 2016 Euro soccer championships, warning their customers against displays of patriotism and barring the red, gold and black colors of the German flag.
In the wake of Britain’s exit, Werthwein said, “there is a danger that Germany is going to push itself too much into the forefront, using its economic power to exert political domination in Europe.”
She insisted Germany should not retake a pole position on the continent given the horror of World War II.
“For me, our working through of the nationalism of the Nazi era can never be over,” she said.
Others here sense an opening in the British exit, regretting it while at the same time saying Germans should shoulder more weight.
Hans-Peter Friedrich, a leading politician of the Christian Social Union, Merkel’s sister party, is among those arguing for Germany to become “a normal nation.”
In tweets, he chided the anti-flag campaign as shortsighted.
“Because of the British exit, Germany obviously gains more responsibility,” he said.
Yet, the anti-flag campaign, he added, “shows how parts of German society still have a disturbed relationship with their own identity. … I think it’s a shame.”
Without Britain, a fellow defender of globalization and free trade, some observers are fretting over how and whether Germany will manage to turn the tide in Europe against more protectionist and inward-focused nations such as France and Italy, but when it comes to leading, the Germans may also have little choice.
If Germany is Europe’s “decider,” it is not because it went after that role.
Nicknamed the “sick man of Europe” in the early 2000s for its post-unification financial woes, its economy is now a global model. But then again, Germany, many argue, has not become diametrically stronger.
Although it leads globally on combating climate change, Germany remains gun-shy of forceful diplomacy backed by military strength.
Rather, Germany through Merkel is exerting a kind of postmodern form of leadership – leading by example and through consensus.
Her pursuit of a patient and orderly British exit, even as some of her peers in Europe display grandstanding impatience, suggests the methodical style she has become known for at home.
Merkel is being firm with Britain. But she is also avoiding the temptation to humiliate it because she believes that is not what is best for Europe.
That, some would argue, is leadership.