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Germany: Great Expectations Encounter the EU's Reluctant Hegemon

Simon Bulmer, William Paterson

This paper explores the growing perception, prompted by the euro-zone crisis, of Germany as a hegemonic power in the European Union. The paper explores hegemony conceptually and in terms of economic fundamentals and practice. Despite Germany's role as 'extraordinary trader' and its emergence as the leading economic power, it is argued that both international and, increasingly, domestic constraints have limited a leadership role. The euro-zone crisis witnessed Germany's ordo-liberal economic philosophy conflicting with its traditional pro-Europeanism. Ordo-liberal emphasis on stability culture provided a valuable strategic resource for securing German objectives within the euro-zone while satisfying the requirements of domestic politics. However, the need to be attentive to growing constraints arising from German domestic politics extends beyond government policy on the euro-zone and limits, inter alia, the scope for policy action to address the imbalances arising from its huge trade surplus. In consequence, Germany is intrinsically a reluctant hegemon: one whose economic leadership is recognized and regarded with great expectations but where domestic politics act as a significant constraint. The conclusion considers the significance of these findings for the EU's most important member state and the EU more widely.

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