The Myth of German Hegemony

Why Berlin Can't Save Europe Alone

German Chancellor Merkel and French President Hollande in Berlin. (Tobias Schwarz / Courtesy Reuters)

In 2010 and 2011, the first two years of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, Germany seemed to emerge as the continent’s dominant power, possessing an unrivaled ability to shape its neighbors’ destinies. Enjoying unabated economic strength, Germany agreed to bear the largest burden in the eurozone’s financial rescue, and so it was able to determine the pace and methods of managing the crisis. It also influenced the economic and budgetary policies of Europe’s debt-ridden countries, such as Greece and Spain, and it used that authority to impose an agenda of reform and austerity across the eurozone. Witnessing these developments, some observers went so far as to proclaim the onset of German hegemony and argued that only Berlin could solve the continent’s woes.

Although Germany is, to be sure, the most important European country for overcoming

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