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Discuss what is not working and being communicated well in Europe today.

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In Europe today, old continental issues are reemerging in a modern fashion as Germany pursues its traditional role of European leader and organizer. The Mediterranean states, particularly Italy and Greece, increasingly push back against German plans for European Union policy that place them at disadvantages.

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Since the days of, and primarily because of its role in, the Holy Roman Empire, German culture has assigned a unique role to itself over the centuries. It has often stepped forward as a leader, organizer, and sometimes defender of Europe.

The Holy Roman Empire was Europe’s sword and shield against invaders, would be conquerors, and European heretics. It saw itself as the defender of Roman Catholic and European civilization. Germany itself has carried forward this ideal during the Bismarckian German Empire that spanned from the 1870s until World War I and also now as the undisputed chief state of the European Union.

Germans historically have thought of their national mission in terms of the word “Reich.” One must set aside Hitler’s regime in this context as a tragic aberration and manipulation. Reich to Germans has a meaning similar to the classical Greek ideal of polis or the American phrase “my country.” It means the state, the people, and a positive national spirit and mission all tied together.

In European tradition, centralizing and unifying tendencies that typically come from the Germans or the French have found resistance at the periphery of the continent. One of the first states to resist the Holy Roman Empire/German effort toward hegemony in the Middle Ages was doughty England, at that point a small and inconsequential kingdom. They resisted both imperial and papal claims of authority as they created an organized nation-state ready to prosper in the modern age.

The Holy Roman Empire found the Italian states and the Greek-based Byzantine Empire as the most consistent opponents to their attempt to expand their authority. The Italian states, including the papal states ruled by the church, resisted several invasion efforts by the empire to bring them to heel.

Today’s European Union problems stem more from issues of national finance and economic development than efforts to establish and maintain political controls, but they loosely follow a similar pattern to that set in the Middle Ages.

Much like the Articles of Confederation in the United States, the European Union has set up a system that sits astride a fence between national sovereignty and a federal state. The EU actually went a few steps farther than the US confederation model, especially in terms of monetary union and bureaucratic controls.

That said, the EU lacks the same level of authority that the US federal republic enjoys under the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court driven case law. It cannot force member states, such as Italy and Greece, to abide by laws, rules, and regulations except through punitive measures that might further weaken their dedication to the EU.

The EU’s financial integrity rests in large part on Germany’s economic might. Within the EU, they want authority and decision-making capabilities in the central government that will protect German interest and investment in the European project. Germany sees its national interests and the EU mission almost as one and the same.

German expectations include imposing fiscal restraint and budgetary discipline on member nations of the EU to prevent breakdowns that might require bailouts. Italy and Greece even prior to the pandemic tottered economically and struggled to meet EU goals.

They also increasingly resent the expanding German role in EU leadership, especially with Britain’s exit. The British had served as a voice against further consolidation of bureaucratic and economic power into the EU.

Just as in medieval times, the British Isles and Mediterranean have proved the biggest challenges to German attempts at consolidating the continent, reminding the world that history is often cyclical in its patterns and has resonance in today’s most important problems.

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