Europe is part of Germany’s identity

Article published on Dec. 5, 2003
community published
Article published on Dec. 5, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Interview with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-chair of the Green Group in the European Parliament, on Germany's role in Europe.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit is a figurehead for the European Greens. In 1968 he was expelled from France for leading students in the Paris May Uprising. However, these days he is to be found, like his friend Joschka Fischer, in mainstream politics where he occupies the function of co-chairman of the Green Party Group in the European Parliament. His answers to our questions on the role of Germany in Europe likewise reveal a more pragmatic approach.

Café babel: Mr Cohn-Bendit, can the relationship between Germany and France still be described as one of friendship, the driving force behind our visions for Europe, or does it rather resemble a marriage of convenience?

Daniel C-B: It is neither a marriage nor a friendship but rather a German-French political community which has developed over the last 40 to 50 years. States which are represented by politicians like Chirac and Schröder cannot be friends, only individuals can be. But Germany and France share a political unity. That is the crucial thing.

Café babel: Aren't relations today much more pragmatic than before?

Daniel C-B: The relationship was always pragmatic anyway. Nevertheless, it is true that Germany and France have become significantly closer to one another.

Café babel: Does there not seem to be a massive conflict of interests as far as current German Foreign Policy is concerned between a growing self-confidence and the process of European Integration?

Daniel C-B: Germany is, and always has been strong, and not only committed to Europe. But Germany is also heavily dependent on Europe. This is the lesson which Germany has drawn from the devastation of the Nazi era. This is why I believe - as Helmut Kohl already sought to prove during the process of reunification - that a united Germany does not contradict a united Europe. German self-confidence is inclusive of Europe.

Café babel: But didn't the German position on the Iraqi question lead to a divided Europe?

Daniel C-B: The German position was not the only one at issue here. The French also had a position which was compatible with that of the Germans, Belgians and Luxemburgers. So we cannot say that Germans divided Europe. There was a split in Europe whereby different European states had different positions.

Café babel: Just now you mentioned the close ties between Germany and Europe. Do you think with regard to the current wave of Enlargement that the process of German reunification can serve as a model for the EU?

Daniel C-B: The process of reunification was and still is a very costly venture for Germany. This is something that Europe cannot afford. That's why I am of the opinion that the process of European unification will go its own way. Examples from Germany will ultimately be of little use to it.

Café babel: What visions does Germany have left for Europe? In your interviews you often speak of a European Federation. Do you share Fischer's vision of such a federal Europe with a two chamber system and a proper executive?

Daniel C-B: Disputes over such a far-off future eventuality are premature. The debate at hand is the one surrounding the the draft constitution and we should keep to that. I feel it is a compromise that must first be acknowledged so that we can move forward.

Café babel: Is the draft constitution a step in the right direction?

Daniel C-B: I think the draft constitution for Europe provides a constitutional basis and that is fine. Of course, it is possible that in the coming years more changes will take place. But it represents an initiative that will bring Europe forward.

Café babel: You call for an EU-wide referendum on the draft constitution. Are you not worried that tabloids like the "Bild" newspaper in Germany might manipulate people's views?

Daniel C-B: I have full confidence in the people. I don't believe in media manipulation. Those are arguments you just have to hold out against.

Café babel: To end: a question on youth policy. What do you think of the generation which came after yours? Is it politically engaged? Might we even talk of a “eurogeneration”?

Daniel C-B: Young people are obviously European just as other generations were. For the youth of today the European space is one in which they move freely and that's how it should be. Of course, the EU could definitely do more as far as young people are concerned. Something along the lines of a European "social service" scheme, for example.