27 April 1995 - 29 April 1995

Germany Five Years after Unification: External Role, External Perceptions

Chair: Dr Richard von Weizsäcker

(Conference supported by Deutsche Bank)

Ditchley’s first foray onto the continent of Europe enjoyed the lovely surroundings and generous hospitality of Deutsche Bank’s Margarethenhof; and it was further distinguished by our first ex-Head-of-State chairman, as we considered the wider tasks and visions of the Germany whose unification he had overseen.

We knew that economic performance remained at the heart of Germany’s external influence and its power as a pole of attraction. Could success be assumed to last? It was evident that global competitiveness posed awkward challenges, and some of us wondered whether structural adaptation - though much had already been done - would go far and fast enough to offset the burdens of social costs, ageing population and a currency whose strength weighed heavily upon exports and jobs and might owe more to perceptions of socio-political stability than to strict economic analysis. But the record of adaptive resilience, helped by a labour force still more open than most to the advantages of immigration, mostly consoled our concerns.

We asked ourselves next what constraints a stressful history might continue to impose - some, we were sure, even if their ambit and severity was fading. Did they derive primarily from unease about how other countries might react? or from the caution of lessons learnt? or from a deeper re-shaping of identity and self-image? Elements of all these, we thought, albeit in uncertain proportions. Self-image had certainly shifted - Germany had been securely vaccinated, said one participant; rather like eighteenth century Sweden, suggested another. German perception of the nation-state was now quite unlike that in France or Britain; and whether or not Germany had yet found its defining myths for the future, a Gaullist Germany in a Gaullist Europe (a scenario interrogatively evoked in discussion) seemed an unreal risk.

What might Germany’s approach be to leadership beyond its borders? Like it or not, that role at least in some sense was inescapable; Germany was too big, too wealthy, too central to stand aside. But traditional concepts of international leadership ill fitted the modern Germany’s mood and its historical awareness - and, also some argued, the entire German political structure. We had a lively exchange on whether, and if so just why, it was really impossible for Germany to lean towards the part of a “big Switzerland”. But most of us thought this out of the question, and more over undesired (especially as the generations changed) even by those neighbours most scarred by the German past.

The German role as a, if not the, leader in Europe had long been manifest, and moreover manifestly constructive. At the least, Germany was bound to be the prime force for collective European development, even if others might be tough influences against it. In particular, Germany was inevitably, for the sake of its own long-term stability, the main promoter of the European Union’s eastward agenda (which had to rank before the southward agenda). This task - in essence, the broadening of Europe’s common social, legal, political, economic and security space - would put Germany in the forefront of difficult EU decisions about the Common Agricultural Policy (not in itself a key German concern) and about the future of the budget, the structural funds and the Union’s decision-making systems.

Non-Germans among us sought to explore the durability of the apparent consensus, across the German political élite, in favour of EU development on a broad front. There seemed surprisingly little deep debate within Germany; might not (for example) the implications of economic and monetary union (EMU) for the revered Deutschemark, and perhaps different attitudes among the new Länder, rouse the electorate to disagreement? But German participants were in general not persuaded to worry greatly. It was acknowledged that awkward tension might well arise between the political impetus for EMU - especially in respect of France - and the difficulty of meeting the economic criteria; something, if only the timetable, would surely have to give? For this and other reasons 1997 looked like being an interesting year.

Defence and security issues, for all that the end of the Cold War had eased their pressure, would continue to confront Germany with complexity, whether in NATO or through the development of the EU’s aspiration to a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Germany remained utterly committed to the Atlantic Alliance as the bedrock of its security, but Germany like others faced problems in defining, at least for public understanding, the Alliance’s practical reality in the absence of clear threat, and in managing its eastward expansion in ways that neither avoidably disturbed Russia nor made undeserved concessions there. We noted also that expansion would entail resource costs; and moreover that Germany’s choices on defence expenditure - in GDP- proportionate terms already the lowest among Alliance heavyweights - carried inescapable implications, even if political rhetoric had not yet generally admitted these, for the limitation of Europe-only ambitions in respect of collective military capability. The CFSP’s advance, we suspected, would need time and patience, and perhaps modesty.

It was not only in the defence field that Germany’s resolute self-location in the political “West” made close friendship with the United States a core assumption of policy. US leaders of either party were in no doubt of the matching importance of US links with Europe and so especially with Germany; but we were reminded of the public moods in the US that might be less firm, and of the need accordingly for German policies - for example about the free-trade system, and about more general sharing of global responsibility - that would continue to reinforce the leaders against the sceptics.

We pondered the significance of Germany’s desired accession to permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council. As we agreed, the point of that membership - which all of us prospectively welcomed - must be practical involvement in the management of world order, not just symbolic status. There was some divergence of view about how much it must imply about the availability of German military effort (sometimes entailing unfamiliar loss of German lives) in awkward international tasks; there was, however, no doubt but that the global community would look to Germany for a contribution not just financially (that, indeed, might become less and less feasible beyond the general norm) but as political architect of solutions and sharer of responsibility for action - including, inescapably, responsibility for making mis-takes, as in the wreck of Yugoslavia. All this might well compel a salutary, and maybe at times uncomfortable, deepening of foreign-issue understanding among a domestic public that - twentieth-century disasters quite aside - was mostly less habituated by history than (say) French or British thinking to the significance of global dimensions. But long-term economic interest was likely anyway, as German trade necessarily turned towards opportunities growing faster than the mature EU market, to require enhanced German concern in and for the developing world.

Throughout the conference there recurred continually a distinctive phenomenon. The non-Germans would press to know what Germany’s national preferences and priorities were, how Germany would answer the hard choices foreshadowed in this or that field, what did Germany really want. The German participants would mostly reply unspecifically that Germany would continue to choose (as it had done successfully for over four decades) to work through international structures, to tackle problems as they came, to seek co-operation and consensus, not to formulate - still less try to impose - narrowly national preferences. The visitors came increasingly to recognise in this the expression of an inherent philosophy of international business, not an evasive concealment of some ulterior agenda. We probably carried away a diversity of opinions about how this philosophy would stand the test of the next few years - alongside a community of desire that Ditchley should come to Germany again to share perceptions of the emerging outcome.

This Note reflects the Director's personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: Dr Richard von Weizsäcker
President of the Federal Republic of Germany (1984-94)


Sir Antony Acland GCMG GCVO
Provost of Eton College

Ms Margaret Aldred CBE
Private Secretary to the Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Sir Nigel Broomfield KCMG
Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany

Sir Julian Bullard GCMG
Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford

Mr Ian D Davidson
Columnist, The Financial Times

Mr Richard C Mottram
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence

Miss Pauline Neville-Jones CMG
HM Diplomatic Service; Deputy Under Secretary of State and Political Director, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Ms Joyce Quin MP
Member of Parliament (Labour), Gateshead East

The Rt Hon Malcolm Rifkind QC MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), Edinburgh, Pentlands (1974-); Secretary of State for Defence

The Rt Hon The Baroness Williams of Crosby PC
Life Peer (Liberal Democrat)

Ambassador Paul Heinbecker
Ambassador of Canada to the Federal Republic of Germany

Mr Ron E Stanley
Senior Vice President & General Manager, Europe, Royal Bank of Canada

Mr Fraser Cameron
Foreign Policy Adviser, DG1A, European Commission

Monsieur Gilles Briatta
Centre d’Analyse et de Provision, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Paris

Monsieur Dominique Moisi
Deputy Director, Institut Français des Relations Internationales, Paris

Ambassador Dr Hans Arnold
Retired as Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the UN in Geneva

Dr Manfred Bischoff
Chief Executive, Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG, Munich

Major General Winfried Dunkel
Amtschef Streitkraftcamt, Bonn

Dr Michael Endres
Member of the Board, Deutsche Bank, Frankfurt am Main

Professor Dr Wilhelm Hankel
Reader in Economics and Monetary Affairs, University of Frankfurt
Ambassador Karl Günther von Hase
Honorary President, Anglo-German Association
Dr Josef Joffe
Foreign Editor, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Munich

Dr Heike Kahl
General Secretary, German Youth Federation

Ambassador Dr Frank Lambach
Ambassador-at-large for conflict prevention and management, Foreign Office, Bonn
HE Baron Hermann von Richthofen
Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the North Atlantic Council
Miss Ellen R Schneider-Lenné
Member of Board of Managing Directors, Deutsche Bank AG,Frankfurt, responsible for Group Credit Risk Management and the Financial Institutions Division
Professor Dr Michael Stunner
Director, Institute for International Politics and Security, Ebenhausen

Dr Guido Lenzi
Director-designate, Institute for Security Studies, Western European Union

Ambassador Hisashi Owada
Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations, New York

HE Dr Ruud Lubbers
Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1982-94)

Señor Luis Foix
Deputy Director (formerly foreign correspondent, London), La Vanguardia

Mr James F Hoge Jr
Editor, Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations, New York

Dr Catherine McArdle Kelleher
Representative Europe of Secretary of Defense, and Defense Advisor, United States Mission to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Mr Frederick Kempe
Managing Editor, The Wall Street Journal Europe (Brussels)

Dr Deborah Duff Milenkovitch
Columbia University: Director, Institute on East Central Europe, and Soviet and East European National Resource Center
Ambassador Charles E Redman
United States Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany