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Germany: Hegemony or leadership in the EU

- At the beginning of this century, the geopolitics of the European Union was marked by the leadership of three European countries: Italy, the United Kingdom and France.

Germany: Hegemony or leadership in the EU

At the beginning of this century, the geopolitics of the European Union was marked by the leadership of three European countries: Italy, the United Kingdom and France. This triad, were the richest, most prosperous and powerful within the European Union. Due to the economic crisis that hit the European Union in 2007, the visible weakening of the leadership of these three countries was observed, since; which mainly affected countries that have the euro currency in circulation. Italy, was an example of a resounding fall,

In the early 2000s, Italy, the United Kingdom and France were the richest, most prosperous and most powerful countries within the European Union, but in recent years, the weakening of these three countries, especially after the economic crisis of the euro in 2007 where Italy had enormous problems in the national debt, France too, had and continues to have economic, social and political problems and Great Britain that decided in 2016 with a referendum, the abandonment of the European Union, which affect the geopolitical configuration of the EU and give a new option to shape the leadership of the Union.

After the defeat of the Second World War, Germany was divided by four great powers: the US, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union, which controlled every part of the country and especially its capital Berlin. Thanks to its unification, Germany had the support of the United States to re-emerge as a Federal Parliamentary Republic and through its alliance with France, it was able to become a member state of the European Union.

Germany has worked over the past 30 years to reform itself as a country, which has paid off as it is regarded as one of the world's most prosperous and stable modern democracies, with strong economics and politics. After the economic crisis in 2007, which affected much of the world, Germany had a visible rise in power within the European Union, positioning itself as a European leader and the possible emerging hegemonic country in the EU.

Is Germany the hegemonic country or just a leader of the European Union in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)?

Hegemony vs. leadership

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, "Hegemony is the dominance of one group over another, often supported by legitimizing norms and ideas...Hegemon is used to identify the actor, group, class or state that exercises hegemonic power"1. Hegemonic literature has its origin in ancient Greece. The term "hegemony" derives from the Greek Eghesthai, which means "to direct", "to be a guide", "to be the leader" or perhaps from the verb Eghemoneno, which means "to direct", "to proceed" and from which it derives "to command", " govern". Being that in ancient Greek eghemonia was related to a military concept of the supreme leader of the army and eghemone was the commander of the army2.

A principle of hegemonic power is sovereignty, which Carl Schmitt correctly pointed out that the main characteristics are absolute, unlimited and undivided power, which exceeds institutional limits, regulations and rules3 and related to Antonio Gramsci's concept of hegemony, "hegemony as leadership needs to be more than political, it is a construction of political alliances with the broadening of the social base and political mobilization against the ruling class, which help to resolve diversity in unity, creating a homogeneous, effective and cohesive through the diffusion of new values, meanings and visions of the world"4. Just as for Lentner, he considers that a hegemonic country needs to provide public goods, capital investment, implementation of its own macroeconomic policies in subordinate countries, loans in economic and security crises, more than politics5 and Ian Clark in 2011 added the importance of legitimacy and stability as the final objective of the hegemonic country6.

It is also important to note that in theory "a hegemonic state is a core state that commands a position of unrivaled economic and military superiority in the international sphere"7. Therefore, the most important requirements to be a hegemony are: military, ideological, economic and political power, with the absence of one of them, it can be considered as a non-hegemonic country.

Now, taking into account the previous definitions of hegemony, it is necessary to define the concept of international leadership and taking both definitions, it can be assumed what is the role that Germany plays first in the European Union, and second in the Common Foreign and Security Policy. .

In this way, leadership in international politics is defined as a social role imposed by a group of states that have high expectations in a particular group or country to achieve common objectives for the followers and followed8. This leadership includes the transfer of partial and temporary national competencies and power resources to the leading country and requires hard and soft powers through the legitimacy of group interests, objectives and trust as a key element of international leadership.

Table 1: Comparison of leadership as a social role and hegemony as a social status

< /tr>
 International LeadershipHegemony
OrientedGroup OrientedPreservation status
SeverabilityHigh / temporary / functionalLow

Note: Retrieved from "The Myth of German Hegemony: Assessing the International Leadership Functions of Merkel Governments", by Harnsich, S., (May 01, 2021). Retrieved from\_\_isa\_2017\_germany\_and\_leadership\_roles\_final.pdf. P.10

Table 1 “Comparison of leadership as a social role and hegemony as a social status” can be seen in the main differences between international leadership and hegemony, which defines that international leadership is more varied than a hegemony. Mainly, it emphasizes that there may be many leading countries in the international community, but that positioning as a hegemonic country is really a geopolitical game, where many actors and resources are involved. Therefore, holding international leadership is much easier than holding the role of the hegemonic country.

Another leading role in the international political economy is related to the production of the international economic infrastructure, such as providing political coordination of national monetary policies and liquidity. "A hegemonic power presumably wants to do it in its own name. A leader, the one who is responsible or responds to the need, the one who responds or responds to the demands of others, is obliged to "do it" by ethical training and by the circumstance of the position".

The European Union: German hegemony vs. leadership

"Since the founding of the federal republic, Germany has had two overriding strategic goals: monetary soundness and European integration. These were the two imperatives learned from the calamities of the early 20th century. The euro embodies these goals. Now they come into conflict." 9.

The European Union as an integration project is seen as a non-hegemonic cooperation between the member states, before the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, Italy and France were, at the time, regional hegemons and Great Britain was a global hegemonic country with industrial warfare. .

With the unification of Germany, the strong cooperation with France is observed and that still prevails in the present, being equals in a uniform relationship; since France is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and has a major intelligence center and a huge army that are involved in current international security issues. While Germany has a strong economy, being more competitive than France and other member states of the European Union10.

With the euro crisis in 2007 that affected most of the European countries that use the euro currency, Germany was the creditor of the European Union, which owed 976,266,421,000 euros in the last month of June 2018 to the German Bank11. In addition to this, the health crisis caused by SARS-CoV (COVID-19) has also caused an unprecedented fiscal crisis in the European Union, with Germany being, for the second time, the European economic leader capable of attenuating the Union's debt. European.

Likewise, Germany and France, combining economic and political power resources, have been able to offer the necessary leadership to the integration process within the EU12 and this relationship is fundamental for a reason: German hegemony is not well regarded and is unacceptable for the other members of the EU, which is related to the genocide committed in World War II under the command of Hitler, for which France is an essential partner of Germany. The Franco-German leadership has a high level of institutionalization, it is coordinated with politics, the administration, the economy and the meetings are twice a year, whose main topics of cooperation are foreign policy, the economy, culture and youth13 .

Based on the previous table 1, it is assumed that, in the EU economy, Germany is playing as an international leader taking into account the economic crises and the fiscal reforms that have been proposed and led by this country to heal the debts of all the European bloc. Lending money to the countries most affected since 2007, such as Greece, Italy or Spain, and being the most influential actor in the European Union's humanitarian search for solutions.

On the other hand, Blyth and Matthijs do not agree that Germany is the European hegemonic country since it has failed to provide "a market for the sake of distress, against long-term loan cycling, stable exchange rates, the macroeconomic policy coordination and real financial crisis lending of last resort"14, as the European Central Bank has been the main actor in resolving the euro crisis through targeted interventions of currency transactions.

Since 1950, Germany had the economic miracle that positioned it as a key state in the European Union, between 1960 and 1985 the European Union was represented by the multipolarity of power, which continues today, although at that time it was a bipolar system between United States and Russia, but over time, the concentration of the multipolarity system changed with the economic and political decline of Great Britain and BREXIT with the European Union, and the entry of Spain as the third power, just after Germany and Russia. France.

2005 was the year that Angela Merkel became Chancellor and Head of State. With her government, Germany changed its game and tried to play a leading role in the European Union, since Germany has the capabilities to be a hegemonic or leading power within the EU; However, it is considered by academics and specialists as a mid-range country with capabilities to be superior like France or the United Kingdom, but to achieve this goal, it is necessary to invest more in security and defense as a form of legitimization.

Despite this, Germany is a geoeconomic leader that has offered specific circumstances the stability that the EU needs and since 2016 Germany has been playing the geopolitical leadership model, but not the hegemonic role in the European Union. Working closely with France and Poland on the Ukraine, or with France, the Netherlands, other members of the euro area and with the European Commission on the crisis in Greece, with Italy, the Balkan countries and the European Commission on the crisis in refugees and with the Netherlands and the European Commission with the agreement on refugees in Turkey15 and now hand in hand with Ursula von der Leyen as president of the European Commission, who, by the way, is also German and faithful representative of this country and of the interests of the European Union in handling the crisis caused by the coronavirus.

It is interesting to note that, in 2015, the European Union did a survey with experts and policy makers from the 28 Member States, about who was the most influential country within the EU and it was found that Germany has the first place for political elites, specifically in terms of foreign policy, security and defense, as observed in Table 2.

Table 2. The 5 EU partners preferred by small and rich EU states

< td>Belgium/ Netherlands
SympathyGermanySwedenNetherlands /FinlandUnited KingdomBelgium
Response capacityGermanySwedenFinland / LuxembourgDenmark
Contact priorityGermanyFranceNetherlandsUnited KingdomSweden

Note: Ibid. (p.3).

Which, by the way, it would be interesting to carry out that same survey in 2021, with the United Kingdom leaving the European Union bloc and with one of the biggest health and economic crises in the world.

Common Foreign and Security Policy: Hegemony vs. leadership

EU Member States can be part of the political cycle that is divided into four steps: first, putting important issues on the agenda, second, formal decision-making, third, implementation, and fourth, legitimation16 . As usual, Germany participates in the first step, through the European Council with Angela Merkel as head of government and its main initiatives are to advocate with France, defend greater and deeper integration between the European member states and have the leadership in the most important foreign policy of the European Union: the enlargement of the EU towards the East.

In the same way, Germany has an anti-militarist vision of the conflicts and it is verified when it refused in 2011 to the intervention of the EU in Libya to evict Gaddafi from power, also, even if Germany increased its military forces, security is not its forte Therefore, it is far from being considered a hegemonic country.

To be the hegemonic country of the Common European Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), first, it needs to be the leader in the European Council, which is held by Charles Michel (former Prime Minister of Belgium) and second, to have the leadership of the Commission Union, which by the way already has it, thanks to Ursula von der Leyen.

Despite the fact that the European Union is a multilevel organism, confederated with federalism traits, the Westphalian system continues to be imposed internally, since the States continue to play the central role of the European Union and internal policies are projected on the EU level as common international policies. Something important to add is that the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is currently Josep Borrell Fontelles (Spanish politician) who represents the European Union abroad.

The German leadership is legitimized precisely with its neighbors such as Austria and the Netherlands, and with Finland, being the creditor, but states like Greece, Spain or Italy, oppose the austerity policy established by Germany in the EU, which helps to to increase an “anti-German” wave, which rejects the imposition of Germany as the main actor of the European Union, its leadership and a possible hegemony in the whole Union. Despite this, the EU needs to act quickly, clearly and firmly in the face of new challenges, and Germany responds to weak leadership as an umbrella to coordinate the Common Foreign and Security Policy and react to imminent threats, showing its leadership as is expressed in Table 3.

Table 3. The "big six" EU Member States ranked by their influence on EU politics

Note: Ibid. (p. 4).

Germany's European diplomacy focuses on indirect institutional power in the direction of the European Union, which helps it to be seen as less threatening by other members17 and plays a low profile with the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union Union in Foreign Affairs, but a high profile with the president of the European Commission as a counterbalancing figure in the elaboration of policies that support their own German foreign and security policy interests, such as the refugee agreement with Turkey, transatlantic relations and European security.

Under the leadership of Angela Merkel, Germany advocates in the CFSP for climate change, global counterterrorism, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, reconstruction for peacekeeping, pro-refugee programmes, stabilization efforts in The Middle East and the Balkans, continued cooperation with NATO18 and a responsible and coordinated response to the coronavirus health crisis, but there are only two of them, which are their own banners: the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and the program in favor of refugees, so the others are also promoted for all members of the European Union.

Despite having these flags, France has nuclear weapons and most of the EU member states do not agree to receive thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants, as well as there is great anger on the part of European countries the political handling, health and economic aspects of the pandemic and the acquisition and distribution of vaccines. Therefore, it is assumed that Germany has problems to be the leader that the European Union needs and is not the hegemonic one in the European Common Foreign and Security Policy.


Since 2007, Germany became a leader within the European Union, so it knew that leadership is the role it could obtain, not the hegemony it always wanted; since, with her dark past, most of the EU states still remind her of the atrocities caused in World War II and they remain a wound that is not forgotten.

With the formalization of BREXIT, the European Union could have been left fragile, internally fragmented and with a weak European Commission to react to challenges in terms of security and foreign affairs, at that time the EU would need a country that puts all members in the same direction, however, Germany served as the strong leader the EU needs to maintain cohesion and unity among members, helping to continue the EU's foreign and security policy through the efforts of Ursula von der Leyen with Josep Borrell and Charles Michel and giving solutions to external conflicts that affect the stability of Europe.

Likewise, Germany needs to commit more to security policy, not just leave France and NATO the role of European defense, as this is the only way to legitimize its leadership role. By investing in security and defense, Germany can influence decision-making on this issue as a complement to the EU's internal and foreign policy.

In the coming years, Franco-German cooperation will continue to be the framework of the European Union, although France has had internal problems in recent years, multilateralism and inter-institutional relations are Germany's main strategies to continue leading the EU, but it cannot even it must act alone, it needs the cooperation and commitment of the whole Union, since it is a union of 28 countries.


    1. Rosamond, B. (n.d.). Hegemony | political science. Retrieved May 1, 2021 from

    2. Gruppi, L. (1978). I. El concepto de la hegemonía en Gramsci y V. Los cuadernos de la cárcel. In ORG. Ediciones de Cultura Popular (Ed.), El Concepto de la Hegemonía de Gramsci (pp. 7-24 y 89-111).

    3. Kalyvas, A. (2017). Soberanía hegemónica: Carl Schmitt, Antonio Gramsci y el príncipe constituyente. (pp. 6). Retrieved from

    4. Ibid. (p.19).

    6. Clark, I. (2011). Hegemony in International Society. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. (pp. 34-50).

    7. Goldstein, J. (1988). Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age. New Haven, USA: Yale University Press. (p. 5).

    8. Harnisch, S., & Heidelberg University (2013). International leadership as a role theoretical concept. (Role Theory Workshop, November 12th, 2012, Institute of International Relations, Prague). Retrieved from (pp. 8-9).

    9. Kindleberger, C. (1986). Hierarchy versus inertial cooperation. (International Organization, Vol 4, No. 4). Retrieved from (pp. 845-846)

    10. Wolf, M. (2010). The Eurozone crisis is now a nightmare for Germany. (Financial Times). Retrieved May 05, 2019 from:

    11. Moré, I. (2018, August 8). La próxima crisis del euro. Retrieved May 4, 2021 from

    12. Bulmer, S., & Paterson, W. (2013). Germany as the EU´s reluctant hegemon? Of economic strength and political constrains. Journal of European Public Policy, 20(10), 1393-1394).

    13. Zervakis, P.A., & Von Gossler, S. (2003, May 6). 40 Jahre Elysée-Vertrag: Hat das deutsch-französische Tandem noch eine Zukunft? I APuZ. Retrieved May 2, 2021 from

    14. Ibid. (p.1396).

    15. Janning, J., & Möller. A. (2016, July 13). Leading from the Centre: Germany´s new role in Europe. (European Council on Foreign Relations). Retrieved from (p.1)

    16. Bulmer, S., & Paterson, W. (2010). Germany and the European Union: from “tamed power” to normalized power? International Affairs, 86(5), 1051-1073. Retrieved from (p.1055)

    17. Ibid. (p.1058).

    18. Belkin, P. (2008). German Foreign and Security Policy: Trends and Transatlantic Implications (CRS Report for Congressional Research Service). Retrieved from,_July_21,_2008 (p. 10)

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