The days in which Germany can afford to be complacent are over. Europe’s largest economy needs to finally accept that it’s too big and important to simply sit on the sidelines. It needs to invest, innovate — and above all, lead.
The days of German complacency were nice, but they’re over. They lasted nearly as long as Angela Merkel’s chancellorship and were defined by a feeling of seemingly endless economic success and a sense of pride over Germany’s role in the world. Indeed, at the World Economic Forum in Davos three years ago, Germany was designated as the “best country in the world.” In Europe, there was talk of the “German model” as something for other countries to emulate. When Donald Trump became president in the U.S., some expected Angela Merkel to take up the torch as leader of the free world. Germany’s economy seemed unshakable, as did Merkel’s role in the world.
Neither is true today. And like everyone else who has had the wool pulled from their eyes, the Germans, too, must confront the truth that they should have seen this coming. The country has become a victim of its own complacency and it has begun to reap what it was sowing all along when it opted to merely coast through an historical anomaly rather than actively shape the future.
Of course, no one knows whether Germany — as many economists fear — will actually soon slide into a recession after 10 years of steady growth. But growth is sputtering and Germany does suddenly look vulnerable. Things don’t look much better on the foreign policy front, either. Germany has become the punching bag of choice for the most powerful person in the world and Donald Trump will likely slap the EU with auto tariffs, which would hurt Germany in particular. In Trump’s eyes, Germany is a selfish country because it has a high export surplus and doesn’t spend enough on defense.