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The End of “Peak Germany” and the Return of France

Europe works best, as the old quip has it, with the Russians out, the Germans down, and the Americans in. Today’s new European order has the Russians up, the Germans on the way down, the Americans potentially bowing out, Britons struggling toward Brexit – and France rising.

LONDON – At first blush, the result of the European Parliament election in May, and the subsequent nomination of the European Union’s new leadership team, augur continuity and not disruption for the bloc. Nationalist parties failed to make any significant gains in the election, and then large Western European status quo powers hand-picked federalists for the top EU jobs. In particular, the choice of Ursula von der Leyen to be the next president of the European Commission – making her the first German to hold the post in a half-century – seemed to confirm Germany’s continued dominance in Europe.

Yet undercurrents frequently diverge from the surface flow. History suggests that hegemons often assume formal leadership as their power wanes, not when it is strengthening. Today, several factors threaten Germany’s status as the EU top dog – and France stands to be the main beneficiary.

Until now, German dominance has rested on two main pillars: seemingly permanent American defense guarantees, and the country’s world-leading manufacturing firms and massive net-creditor position. But as these foundations start to crumble, the era of “peak Germany” may be passing.

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