The fall of the Berlin Wall and German re-unification have changed the balance of power inside the European Union. A “division of labour” that granted France the political leadership on the continent while Germany was the foremost economic power became obsolete. With the enlargement of the Union towards Central and Eastern Europe Germany became the center of the Union, both economically and politically. By proposing the foundation of a Mediterranean Union, France tried, as compensation, to strengthen its ties with the European and non-European countries of the Mediterranean – and failed, because the German chancellor vetoed the original scheme of Nicolas Sarkozy. The old tensions between the European North and the European South have become visible again – to the detriment of the Union. At this moment both the idea of a “variable geometry” inside the Union and Robert Schuman’s original ideas for a European Union should be re-evaluated and re-appraised.
Wolf Lepenies is a sociologist and historian, and a Permanent Fellow (em.) at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He was the Rector of the Wissenschaftskolleg (1986–2001) and served as a member of the Institute for Advanced Study Princeton for several years. His other distinctions include: 1991/2 Chaire Europénne, Collège de France; Dr. honoris causa Sorbonne, Paris; Officer of the French Légion d’Honneur; Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels 2006. Wolf Lepenies is the author of Auguste Comte. Die Macht der Zeichen (Hanser, 2010) and Kultur und Politik (Hanser, 2006).