When Germany took the helm of the EU as parliamentary chair with its mobius symbol at the helm, many believed Germany would act to bring EU members closer. That notion, however does not typically characterize the way that Germany has consistently interfaced with other European states. Instead of strengthening older tues, Germany was looking for new ones. And typically those that supported the nation-state itself. Germany’s mostly self-interest conduct in Europe is both historical and typical of its individualist outlook.
That outlook was once again demonstrated by the steps the EU Council has been taking to bring new members into the union. The region carved out as the “Western Balkans,” serves this point masterfully. Currently, Northern Macedonia (Formerly the Republic of Macedonia until the Prespa Accords in 2019) is being expedited to become a member of the union post haste according to an official EU release. The embattled nation saw conflict during the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913 as well as conflict with Bulgaria and Greece most recently leading to the 2019 Prespa Accords.
But why Macedonia? The Slavic nation of over 200 million people has been on the economic upswing for over 10 years. This is great news for the EU which is looking at an aging membership with decadent economic indicators and waning influence. In 2019, North Macedonia had a debt to GDP ratio of 40.47 percent according to data from Statista. This matters, when the once most austere EU member, Germany, has a debt to GDP ratio of 59.8. Compare those numbers with France at 98.4 in 2019 and the UK at 85.4, which extricated itself from EU in an attempt to salvage its own economy and regulate its immigration policy with greater acuity. Northern Macedonia and other Balkan members who have managed to see economic gains independent of the EU may be the EU’s only hope at gaining relevance through size. Even if the size and the pieces are fast becoming ungainly.
But the EU and it members are forging ahead with its most conservative member at the helm in the hopes the Bavarian nation can help save the Union from implosion. Taking leadership of the EU during a pandemic was of course risky, but Germany’s historical self-interest may explains willingness to lead and annex more members despite its typical antisocial leanings in Europe.
While EU members hope there will be a geopolitical gain from the new acquisition of North Macedonia, Germany surely hones a much more centralized and self interested impetus. Currently, Germany is North Macedonia’s largest trading partner accounting for nearly 50 percent of the nation’s trade volume. Northern Macedonia has been a key target for German leadership as it seeks to wrest influence from Bulgaria and Russia.
The EU’s geopolitical ambition may be misguided (likely Germany know it), as Northern Macedonia has been embroiled in constant conflict in the the region, sustaining its most peaceful period during its time under Russian leadership. Surely, Germany with its divisive history with Russia and Eastern Germany understands the geopolitical complexities that go beyond pacts and accords to the unique historical and ethnopolitical idiosyncrasies that govern the region. A fact the EU has grappled with in as it seeks to woo newer members from Russian Influence.
Macedonia then becomes a financial grab for Germany which stands to benefit most. Tariffs, fees and other trade barriers will melt for Germany, but the complexity of the Slavic esthetic verses Western Europe will remsin. The question then remains, does Germany actually see the EU as a viable long-term institution or is it securing its economic and geopolitical capital for a future exit like the UK?
While Northern Macedonia is certainly not a manufacturing or trade powerhouse, Germany can benefit from the the acquisition. The nation exports mostly foodstuffs, tobacco, miscellaneous manufactured items and auto parts, which means its contribution to the union nay be hypothesized to be more geopolitical than trade-based.