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01.4 Program for the Study of Germany and Europe

Germany, Multilateralism, and the Eastern Enlargement of the EU

2001 Claus Hofhansel


Since World War II, the most distinctive characteristic of German foreign policy has been its commitment to multilateralism. This commitment has served German material interests, but it has a normative basis as well. This paper analyzes German domestic support for multilateralist policies, defined in terms of the principles of indivisibility, generalized principles of conduct, and diffuse reciprocity, in the context of negotiations on the EU’s eastern enlargement. Empirically, the paper focuses on the policy areas of freedom of movement for workers and agriculture. The main theoretical argument is that domestic support for multilateralist policies depends on the distributional consequences of such policies and the ability of political institutions to manage distributional conflicts. Distributional conflict undermines support for multilateralist policies. In the case of Germany, distributional conflicts among different sectors and regions of the German economy have become more severe partly, but not exclusively, due to German unification. Furthermore, German political institutions are less able to resolve such conflicts than in the past. The evidence presented here shows more intense domestic distributional conflicts on the free movement of labor issue than over agriculture, and, as expected, we see more explicitly bilateral and less multilateralist demands by unions and employers.