The perennial "German Question" asks itself yet again right now. Will we see a more German Europe or a more European Germany, especially once the UK leaves the European Union?
Britain as a counter-balance to German and French interests and rivalries was one of the strongest geo-political reasons for staying in the EU, in my personal view. England's and Britain's foreign policy has been dominated pretty well forever by the need to prevent the dominance of Europe by a single power.
German politicians - reflecting most of the electorate one expects - will always profess not to want German hegemony in Europe. A leading role for Germany, perhaps, but not a dominating one. But one also suspects that having established itself as the leading economic power of the Eurozone, Germany is rather enjoying having its cake. On the one hand, witness the outrage when Team Trump suggested that Germany gains rather unfairly from its membership of the Euro. Yet when it comes to the Brexit settlement, the same Bundesbank thinks it should be able to set the agenda on regulation for the entire continent.
Which is it? Is Germany subject to rules set independently to suit the entire bloc, or is it calling the shots?
Is Germany's massive (and illegal under the Eurozone rules) current account surplus a result of thrift, sensible policy decisions, and a productive workforce or did they simply get their competitive devaluation in first? Germany and the Eurozone are, of course, stuck. If Germany deliberately relaxes its spending and wage policies to unwind some of its competitiveness, then the inflationary pressures would almost certainly require the Eurozone's monetary policy to tighten - setting the rest of the continent back. If Germany continues to be thrifty then it continues to improve its competitiveness against the rest of the Eurozone, sucking yet more of Europe's economic activity Germanywards. Germany can't win, unless it sends colossal amounts of investment to Europe's laggards; and that just ain't gonna happen. So German politicians and bankers revert to the old chestnut: the rest of Europe must become more [economically] German!
This forms the basis of the question that European countries must answer. Do they want to be a collective of friendly but differing neighbouring societies - forever linked by geography, history and some elements of their culture - or do they want to be a more uniform and possibly richer and more powerful unit? They can either be more similar to each other and succeed as a unified bloc or more relaxed about their differences. Integrate further or form a looser confederation. And when they integrate, they must surely accept that they will lose some of the characteristics that made them separately-identifiable societies.