As you can see above, the video of the 2014 Lowy Lecture, delivered on Monday by Angela Merkel, is now available, and I encourage you to take a look, particularly since her tough remarks on Russia are making news back in Europe.
But I want to emphasise one moment in the video to expand on a point I made in my summary of Merkel's speech on Monday afternoon — that Merkel seems to be on the cusp of a rare type of global political celebrity but is reluctant to grasp it. Of course, she is the Chancellor of Germany and she regularly appears in various power lists, so its no surprise that she is a prominent figure. But my sense (and that's all it is; no science here) is that she has developed a personal popularity which she has chosen not to encourage or exploit.
It seems to me that, were Merkel to embrace this opportunity, it could raise her country's standing in world affairs to something unprecedented in the post-war era. For instance, is it really so far-fetched to imagine Merkel taking the leading role in international climate-change negotiations? Her country has diplomatic heft and green-energy credentials. And, if I'm right, Merkel herself has the personal profile to give such an initiative real stature.
But at the very end of the video (1:04:02) there is a moment which encapsulates Merkel's reluctance to take on the global stateswoman role. Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove closes proceedings by remarking that 'Henry Kissinger once asked "If I want to call Europe, who do I call?" After today's lecture, I would say the answer is Angela Merkel'.
Now, you can't see it in the video because it goes to a wide shot at that moment, but I was sitting in the front row facing Merkel, and I thought I saw her draw back slightly when she heard that.
Just to reinforce this point, here's a Twitter exchange between Michael Fullilove and one of Europe's leading strategic thinkers, Francois Heisbourg:
Of course there are good reasons why it is difficult for Merkel to embrace the global stateswoman role, even if she wanted to. The French, for instance, would resist it because it would, by implication, demote France's standing in world affairs. And such open German leadership would also erode the sense of collective decision-making that other European states value, and which Merkel herself promoted in her speech.
But this raises a historical irony. As we have discussed on The Interpreter recently, and as Merkel herself said in the Lowy Lecture, the post-war European integration project is predicated on the 'never again' philosophy: never again would Europe descend into great-power rivalry, militarism and German aggression. A united Europe represented a clean break from European history.
Yet if I am right about Merkel's global stature and the possibility that her leadership and activism on key global issues could elevate Germany's standing as a responsible and constructive global power, then we have to say that the weight of history is actually still holding Germany down. For it is the European project that prevents Germany from embracing that global role.