The article explores German leadership in Europe as mirrored in national-populist media discourses in Britain, Greece, and Poland. In an effort to discredit the eu as another attempt at German imperialism, accusations of eu institutions being modeled after German blueprints constrain Berlin's ability to achieve effective and legitimate European leadership. By applying role theory, the argument investigates why these ideas and images resonate so well. The article presents three supportive contexts of a German leadership paradox that—together with painful World War II memories—lead to the persistence of certain national-populist discourses. These include (1) Germany's Nazi past; (2) German nation-building, which partly resembles European integration processes; and (3) like the eu, Germany's projection of its interests in terms of normative power (or Zivilmacht), thereby constructing and recognizing respective selfs in “civilizing missions.” This article does not aim to strengthen such populist readings but instead advocates addressing them more openly.
Julian Pänke is a Lecturer in Politics, Liberal Arts, and Natural Sciences at the University of Birmingham. He studied History and Political Science at Freie Universität Berlin and obtained his PhD from the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder. Focusing his interest on European international relations, his research explores eu foreign policy, the impact of history on foreign policy-making, and more broadly the relation between culture and power.