Michael Gehler – historian and observer of the EU

Michael Gehler is Professor of Modern German and European History at the University of Hildesheim.

His grandparents were separated by the German-German border, and he went to school in Neustadt bei Coburg – in the immediate vicinity of the GDR. That may be one reason why Michael Gehler developed an interest in history early on. “I wanted to find out what was behind decisions. My interest in the history of the EU came about quite incidentally,” he says.

Since 2006, the Innsbruck native has taught Modern German and European History at the University of Hildesheim. The European Commission has already awarded him the Jean Monnet Chair four times – a mixture of funding and honor for a three-year course on European history. Gehler is one of the few German professors to have received this award.

The EU is in a dilemma

The history professor also observes European energy policy with interest, because for a long time it did not play a major role in the EU. Today’s problems with the gas supply have been a long time coming: In 2014, when Günther Oettinger was still Energy Commissioner, Russia proved that it was ready to turn off the gas tap. At the time, Ukraine was attacked.

The EU is in a dilemma when it comes to energy: “We have the dream of a European energy pool. But everything is regulated nationally in a wide variety of ways.”

Putin’s war in Ukraine is also putting pressure on the EU in the area of defense. The once so pacifist institution is now confronted with a war right outside its own gates. Gehler is not unaffected by this personally. His father fought on the Eastern Front, later served as a Russian prisoner of war, and inculcated in his son: “You will never pick up a weapon!” With a historian’s eye, however, Gehler comes to different conclusions, “I have to say frankly, had these arms deliveries not taken place, I’m afraid Kyiv and western Ukraine would probably already be in Russian hands.”

He is nevertheless critical of the current focus on defense, “The way we are currently implementing peace is reflected in the hype of the arms industry and a special fund of €100 billion. Such investments are at the expense of education, research and social policy.” He cannot imagine a European army at the moment. Emmanuel Macron is the supreme commander of the French army, the German army is a parliamentary army – it is difficult to unite these interests, he said.

Maintain cohesion

With three million refugees in Turkey, Brexit and the war in Ukraine, the future of the EU lies primarily in preserving the Union, he said. “If we manage to maintain the current state and cohesion, a lot has already been achieved,” Gehler said. The EU still has the opportunity to inspire other countries, he said. “They can sue their own state in Europe and claim human rights, even if it’s complicated. In that way, Europe is unique.”

Gehler’s greatest hope, however, lies in the small things: “The EU can best be experienced in the cities. As long as we have European mayors and town twinning, things will move forward. We should not forget the regions. If they can represent their interests in the EU, many a tension with the states can also be cushioned.”

Michael Gehler has passed on his attachment to the European Union to his children. Three of them have already spent an Erasmus semester in another EU country. Svenja Schlicht


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