FEPS Fresh Thinking

How long will Germans be made guilty in a Platonian cave haunted by shadows of the past?

In the last couple of weeks all over Europe a sentiment of Germanophopia appeared and this even amongst political friends. Comments like “If the Euro fails, the EU will disintegrate. And you, our German friends, will miss the golden goose that paid for reunification and ensures your prosperity. (European Voice 1_12_2011). Others in France spoke of the return of Bismarck.

As a German working for more than 30 years on European affairs I am shocked. The European story started to bring freedom and prosperity to our burnt out continent in the spirit of solidarity amongst our nations. I understand even more now the former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt when he stated at the SPD Congress this week in his “century speech” that in the near future Germany will not become a normal state. Against that is first and foremost the German enormous historical burden.

Europe’s crisis is not about Germany against all the others; it is not a crisis of German economic power. It is the crisis of a system which seems not to have the proper responses to the challenges of Europe within the globalised world. Europe is facing a massive lash back after not having seriously implemented macroeconomic regulation and policy when the Euro was created and not responded properly (i.e. with a sound European answer) when the first signs of weaknesses appeared even before the start of the financial crisis in 2008. Now we need a new renaissance of Europe, a strong and credible leadership.

Europe is facing one of the most difficult periods in its recent history. The current sovereign debt crisis is – so it seems – the most crucial test of the solidity of the future of Europe and the on-going journey of European integration since World War II.

The crisis has shown two major problems of the political, economic and fiscal architecture of the European Union. The crisis should teach us that we have the responsibility to develop solid and effective responses in order to provide alternatives to the current austerity policies of the conservative governments in Europe.

Strengthening the current framework such as, for example, the Growth and Stability pact will not bring better results. So it is also a question of a Political Europe and a question of a proper assessment of the crisis for developing alternative policies. So it is a question of our common European future. Let us quote the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz in a recent comment on Europe:

“Public-sector cutbacks today do not solve the problem of yesterday’s profligacy; they simply push economies into deeper recessions. Europe’s leaders know this. They know that growth is needed. But, rather than deal with today’s problems and find a formula for growth, they prefer to deliver homilies about what some previous government should have done. This may be satisfying for the sermonizer, but it won’t solve Europe’s problems – and it won’t save the euro.”

On the political level we face “a post-democratic threat of an executive federalism” as Jürgen Habermas analyses in his new book.

Therefore, do not blame the German people. Yes you can criticise the policies of Angela Merkel or the strategies of German industry. But Europe is unfortunately not yet a zone of common economic and fiscal governance, herein lies the problem. Therefore the responsibility of the current sovereign debt crisis is a proper European responsibility.

Accusing Germans, awakening old devils and bottomless hatred is to repeat mistakes we should have learnt to avoid from our history: It leads to nowhere but a dead-end!

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  1. One of the underlying problems of the crisis is that national media continues to represent EU member states as if they were monolithic entities: ‘the German position is this’, ‘the Irish position is that’, and so on.

    I agree that we should be much more naunced and talk about Merkel’s position and contrast it with other voices within Germany, as well as abroad. For example, the German political foundations hold diverse views: http://www.progressive-economy.ie/2011/11/german-think-tanks-ireland-and-european.html

    But it is worth considering the root causes of why we continue to see headlines in our newspapers about ‘The Germans’ or ‘The Irish’. Part of the reason is presumably due to language barriers and the lack of shared media. For example, we often don’t hear much about Opposition leaders within other European countries. Yet, this is often just an editorial decision: insufficient time is given to presenting a deeper, more complex view of what’s happening within countries as well as on the European political stage. At this time, when Governments across Europe are overwhelmingly in favour of maintaining the failed economic orthodoxy that caused the crisis, there is a pressing need for Europeans to hear alternative voices proposing different solutions.

  2. Dear Mr Stetter,

    I in principle agree with your analysis that it is not German mentality but the lack of political action by the German government that has in part brought the crisis this far. I also believe that in times of crisis Germany is more in the focus than other countries simply as a reason of its size and economic weight and blaming everything on the Germans is an easy way to evade personal blame.

    But then, Germany should take a part of the blame as a reason of its economic policy in the last 10 years, in particular since it is the biggest economy in the EU. Keeping domestic demand artificially low for 10 years in order to grow from its export revenues allowed the German government to close its eyes to the macroeconomic problems in the Eurozone. As long as money kept coming in, there was no need to think about the sustainability of these export revenues or to bother about the economic health of all other EU economies.

    This beggar-thy-neighbor behavior has to change if the Eurozone is to become healthier, but so far I have not seen much indication of a change of mind with the exception of a legally-imposed minimum wage that is currently discussed. Other countries have to do their homework and become more austere, certainly, but Germany has to do its homework as well and bring about more domestic purchasing power.

  3. The current economic crisis in the European Union has a background of emerging incremental approach_ which ardently debates that the interplay of multidimensional factors have paved the way for present turmoil. The major causes are:the ‘vertical and horizontal polarization within the EU’s institutions’; the growing tussle between the ‘forces of transnationalism, intergovernmentalism and Euroscepticism’;the over growing influx of the ‘EU’s eastward enlargement’; the lack of accommodating approaches in Eurocrates; the ‘brewing cleavages’ in the northern-southern European countries;the impact of international economic recession; and last but not the least the Dollar-Euro rift in the international market.

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