Merkel’s European Failure: Germany Dozes on a Volcano

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Jürgen Habermas, August 09, 2013

Angela Merkel’s government is forcing Southern Europe to undertake profound reforms while at the same time denying its own responsibility for the consequences of its crisis policies. Germany is risking a historic failure with its shortsighted wrangling … //

… A Duplicitous Game:

The fact is that the Merkel administration is forcing its controversial crisis agenda on France and the “southern countries,” while the purchasing policy of the European Central Bank (ECB) provides unacknowledged support.  

At the same time, however, Germany denies Europe-wide responsibility for the effects of its crisis policy — a responsibility it tacitly assumes by taking on this (some would say, perfectly normal) role as a leading power. Just think of the horrendous youth unemployment in Southern Europe as one of the consequences of an austerity policy that weighs most heavily on the weakest members of those societies.

When seen in this light, the message “we don’t want a German Europe” can also be interpreted in a less favorable way, namely that Germany is shirking its responsibility. Formally speaking, the European Council reaches decisions by unanimous vote. As only one of 18 members of the Monetary Union, Merkel can uninhibitedly pursue national interests, or at least that which she believes to be such. The German government derives a benefit from the country’s economic preponderance, even a disproportionately large benefit, for as long as its partners don’t begin to question the Germans’ politically unambitious loyalty to Europe.

But how can a gesture of humility seem credible given the appearance of a policy that unabashedly takes advantage of the country’s own economic and demographic preponderance? When, for example, tougher emissions rules for the nouveau-riche ostentation of luxury sedans — entirely in the spirit of the federal government’s shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy — threaten to adversely affect the German automobile industry, the vote in Brussels is postponed, following the chancellor’s intervention, until the lobby is satisfied or the parliamentary election is over. It seems to me that Schäuble’s article addresses the frustrations triggered by Berlin’s duplicitous game among leaders of the other euro-zone member states.

Fictional Sovereignty: … //

… Politicians Should Come Clean:

On the other hand, what exactly does “unpopular” mean? If a political solution is sensible, it should be reasonable to ask a democratic electorate to accept it. And when should one do so, if not before a parliamentary election? Anything else is patronizing deception. It is always a mistake to underestimate and ask too little of voters. I consider it a historical failure of the political elites in Germany if they continue to shut their eyes and behave as if it were business as usual — that is, if they persist in their shortsighted wrangling over the fine print behind closed doors, which is the current approach.

Instead, politicians should come clean with the increasingly restless citizenry, which has never been confronted with substantial European issues. They should take the lead in an inevitably polarizing dispute over alternatives, none of which is available for free. And they should no longer remain silent about the negative redistribution effects, which the “donor countries,” in their own long-term interest, must accept in the short and medium term as the only constructive solution to the crisis.

We know Angela Merkel’s response: soporific bumbling. Her public persona seems to lack any normative core. Since the Greek crisis erupted in May 2010 and Merkel’s Christian Democrats lost the state election in North Rhine-Westphalia, she has subordinated each of her considered steps to the opportunism of staying in power. Since then, the clever chancellor has maneuvered around with a clear mind but without recognizable principles, and, for the second time, is depriving the federal election of any controversial issue, not to mention her carefully isolated European policy. She can shape the agenda, because the opposition, were it to press on the subject of Europe, would be battered with the “debt union” cudgel — by the same people who could only agree were they to say anything at all.
Europe is in a state of emergency, and the political power goes to whoever decides on the admission or licensing of topics to be discussed by the public. Germany isn’t dancing. It’s dozing on a volcano.

Are the elites failing? Every democratic country has the politicians it deserves. And there is something peculiar about expecting behavior beyond the routine from elected politicians. I’m happy to have been living in a country which, since 1945, has had no need for heroes. I also don’t believe in the statement that individuals make history, at least not in general. But I do realize that there are extraordinary situations in which cognitive sensitivity, imagination, courage and willingness to take responsibility of those in charge have an impact on the progression of things.
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