June 04, 2018
German discourse out of control
Over the last week we have a growing amount of evidence that the political discourse in Germany about the eurozone is getting out of control. People rightly took offence at the latest cover in Der Spiegel. This is a news magazine that started in the new-democratic spirit of the late 1940s, but its current editors seem to be rooted in the xenophobia and the self-delusions of the 1930s. It's not just this cover that is offensive. The accompanying editorial is even worse.
The editorial by Jan Fleischbauer titled "the moochers of Rome" is seething with contempt. He wonders how to call those who finance their dolce far niente lifestyle with the money of others. No prizes for guessing whom he had in mind. And for good measure he writes that the beggar at least says thank you if you fill his bag. He concludes no respectable nation should asks for help if it can help itself. No respectable nation wants to be known as a moocher. Italians have long passed this stage he concludes.
The French media are showing very little interest in Angela Merkel's eurozone counter-proposals. But they have noticed this. The French magazine Marianne notes that the Spiegel cover displays arrogance, stereotypes and authoritarianism consitent with their coverage of the political crisis in Italy. It is not an example of solidarity.
After the injudicious comments by Günther Oettinger last week, other German politicians continued in a similar spirit. CDU MP Eckhardt Rehberg warned that Italy is playing with fire and putting the eurozone in danger. And Markus Ferber, a CSU MEP, told the ZDF that in the worst case scenario of insolvency the troika (IMF, ECB and Commission) should march towards Rome and take over control of the Italian finance ministry.
Andreas Kluth wrote in Handelsblatt that Germany represents the opposite of the ideas that unite the southern euro area. Kluth says these two sides cannot be reconciled in the long run, no matter how much Merkel fudges a solution in the short run. Instead the divide gives rise to cultural narratives that use the worst stereotypes. It is this chasm that dooms Emmanuel Macron's eurozone reform proposals, which Kluth refers to as southern-flavoured. He calls for the proponents to accept a shrinking of the union rather than jeopardising the whole eurozone. Of course, there was no reflection at all about Germany's own contribution to this crisis.
And finally we note another comment, by Georg Blome, in Spiegel, who gave an interesting historical perspective of the forces behind German exceptionalism. He notes one of the consequences of the Vienna Congress 200 years ago was German provincialism, both political and economic, with consequences that are still prevalent today. The failure to agree on a reform of the eurozone now could have a similarly important long-term political impact, by making permanent the rupture between the working classes and globalisation.