Sunday, 10 August 2014

Why I don't enjoy being in Germany during the World Cup

(or the European Championships, or any time their national football team is playing)

Because I really dislike German nationalism, that's why.

It only seems to lead to disaster: disaster for them and disaster for everyone around them. And it does this because it always seems to lead the Germans into a horrible, disastrous combination of arrogance and short-sightedness. They start to think that they can and should pursue some course of action which, while it causes tremendous suffering for other nations around them, seems to be just fine for them – but which in the long run causes disaster for them too, because Europe's countries are small and closely interdependent; none of them exist in isolation. Something that causes most to suffer ultimately always causes all to suffer. Every conflict there is internecine.

They did this in 1914 and they did it again in the 1930s, and the latter episode resulted in such a catastrophe that it kept German nationalism suppressed for decades later. But it inevitably revived as older people died and the collective memory faded, and now it's all happening again.

Joschka Fischer said it so well just over two years ago:

Germany destroyed itself – and the European order – twice during the 20th century, and then convinced the West that it had drawn the right conclusions. Only in this manner – reflected most vividly in its embrace of the European project – did Germany win consent for its reunification. It would be both tragic and ironic if a restored Germany, by peaceful means and with the best of intentions, brought about the ruin of the European order a third time.

The only part of that I even slightly disagree with is the words "and with the best of intentions". To me, Germany's intentions seem nothing but arrogant, foolish and selfish.

At that time Fischer urgently called for Germany to change course, saying that the salvation of the euro and the European Union requires not only "structural reforms aimed at restoring Europe’s competitiveness" but also "political and fiscal unification" and "short-term growth policies". Since then there has been no significant movement by Germany on either of those last two points. Germany has continued to impose its deeply misguided austerity regime on the eurozone with arrogant blindness to its fundamental flaws, its lack of success and the pointless pain it is inflicting in nearly every other country. Analysts are talking more and more about Europe facing a "lost decade" economically.

With the exception of Germany [emphasis added], none of Europe’s biggest economies have returned to the level of economic output they had at the beginning of 2008... The figures suggest that Europe is already well into what could become a lost decade — a period of pernicious stagnation and wasted potential that could have lasting effects on ordinary citizens.

The truth of Fischer's observations two years ago is becoming increasingly clear:

We are once again learning the hard way that this kind of austerity, when applied in the teeth of a major financial crisis, leads only to depression. This insight should have been common knowledge; it was, after all, a major lesson of the austerity policies of President Herbert Hoover in the United States and Chancellor Heinrich Bruning in Weimar Germany in the early 1930s. Unfortunately, however, Germany, of all countries, seems to have forgotten this reality.

Germany's collective memory was once the country's best asset. It seemed to be pretty much the only country in the world that had successfully learned from the past. Now Germany has collective amnesia, and the results are exactly what you would expect them to be.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Euro trainwreck update

The eurozone continues on its depressing path to destruction: we've now reached the stage where some people in the hard-hit countries of southern Europe are seriously proposing leaving the euro. The only thing that surprises me is that it took them so long, but people do tend to have a great fear of the unknown. But with Germany still refusing any real sharing of wealth with the southern countries, still insisting that the only solution to the crisis is years and years of massive pain and misery for the south, it's pretty much inevitable that those countries are eventually going to decide that leaving the euro will be less awful than staying in it. At the moment it looks like Italy will be the first to go, which isn't too surprising because it's big enough to be confident about surviving on its own. But who knows, Cyprus might even beat them to it. In any case, once Italy goes, the death of the euro must surely follow soon after. At which point Germany's export sector, subsidised for more than a decade by the relative poverty of southern Europe, will largely collapse. And that, I have to say, will look a hell of a lot like poetic justice. I wonder if many people in Germany will then be willing to admit that their government's policies were wrong? Will we get people saying, "Gee, maybe if we'd introduced some sort of Finanzausgleich for the entire eurozone, we wouldn't now be stuck with massive unemployment and economic decline?" I doubt it, somehow. People always find some way of blaming someone else for their own stupid mistakes, don't they.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Outlook: unchanged

I was going to write another rant here about the euro crisis, but then I re-read my last post from January and realised that I basically said it all back then.  The situation has barely changed.  There's a somewhat greater sense of urgency and desperation in the air, although admittedly not, it would seem, on the part of Angela Merkel, who has only become more blatant in her refusal to countenance the action necessary to save the euro.  This despite the fact that even she now seems to realise that Germany will be in plenty of trouble when the euro breaks up.

Looks like Paul Keating was right yet again.

The only positive thing I've seen anywhere lately was this opinion piece from Berlin's Tagesspiegel, which is the most sensible assessment of the situation I have ever seen in the German media.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

This too shall pass

As may or may not be obvious from the previous post,  I remain extremely pessimistic about the future of the euro and the future of the  "European project"  in general.  It looks like the EU will probably end up becoming little more than a customs union in future.  Which is incidentally what the British seem to have wanted it to be all along,  so they'll be happy,  presumably.

I say this because the responses to the euro crisis on all sides have been marked by selfishness;  by petty-minded,  short-sighted nationalism which consistently places the short-term national interest ahead of shared,  long-term gains.  Germany's  "reform"  plan for the euro is running into trouble because,  despite the desperate situation,  the poorer countries are refusing to submit to such strict control of their budgets and borrowing rights.  Germany,  on the other hand,  continues to refuse any measure which would systematically redistribute some of the financial gains from the euro from the more prosperous countries to the less prosperous ones.  And this is not simply due to the attitude of Angela Merkel or her team.  Reading the German press,  you'll find criticism of the Merkel government's handling of the crisis,  but very few voices calling for a redistribution of euro profits to poorer countries like Greece,  Portugal and Italy.  The process of European unification was based on the principle of give and take,  but increasingly it seems that everyone wants to take and no one wants to give.

None of this should be surprising.  Petty-minded nationalism ruled Europe for hundreds of years before the disastrous wars of the early twentieth century shocked people into taking a different approach.  Unfortunately,  that old mentality has been gradually reasserting itself for at least the past fifty years now.  I don't think the current crisis is going to be enough to force a reversal of that trend. And if it doesn't,  there is simply no way the euro,  or the European project,  can survive in the long term.  The result will be a weaker Europe,  divided upon itself as before,  with its relative wealth and power in the world declining even faster than America's. And every nation blaming every other one for what is happening to them.