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egypt between revolution and counter revolution – Pages 4-5
JULY 2012 N o 1207
,par ippas xie aler
Germany’s resounding Nein Angela Merkel has long resisted all warnings to ease up on austerity and reform the EU’s banking system, including from the IMF’s Christine Lagarde. The reason lies in domestic politics, and the fears of the German people
Georges eliades – Untitled, no 18 (1996)
A federal Europe,
The true believer’s faith is strengthened by disaster. So the true believers in a federal Europe have no intention of abandoning the monetary, budgetary and commercial integration policies that have exacerbated and prolonged the economic crisis. On the contrary, they want to increase the authority of those responsible for these policies. If European summits, stability pacts and disciplinary measures haven’t solved the problem, then that, our true believers assure us, is because they did not go far enough: we owe all our successes to Europe, all our failures to its absence. On the strength of this blind faith, they sleep soundly and dream happy dreams.
They also have nightmares, because federalists do not dislike storms: warnings of storms ahead give them the pretext of an emergency with which to subdue resistance to their grand design. Caught in mid-stream and under fire, you cannot go back. You must reach the other bank or die in the attempt, make the great “federal leap” or fail. As the former German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said last year: “Unless the current confederation evolves into a political federation with a central government, the eurozone – and the Union as a whole – will disintegrate” (1). In France, the three major radio networks and two of the main newspapers say the same thing every day.
Listening to the federalists, you would think the European institutions have no power or resources, while states have unlimited authority and means. But the European Central Bank (ECB), which has managed the crisis with the success we know, producing €1,000bn to refinance the banks, does not depend on EU governments or EU voters. Far from being under excessive constraints because of any lack of integration (a common budget, a single minister), the harmonisation of European policies under the German austerity regime has succeeded in increasing national debt and public poverty.
Today’s prophets of doom are former optimists. They were behind the European Community policies technocratically imposed 30 years ago; they celebrated the greatest market in the world, then the single currency, then the “policy of civilisation”; ignored public opinion as soon as it dissented; destroyed any plan for European integration based on social welfare, public services or trade protection. But when midnight strikes and their coach turns into a pumpkin, they forget how happy they were, and swear they always warned us the scheme would never work.
Will the current drama be the pretext for imposing a new federal leap forward without allowing universal suffrage a last bow? Europe is already in trouble; it cannot afford to deny democracy yet again.
Translated by Barbara Wilson
(1) Le Figaro, Paris, 7 November 2011
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Thilo Sarrazin, Germany’s most influential essayist, was giving an audience at the Café Einstein, one of Berlin’s smartest, a stone’s throw from the Brandenburg Gate. The maître d’hôtel showed me into the back room set aside for the great man, where a television film crew were just packing up. Other journalists were waiting their turn; I had to be quick as each slot was only 30 minutes. Sarrazin, a former member of the executive board of Deutsche Bank, is lean, with a moustache, and never smiles. The German press treat him an oracle, publishers are eager to handle his work. Germany is Doing Away with Itself published in 2010 sold 1.5 million copies, making it one of Germany’s biggest sellers since 1945. It describes, in apocalyptic terms, the agony of a nation ravaged by immigration, Islam and the demographic burden of “less intelligent households”.
Now Sarrazin has turned his attention to another plague: in Europe Doesn’t Need the Euro (1), which came out in May and is already the biggest-selling political book on the shelves, he exhorts Germany (which it seems is not quite dead) to go it alone and not give a cent more to its Mediterranean partners, whom he accuses of destroying the European Union by their work-shyness and sloppy budgeting.
Sarrazin is not the first to express neonationalist economic ideas; Hans-Olaf Henkel, former president of the Federal Association of Germany Industries (BDI), published a pamphlet containing similar ideas in January. And in Save our Money! (2), published last year and also a bestseller, Henkel had suggested Europe be divided into two distinct monetary zones: one – made up of northern countries – with a strong euro, the other – made up of southern “olive countries” – with a weak euro.
Sarrazin, whom the newspaper Die Welt calls the “rock star of social democracy” (he
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is a member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party), spoke in a monotone voice. He was keen to correct the impression that he had simply swapped one bogeyman for another — the ferocious Muslim for the sybaritic Greek: “To ensure peace among nations, one must respect the right of the individual to live as he pleases. If the Greeks want to have a siesta instead of working, if they want to leave the office for three hours and have a good time with their mistress, that’s their business. As long as they don’t then ask us to pay the bill.” When I asked where he had gained this intimate knowledge of the Greek people, he replied: “I read a very interesting article about them in Der Spiegel.”
This reminded me of what I had heard the night before in Zur Traube, a bar in Neukölln, a working class district of Berlin: “The Greeks take it easy and retire at 50, at least that’s what the papers say. I don’t care; I wouldn’t mind doing the same, but I don’t think it’s right that we Germans should have to pay their debts. We’ve got enough problems of our own, don’t you think?” The speaker was not a banker, but a former shop assistant at a Schlecker drugstore. Martha Zwicker, 48, was hired in 2010 and earned €7.50 an hour. She was made redundant in March 2011, just before the Schlecker chain went into liquidation. Now she’s waiting for the retraining programme the trade unions have negotiated to start. The man next to her had just finished work at the garage next door and his opinion of the Greeks was no better: “They’re totally corrupt; we bail them out and then they call us Nazis!”
Given that 62% of Germans are against any kind of aid package for Greece, it’s not altogether surprising to hear this kind of thing (3). Since the Greek crisis started in late 2009, the cliché of a lazy Europe feeding off the German milch cow has spread through German society, from the governing elite to those propping up the bars, and even the press. In February 2010 the weekly magazine Focus set the ball rolling with a front cover showing the Venus of Milo giving the reader the finger, under the title “The Swindlers in the Eurofamily”. Inside, it set out the interpretative framework subsequently used by all the major media. In an open letter published in the weekly news magazine Stern (5 March 2010),
Continued on page 2
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