The Corner

Prodding a Sleeping Giant

Here’s Clement Wergin, the foreign editor of Die Welt, writing in the Daily Telegraph on the mood in Germany:

…[T]he optimism that followed the successful reintegration of East Germany has gone. Germans can feel the large dark cloud of the euro crisis hanging over them. For decades they have been among the most pro-European people on the continent. Now they are waking up from their European dream to find that it is a nightmare.

They have bound their economic fate and future to people they hardly know, whose Byzantine political systems they don’t understand and whose corrupt practices they disapprove of (although Germans like to forget that some big German firms reaped huge profits from them).

They would have preferred Greeks and Italians to remain the nice holiday acquaintances they always were. But now they and their inept politicians hold Germany’s future in their hands.

This crisis has created enormous suspicion between governments and the governed throughout the eurozone. In some European countries, including Britain, you have always had Euro-sceptics who saw the whole European endeavour as a conspiracy of the elites that was forced on the people. In some countries this feeling was channelled into right wing or radical liberal (in the European sense of free market and free societies) parties.

Not so in Germany, but this kind of thinking is beginning to grow here now. You find it in blogs and in the long threads of angry and sometimes nasty comments beneath almost every online article on Greece published by the big news websites.

And the reaction of Germany’s political and media elites nurtures this notion of a conspiracy. Anyone who opposes the bail-out is labelled as anti-European. And although polls show that an overwhelming majority of people oppose giving more money to insolvent countries, no political force is taking up that case. On the contrary: the opposition in the Bundestag, with the exception of the radical Left, is more supportive of the bail-out than the governing coalition, where at least some dissenting voices are now being heard.

In the end last week’s vote was a complete reversal of the mood in the country: 523 MPs voted for, and only 85 against, the new bail-out fund that, if ever needed, might break the back of the strongest economy in Europe.

And in most of the German media, as well as among the country’s Europe experts, it seems to be all the rage to advocate yet further European integration to get out of the mess of too much integration already. It is as if a doctor advised an alcoholic to drink more beer in order to get better.

I am not the only German asking himself: when is this nightmare going to end? And how?

Not well, would be my guess.

Greece is falling into the abyss, and we already know that the new rescue package will not be big enough either to bail out Athens or to halt the contagion that is spreading rapidly elsewhere. Meanwhile, Germany’s political class appears to have declared war on its own people.

And all in the name of what, exactly?

If Merkel is not prepared to push for the “Northern Euro” that could be one way out (albeit not an easy one) of this mess, Germany’s regulators should at least be insisting that its banks are (truly) well capitalized enough to cope with any storm that may come. That might encourage the French to do what they have to do with their banks too…