OPINION

Letter from a German friend

A friendship based on virtue does not give rise to quarrels. *

Dear Nikos Konstandaras,

I always read your comments with great interest. That said, your interpretations of ?the Germans? and their European intentions have more than once saddened me. Not only as a representative of my country here in Athens, but also personally, as a German citizen, I feel profoundly misunderstood.

Last week that was true when, in your article addressed ?to the Germans,? you let your readers know that ?we hear more and more Germans — from top policymakers to media moralists and opinion polls — who would like to see Greece sink, like Plato?s Atlantis.?

Let me therefore illustrate to you my feelings, surely shared by many Germans, if not the overwhelming majority of my fellow countrymen, that we have for decades now seen our own peace and prosperity as being inseparably linked with the well-being of the other European peoples.

A friend is defined as one who wishes the existence and preservation of his friend for the friend?s sake.

Again and again the Germans have accepted to be by far the greatest net payers into the European Union budget. ?The Germans? shouldered special burdens not only to economically profit from the growth and prosperity of our partner nations, but with a view to building a common future.

Our vision of Europe has been one of a community of values, of a humane society, where the free individual may unfold his life in a larger democratic community, where the rule of law, human rights and social justice are respected and practiced as fundamental principles.

Our natural commitment to the German nation into which we were born has for long come to be complemented by a profound feeling of European identity. Even in an era where classical studies are no longer a commonplace of education, we remain acutely aware that Greece is the birthplace of that European identity. We are children of one mother. I can also assure you that painful memories of a more recent past do indeed guide our policymakers to act, if not in an attitude of humility, then in a spirit of moderation and of German responsibility. Chancellor Angela Merkel, Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister Philipp Roesler, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble are surely guided by a profound sense of historic responsibility and an attitude of moderation. In Europe today you will not easily find political leaders to surpass ours in terms of their European conviction and their spirit of solidarity.

Good will seems to be the beginning of friendship.

?This is not a time to flatter the Germans nor to accuse them of past wrongs and present obsessions, nor to plead with them,? you write. Are there no other Europeans then, be they friends or partners to you? In the Greek medial perception the Germans appear to be isolated in their ?obsessions? and yet force their will on 26 other EU member states. That is not my reading of Europe and of the public opinion in an estimated majority of EU countries, and especially those which have to contribute guarantees and funds to the rescue packages for Greece, Ireland and Portugal. In what I see of European reactions there is a rather large current of sympathy and encouragement for positions developed and held by German policymakers.

But it is those who wish the good of their friends for their friends? sake who are friends in the fullest sense.

I do not wish to involve other Europeans in our very special German-Greek relationship. Let it suffice here to say that sensitive Greeks would surely not have been pleased by what was written in other Northern languages, maybe less accessible than German, or said in certain parliaments.

After many months of dramatic and traumatic developments, after great efforts made to lead our countries out of a deep debt-related financial crisis, and after enormous efforts invested in that common endeavor, especially by our political leaders in Germany, has not the time come to no longer question but trust in each other?s European morality? And to grant one another the assumption that the other partner is acting in good faith, in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility? As much as we Germans have faith in the determination of the Greek people to overcome past political errors and fallacies and to rebuild your economy and society, we do wish that our Greek partners would acknowledge and respect our best intentions to stand by your side. We wish that you would understand that we are shouldering an important burden in ensuring for Greece a solid European framework in which your economy may once again grow and your nation flourish.

The friendship of the good is good, and grows with their intercourse.

Being a keen observer of the German press and public debate, I cannot remember even once reading an article suggesting that we should, as you insinuate it to be ?the Germans?? intentions, let ?Greece sink as did Plato?s Atlantis.? As in Greece, all along in Germany there have been voices, including serious and well-meaning economists, who recommended this or that alternative to the reform course agreed on. True, some economists have suggested drastic plans as being a safer and less painful remedy for the troubles of the debt crisis.

Should we therefore break off the friendship at once? Only when our friends have become incurably bad. For so long as they are capable of reform we are even more bound to help them morally than we should assist them financially.

As in Greece, nongovernmental experts in Germany have propagated radical solutions which would most likely result in disastrous consequences, first of all for the Greek people. Let it then be said that the German government, again and again and backed by a majority in our democratically elected parliament, has resisted the temptation of dangerous ?quick fixes.? Our ?policymakers,? as you call them, have reaffirmed our resolution to defend our common future in the European Union and the euro currency zone. Not only in earnest declarations but in courageous decisions and important deeds. For us, the European Union remains one of integration and inclusion. And we shall strongly defend this fundamental philosophy.

All friendship involves community.

I hope our Greek partners will take note of the fact that Germany is investing its good will and much effort in an unprecedented initiative of German-Greek cooperation. That is especially true for the German-Greek partnership program launched by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister George Papandreou in Berlin on March 5, 2010 and which has borne fruit in numerous new forms of dialogue and cooperation, ranging from renewable energy to medical exchanges and the strengthening of Greece as a destination of German tourists.

On July 27, our federal minister of economics, Mr Philipp Roesler, hosted a meeting with 26 German industrial federations and all this with a view to supporting Greece in its own effort to return to a path of economic growth and greater international competitiveness.

Friendship is essentially a partnership.

?We are neither friends nor enemies, we are partners,? you write in your article. Well, dear Nikos, I do not agree. For one thing, fortunately a friendship is a question of our free will. As human individuals we are free to decide to be friends. So are the peoples of Europe.

Partners, you say we are. Supposedly Aristotle would have termed this a ?friendship of utility.? A friend of utility must not then complain of his friends? lack of friendship when his disappointment lies in not receiving benefits which go beyond what was originally agreed on to be the substance of their partnership. To nevertheless manifest a feeling of neglect and complain about a lack of solidarity, by contrast, does it not put in evidence that the plaintiff feels there to be a greater friendship than one of mere utility?

In every partnership we find mutual rights of some sort, and also friendly feeling.

Solidarity is an attitude which reaches beyond the obligations of a ?friendship of utility.? That is especially true when needed once a party has defaulted on its contractual obligations. To nevertheless hasten to the rescue of that party occurs, in the life of human individuals and societies, only in very tightly bonded collectives, in tribes and families only. It requires acts of loyalty which the individual does not normally grant to partners of utility, but only to his brothers and sisters, the bond between them being the highest form of friendship between equals. Such solidarity is a virtue rather than an attitude to claim. It suggests a family bond which should also be honored by a culture of friendship, understanding and communication.

For many a man finds friendship end. For lack of converse with his friend. (Aristotle quoting a classical Greek proverb)

A bond of friendship, as we may admire it on the glorious inner frieze of the Parthenon, was an essential requirement for the constitution of the democratic polis. We shall not succeed in being one European Union if we are not guided by an attitude of honest friendship. Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics distinguishes various forms of friendship. One is the ethically lesser bond of utility. Our European Union has, however, for long and historically surpassed the state of a ?quid pro quo? or ?do ut des? alliance. It has proven to be a community where we invest ourselves in the well-being of our fellow European peoples.

Moreover friendship appears to be the bond of the state.

Ultimately it is a Union where we take pride in the achievements, economic, social and cultural progress and the well-being of our partners. It is a Union in which we are thankful for the great enrichment which they, our European friends, represent for our own lives, for us as individuals and for us as nations. We have fought for it in the history of the European Community and we shall continue to do so.

But there is most room for friendship and justice in democracies, where the citizens being equals have many things in common.

All in all, I trust that finally the Greek people will one day come to say, ?In difficult times the Germans stood by our side.?

Friendship is a virtue.

So, why do we not agree to be virtuous people.

Yours most sincerely,

Guy Feaux de la Croix

(Minister and deputy head of mission of the German Embassy of Athens, also founding president of the Marathon Friends International Association [www.marathon2500.gr] and founder of the Friends of Greece Society.)

* Texts in italics are quotations from Aristotle?s Nicomachean Ethics in a translation by H. Rackham, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Mass), 1926.