Germany and Greece are arguably Europe’s most politically immature nations and thus entertain particular fantasies and obsessions. The Germany fantasy can be summed up in one word: empire. From the time of the Holy Roman Empire – led by the House of Habsburg – until the end of World War II, the only time that the concept of a “small Germany” prevailed was during the leadership of Otto von Bismarck.
After the end of the war and under pressure from the allies, Germany transformed into a country that was European and quite normal, but the introduction of the euro revived the syndrome. Germany did not seek a hegemonic role; it assumed it involuntarily and now has trouble managing it.
The fantasy in Greece is that it must always lash out against the establishment, whatever it may be. The opposition toward the Holy Alliance – formed in the wake of the defeat of Napoleon – by a small unprepared group of patriots continues to galvanize the Greeks to this day. Our ancestors’ defiance was undoubtedly heroic but the modern Greek state is the product of European diplomacy.
It is on the basis of these two fantasies that crucial talks on the Greek debt got under way in Brussels on Wednesday.
Over the course of the 20th century, Great Britain was twice called upon to take on the responsibility and initiative of reining in the German imperial fantasy. Today, US President Barack Obama introduced a geopolitical dimension to Berlin’s view of the world, which is purely from an economic perspective, by warning against a rapprochement between Greece and Russia. Moreover, Turkey’s shift toward political Islam has left Greece and Cyprus as the last bastions of the West against the Near East.
It is true that SYRIZA’s improvisations brought results by putting an end to the German habit of dealing with the European crisis by addressing individual countries that are in trouble. From now on, the problems of Europe will be discussed at larger forums and on at a bilateral level. This is a development neither Chancellor Angela Merkel nor Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble were looking forward to. But it is also dangerous for SYRIZA to believe that it can challenge the Valhalla of the European establishment by itself.
The most common outcome of differences in Europe is a compromise and both parties returning home triumphant. But for this to happen, both Greece and Germany need to abandon their fantasies.