The German factor
Berlin is reluctant to provide Greece with the practical support it needs to pull itself out of the crisis and this fact was made abundantly clear by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble at the meeting of European Union finance ministers (Ecofin) on Tuesday and by Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday. Germany has every right to act in its national interest, but, by exercising this right, it is at risk of undermining its position of leadership in the European bloc, as leadership, on any level, requires flexibility and possibly sacrifice. Also of grave concern is a growing disagreement between Germany and France, the latter of which called upon the former, in a statement by French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, to increase internal consumption, which has been stagnant for years, in order to help the weakest members of the eurozone boost their exports. The political and industrial establishment reacted in concert to say that the struggling countries of Europe will not find a solution to their problem by limiting German exports, which are the cornerstone of that country’s economic success. The German argument is completely justified as far as France is concerned and in so far as the Greek crisis cannot be blamed on low exports, though the tough international economic climate did exacerbate domestic problems. However, separating economics completely from politics may have a serious impact on the European ideal, the very ideal that allowed Germany to emancipate itself politically after World War II. Every crisis should be seen as an opportunity, for individuals and for nations, while the successful handling of a major crisis also brings maturity to the areas most affected by it. From the recent signs, it is clear that Germany needs to mature as well. After all, the European Union is the work of Germany and France, and now it is up to Merkel and her government to decide whether the current crisis can be overcome without harming the European idea.