Blame Germany! Blame Germany?

Spanish El Pais was just recently forced to retract Chancellor Merkel comparison to Hitler.  Frankly speaking, I find this kind of comparison totally idiotic. But on the other hand what do you think about the German leadership in the EU? Does it deserve some portion of criticism or not, and why? Read few comments.

Christian SchweigerLecturer in Government, Department of Politics, Durham University

This sort of comparison is certainly stupid to make but I nevertheless think that it is legitimate to criticise the way Merkel and her government are dealing with the crisis. I think the most fundamental criticism one can make is that Merkel’s approach is short-termist and driven by events, rather than to gain control of the overall situation. Europe is still waiting for a grand strategic speech from Merkel on how she sees the future shape of Europe and particularly how she wants to help crisis countries to tackle the deepening social malaise which manifest itself in dramatic levels of youth unemployment in some countries.

Merkel has never spoken to the people of Europe to explain the political vision and purpose behind the policy solutions she advocates. In the long run it will not be sufficient to keep talking about the need for political union without explaining to people what this means in practice (e.g for the role of national parliaments). The Cyprus case has shown how little concern Merkel has for the fears of ordinary people. The proposal to make all savers responsible to fund a loan illustrated this. Merkel adopts a short-termist natural science approach to political problems, which explains her lack of vision (she is after all a Chemist).

I would however also like to add that some of the criticism towards Germany goes too far because while the Merkel response to the crisis is inadequate the fact remains that to a large extent the situation in countries like Greece, Spain and Cyprus results from their inability to confront domestic problems such as corruption, tax evasion and clientelism.

Simon UsherwoodSenior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Surrey

Germany is still trying to find a suitable way to act in the EU. On the one hand, the historical context has strongly limited what it could do (or wanted to do), but on the other, it is the most important member state – economically and politically – and Germans increasingly ask why they have to pay for the sins of their fathers. Comparisons to the Nazis are always going to be made, but they are not at all what Germany is trying to be. Instead, it is trying to defend its interests, like any other state, and that will affect others. The German government is no better or worse than the French or British governments and deserves as much praise and criticism as them.

Saying this, German ministers do have a tendency to speak as if the logic of their position is without question, which makes it hard to accommodate the views of others. In the Cypriot case, there was not much sensitivity about the popular will as a counterpoint to technocratic solutions. But this is still early days for a Germany that is beginning more ‘normal’ as an actor on the international stage.

Alister Miskimmon, Senior Lecturer in European Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London

Comparisons between Merkel’s government and the Nazi regime of 1933-45 are baseless. What we are witnessing is greater German assertiveness due to its exposure to risk in the Eurozone, rather than German hegemonic ambitions. Since Gerhard Schroeder came to power in 1998, German governments have sought to defend their national interests more overtly within the EU whilst asserting their pro-European credentials. As the demands of European integration have risen German assertiveness within the EU has become more pronounced. Whilst the German economy currently appears relatively strong, it is only less than ten years since faced over 5 million unemployed citizens and still deals with the continued financial legacy of unification. Germany’s exposure to the problems of the Eurozone have resulted in the German government have become more confident in influencing Eurozone policy. For some like sociologist Ulrich Beck or Philosopher Jürgen Habermas this greater assertiveness is the beginning of a negative trend of German dominance in the EU – echoing Thomas Mann’s call for a European Germany rather than a German Europe.

Another factor is the domestic political scene in Germany. Germany is gearing up for Federal Elections in September 2013. Growing questioning of Germany’s membership of the Eurozone and criticism of under-performing Eurozone countries, witnessed in the emergence of Alternative für Deutschland – an anti-Euro party – suggest that Angela Merkel and finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s tough stance on the Euro is seen as good domestic politics. All Germany’s mainstream parties have signed up to Merkel’s approach, leaving room for little debate within Germany. Germany also faces trying economic pressures. Germany’s constitutional brake on new national debt further limits the economic and political wriggle room the German government has in solving the challenges in the Eurozone. However, the harsh policies favoured by Merkel and Schäuble run the risk of exacerbating the problems of Cyprus and others, thus raising question marks over Germany’s European credentials. In order for the German government to address the criticisms it faces, more attention needs to be given to collaborative agreements with EU partners in Brussels, rather than the ‘made in Berlin’ policies which have characterised German EU policy under Merkel.

Comparisons, therefore, between the current German government and Nazi Germany are not helpful. Germany remains committed to European integration and will continue to be. Greater focus on Germany’s influence in the EU is increased by France and the UK’s comparative ineffectiveness in shaping policy discussions. With the upcoming elections in Germany it is unlikely that the government stance on the Euro will visibly soften. Germany must recognise, however, that the Eurozone must function for the benefit of all its citizens and that Germany has benefitted most from the single currency.

Carolin Rüger,Institute for Political Science and Social Research – European Research and International Relations, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

The Hitler comparison is so unacceptable that I only want to reply with some words of Joachim Gauck from his recent speech on Europe: “I don’t see anyone among policy makers in Germany who is aiming for a German diktat. So far, society has acted rationally and maturely. In Germany, no populist-nationalistic party has found enough public support to make it into parliament. I can say this out of my innermost conviction: In Germany, more Europe doesn’t mean a German Europe. More Europe to us means a European Germany.”

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