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Eurozone crisis: A Polish answer to the 'German question'

Days ahead of a key summit to solve the European debt crisis, Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski bluntly spelled out six reasons why Germany – more than any other country – owes its fellow European Union members solidarity in holding the eurozone together.

By Constanze Stelzenmüller / December 6, 2011


It is "German question" time once more in Europe. It is only Germany, the continent’s most powerful economy, and still miraculously going strong, that can lead the way to a recovery. That much is admitted from Lisbon to Tallinn, and even in Berlin.

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The problem is that the Germans, just days before a historic European Union summit weighs far-reaching treaty reforms to calm the markets and – perhaps – save the eurozone, are still debating the wrong questions. How much “leverage” is enough? Would “elite bonds” help? Might a “stability union” do the trick?

Last week, however, a Pole came to Berlin and spelled out the question for the Germans. Or rather, he chiseled it in stone, in the starkest possible terms. In doing so, he demonstrated a remarkable grasp of his Western neighbor’s psychology.

Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski began his speech with an astute reference to the tired cliché that Europe has become boring because it is no longer about matters of war and peace. Wrong, he said – the Balkan Wars began in 1991 with the disintegration of the dinar, the Yugoslav currency. Those wars, lest anyone forget, claimed up to 130,000 lives. They caused Germany to offer shelter to 300,000 refugees, and to go to war for the first time in its post-World War II history. It was a reminder guaranteed to get his audience’s rapt attention, and keep it.

Mr. Sikorski bowed to his German friends, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, by supporting their calls for automatic sanctions on debt misbehavior, an elected European president, and more European integration. The framers of the US Constitution, he noted, had done something very similar when they decided to make their historic move from a confederation to a real federation. (It’s not every day German leaders are compared to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.)

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