Why Germany raises ire in a struggling Europe
On the eve of a major EU summit aimed at saving the euro, anti-German sentiment is on the rise, with many in struggling eurozone countries tired of Berlin's dictates.
As the most powerful economy in Europe, Germany has traditionally had a proud place at the heart of the European Union. But the signs – from protests to newspaper editorials – are increasing that its less-powerful neighbors are growing weary of receiving dictates from Berlin.Skip to next paragraph
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Founded to ensure an end to war in Europe, the EU is descending into a war of words as many worry that what might be good for Berlin is bad for others. And the debate over how to proceed is coming into sharp focus on the eve of an EU summit starting Thursday that is aimed at preventing the collapse of the euro. After months of promises, demands, claims and counterclaims, the EU is now being led toward something approaching a fiscal union, a move proposed and primarily designed by Germany and France.
Gerry Feehily, a journalist and novelist based in Paris, says Germany is bearing the brunt of criticism over the handling of the debt crisis. "The Germans are damned if they do, and damned if they don't," he says. "Everyone is waiting for the Germans to come up with the solution to the crisis, and at the same time [is wringing] their hands about the increase in German power to dominate Europe."
Others are not ready to condemn Germany, saying that if anything, the country's inaction is a greater worry than its flexing of muscle.
"I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity," said Polish lawmaker Radoslaw Sikorski in a speech on Nov. 28 – an almost unimaginable sentiment from a country that suffered so much under foreign domination.
Stephen Kinsella, economist at the University of Limerick, Ireland, says it's important to see it from Germany's point of view: "Germany is considering the downside," he says. "What if it gets its taxpayers to pay for what they see as the debts of profligate banks in profligate countries? Will this repair the imbalances in the eurozone? Will this stop it happening again? Clearly not."
But German actions so far, including blocking Eurobonds issued by the European Central Bank (ECB) and demanding stringent austerity measures from other countries, are verging on inscrutable, says New York-based economics commentator Doug Henwood.
"It's kind of hard to see what Germany wants. I've been asking lots of smart people what they're trying to do for months and there's no consistent or convincing answer. Ideology? Material interest? Habit?... Why would an export-driven economy want to drive its nearest markets into deflationary depression?" he asks.
Britain has always been suspicious of Europe, with powerful Euroskeptic blocs in both the Conservative and Labor parties. But the new wave of anti-German feeling is coming not from rehearsed ideological positions or memories of World War II so much as from newfound experience of Germany's reach into its neighbors' national economies and politics.