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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.

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With Germany's strong influence on ECB policies now clear for all to see, this motif of a rising Reich, however overstated, is popular with many newspapers and politicians in Europe. Against this, calls for measured assessments are coming from unexpected quarters, including Irish businessman Declan Ganley.

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Mr. Ganley led the "no" campaigns in Ireland's referendums on the EU's Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and 2009. The treaty effectively created an EU Constitution, but Ireland's own Constitution demands a referendum on any changes. Despite the support of Ire­land's political mainstream, the Irish voted against the treaty in 2008. Asked again in 2009, faced with the messages of "Yes for jobs" and "No means a two-tier Europe," they voted in favor.

Ganley went on to found the unsuccessful Pan-European political party Libertas and is routinely portrayed as a Euroskeptic, but his answer to the crisis is "more Europe" – albeit configured differently. "We need a federal union, or Europe will collapse completely," he says. "We need total reform of EU governance in order to do that – we need a Europe of Edmund Burke, not Robespierre."

He says the decision to protect banks at the expense of national economies is the root of the problem. "It was done to prop up insolvent banks across Europe, but particularly Germany, France, and the UK. The failure of those banks was transferred to the taxpayer. That is what has produced an understandable – and unnecessary – resentment toward foreign governments."

That resentment came to the fore in Ireland after news broke on Nov. 18 – just a year after Ireland's humiliating bailout from the "troika" of the EU, the ECB, and the International Monetary Fund – that the country's forthcoming budget was passed to the German parliament (and from there, to other EU states) before Ireland's Parliament had a chance to debate it.

"How dare the Germans get to discuss our budget before we do ourselves!" was the mood in Ireland. Opposition politicians thundered and angry calls flooded talk radio. Sinn Féin party leader Gerry Adams, speaking in Parliament, mocked the government by asking a question in Gaelic and broken German.

Ireland, not a traditionally Euroskeptic nation, has grown wary of the EU in recent years, with a growing sense that the country was bounced into a bailout it didn't need in order to protect German banks.

Award-winning novelist Colm Tóibín, noted for his pro-European stance, says Ire­land's attitude toward the EU has been one of getting what it can: "We saw Europe as a gravy train, [and] when treaties came along that had no benefit to us, we rejected them. Public sentiment [on the EU] is very easy to affect, with benefits or threats."

Nonetheless, Mr. Tóibín says it is easy to understand how the anti-EU mood could morph into an anti-German feeling. "There is a sense that the German government is not involved in any 'give' on this, [that] it's just looking after German interest rates," he says. "There may be some stupidity around, but that is a legitimate concern."

• Evangeline O'Regan in Madrid and Anna Momigliano in Milan, Italy, contributed to this report.


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