Germans ask: Why doesn't eurozone like us?

Images of Greek protesters waving signs of German Chancellor Merkel in Nazi uniform have troubled Germans. Many in struggling eurozone countries resent Merkel's hard line.

Tobias Schwarz/Reuters
German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a news conference at the government guest house Schloss Meseberg, about 44 miles north of Berlin, November 30. With images circulating of Chancellor Merkel in a Nazi uniform Germans are asking why other eurozone countries resent their hard line.

Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrat Party, is not one to mince his words.

“Suddenly the whole of Europe speaks German,” he declared in front of jubilant delegates at a party conference recently. German not in language, he added, but in terms of economic policies to lead the continent out of the sovereign debt crisis which has held Europe in its grip for almost two years now, and is threatening to infect the whole globe.

 If Mr. Kauder had been hoping for applause beyond the conference hall, he was disappointed. Europe is far from being a united bloc following German example, and particularly Britain took exception – “A controversial claim” read a headline in the “Daily Mail.” A few days later, Chancellor Merkel and the British Prime Minister David Cameron sought to give an impression of unity at a meeting in Berlin. But the incident was just another illustration of a rift within Europe.

“The markets have yet to be convinced by any of the measures taken to overcome the eurozone debt crisis,” says Ferdinand Fichtner from the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.  “It is time to get out a bigger gun – and it is time Germany accepts that.”

There is disagreement between Germany – in concert with some of the more well-off countries in the north like Finland and The Netherlands – and most of its eurozone partners about the appropriate measures to fight the debt crisis, with Chancellor Merkel seeing herself increasingly isolated on questions like the creation of eurobonds or the role of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Merkel does have the support of a majority of her voters, though. Fifty-seven percent of Germans believe the introduction of eurobonds will not solve the eurocrisis, but only lead to higher interest rates.

Within this debate about ways out of the crisis, Germany finds itself in an unusual and unexpected position: Having tried to tread carefully on the diplomatic floor ever since the days of World War II, it is now accused of not throwing its weight about sufficiently.

“I am less worried about Germany’s power – I am starting to worry about Germany’s inactivity,” said Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslav Sikorski during a speech in Berlin earlier this week. “I demand of Germany that you help [the eurozone] survive and prosper. You may not fail to lead. Not dominate, but lead in reform.”

Salaries are not being slashed, or jobs cut

Ordinary Germans have yet to experience the eurocrisis firsthand. Unlike Greeks or Spaniards, they have not seen their salaries slashed or their jobs cut, so Germany’s attitude towards the European project is still mainly positive. A recent survey by pollsters Infratest found that a majority of 60 percent of Germans support further financial aid to ailing economies in southern Europe – as long as they reform according to German ideas of how a sound economy should be run.

They do miss the fact that – in part at least – the secret of German economic success is the also the explanation for the misfortunes of its southern partners. That’s according to German economist Rudolf Hickel: “The introduction of the euro has earned Germany a huge surplus and created an export imbalance in the eurozone that is untenable within a currency union.”

So it is in Germany’s best interest to keep the eurozone intact. German exports have soared since the introduction of the euro. KfW, a government-owned investment bank, estimates that within the past two years, alone Germany’s membership in the eurozone has resulted in profits of up to €60 billion (about $80.3 billion).

What is perplexing Germans is the resentment coming from its European partners. “I’ve seen pictures of Greek protesters,” says Harald Werner, a newspaper vendor on Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse. “They had posters with Chancellor Merkel in Nazi uniform. What’s that supposed to say, when its German money that pays teachers and policemen in Athens?”

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