Germany for peace and austerity

By Jonathan Power

The Germany of the victorious Angela Merkel, the second most powerful political leader in the world, is the peacenik nation of the West. But it is also the quasi-authoritarian keeper of the “austerity” that uses its economic clout to impose its standards on the rest of Europe, reminding some southern European countries of the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler that imposed a sort of common market on its captured nations. We may like the one and detest the other but Germany, for better or worse, is at the moment a package deal.

Germans themselves would like to shed the responsibilities of the second and concentrate on the first, encouraging Europe to use its underlying strength to do good and bring peace to the world. After all, not only is this the land of Hitler, his war and his Holocaust, it is the land of Bach and Beethoven which produced, along with Mozart of neighbouring German-speaking Austria, the most exquisite religious music of all time; it is the land of remorse for what its fathers, mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers did in supporting Hitler; and it is the land of Immanuel Kant, one of the greatest of European philosophers. In his treatise on “Perpetual Peace” he wrote of the need for a federation of free states bound together by a covenant forbidding war.

Hence after the war, the Germans, the Dutch and the Belgians, led by the French, created the the beginnings of the European Union – what has become an anti-war instrument of nations. The founding spirit of the EU, Jean Monnet, was the head of the French Planning Commission. His great idea, in the wake of the carnage of World War 11, was “to bring France and Germany together and exorcise the demons of the past.” It started with the “European Coal and Steel Community” and evolved into the highly complex and multi-faceted European Union of today, sharing not just many economic, political and judicial policies but, for most of its 28 members nations, a common currency and passport-free territory.

The peacnik commitment lives on, as with Germany’s refusal to get militarily involved in the war in Iraq, the toppling by force of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and the planned, now perhaps abandoned, military action against Syria. But for the Germans, as for the rest of Europe, it is the second issue that dominates the common political discourse. The near break-up of the Euro-zone and its common currency was a test by fire for Mrs Merkel.

The Germans believe she has saved the day, at the cost of untold billions of German-provided Euros, even if many, with good cause, resent the financial profligacy of the southern Europeans with their ridiculously early retirement, their padded payrolls and (Spain excepted) their high debt levels. The policies of austerity are beginning to work and, it is believed in Germany, will continue to work. (Maybe in their own way they will but they have been inflicted at great cost, with massive unemployment in the south, and they have taken much longer to bear fruit than if a Keynesian policy of boosting investment and demand, along with less hurried financial and economic reform, had been substituted. If Barack Obama had run Germany in his Keynesian way and not Mrs Merkel, Europe would now be experiencing an upswing in growth, as is the US today.)

Re-elected she will now continue to push for further European togetherness, namely fiscal union, a banking union and the European Stability Mechanism. These will lead to a permanent and strict oversight over each nation’s financial and economic policies, barely thinkable concepts not very long ago. By the end of Mrs Merkel’s third term we can expect to see a substantial deepening of European integration. However, at the same time, she believes that on political issues some powers vested in the Union should be given back to member states and more coordination in Europe take the place of the push for political union which, despite the dream of Monnet, few any longer seem- actively at least- to want. Perhaps she thinks that since the necessity of closer financial and economic policies is so pressing no political integrationist moves could be swallowed at the same time. Her mentor, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, thought there should be a true union of Europe, so who knows if Germany will return to that cause once the economic crisis is over.

However it goes, Europe will remain a unique construct where nearly all the states of Europe have contributed part of their sovereignty in return for banishing war from the land of their continent, building up a customs-free, single market, sharing a common currency and border-free travel, judging their falling short in human rights and gaining the world-wide influence that comes with all that. A most telling example to the rest of the world. Isn’t that what the peoples of other continents want too?

Copyright: Jonathan Power.

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