Αναδημοσίευση (δυστυχώς στα αγγλικά) από το Internationale Politik (IP):
Less Love for Europe
Why Germany is looking beyond E.U. borders
In a monograph entitled “Why Germany fell out of love with Europe,” German journalist Wolfgang Proissl argues that the Greek debt crisis exposed a growing unease in Germany toward the E.U.
IP: Mr. Proissl, in your essay, you say you encountered deep skepticism, even hostility about European integration from German politicians. Was that true across all parties?
Proissl: With very few exceptions. Perhaps hostility is not the right word, although there was hostility during the Greek crisis from March until the weekend of May 8-9 when it was resolved. What I realized in Berlin was that people were deeply skeptical of future integration.
The Greek crisis exposed lingering euroskepticism among both voters and the political class. It was inflamed in part by a press campaign on the German side, with the [mass circulation tabloid] Bild portraying all Greeks as lazy, bankrupt, and irresponsible.
That brought reactions from the Greek side comparing today’s Germany to Nazi Germany, evoking outstanding reparations and so on. The debate descended to a very low level. It showed that the veneer of civilization of the past 65 years of E.U. integration is still quite thin and fragile.
IP: How high does that skepticism go? Did you also speak to cabinet-level politicians, and did you get the same reaction from them?
Proissl: Yes. Since 2005, I’ve spoken regularly to very different sets of ministers—from the previous grand coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU), as well as the current coalition of Christian Democrats and Liberals (FDP). Throughout the mainstream parties, with the possible exception of the Greens, very many people are very skeptical and critical, off the record, about the direction of E.U. integration.
But if you look closely at the Bundestag debates during the Greek crisis, some of those remarks were on the record as well. Even Chancellor Merkel could not resist temptation, with remarks hinting at the possible exclusion of Greece from the monetary union. There was a mood that politicians understood quite well and felt they had to react to.
It is different from what journalists and also the public were being told up until 2005 by all previous German governments, where the mainstream public message, also relayed in private, was: we are pro-European but European integration is also in Germany’s interests. The euroskeptical view is now the majority view.
IP: Do the skeptics envision a loosening of E.U. ties in the future?
Proissl: I don’t think so. I think in the end the political class is very rational. They understand that maintaining the euro is very much in Germany’s interest because we have an export-led economy. We do between half and two thirds of our foreign trade with European, mostly eurozone countries. So we do have a very strong interest in fixed exchange rates.
The turning point was when the initial E.U. constitution was rejected by the Netherlands and France, both considered pro-European. I think many politicians in Germany realized that had there been a referendum they were not sure they would have won. I wouldn’t say there is a grand design within the German political class concerning European integration. But maintaining the status quo and being extremely cautious about further transfers of sovereignty to the community level is in some way the strategy at the moment.
IP: In a sense some of the measures Germany has insisted on as part of the Greek rescue package are a move in the direction of economic governance as France would like to see it.
Proissl: Yes. I think German thinking on this has evolved. Up until a couple of months ago if you mentioned Wirtschaftsregierung, the German translation of economic governance, you had an almost Pavlovian reaction within the political class: “No no no, we don’t want this, it will undermine the independence of the European Central Bank (ECB).” This debate has been going on for 15 years, even before the introduction of the euro.
Since the beginning of this year, Chancellor Merkel has used the term “economic governance” but she’s reinterpreted it. She said it is actually the European Council, the heads of state and government, who together are the European economic government.
I think the hidden agenda is that she thinks that since within the European Council decisions are taken by consensus, Germany would be formally in a position to veto anything it dislikes. De facto it would also be in a veto position because no major decision can be taken in the eurozone without Germany due to the political and economic weight Berlin has and the fact that markets look to Germany as the model for credible fiscal policy. The problem is that the European Council is a large and incoherent group that seems to be rather dysfunctional when it comes to policymaking.
The objective German interest is to unify these European votes because Germany will always have a predominant voice given its political and economic influence in Europe. That would be a rational way to see things. But I think the policy follows the trade trail so I am afraid the shortsighted view—“We are doing very well, look at our exploding bilateral trade ties with partner countries like China!”—will lead to a feeling that Germany needs less and not more of Europe.