EUROPE'S SUPERPOWER: GERMANY IS THE NEW INDISPENSABLE (AND RESENTED) NATION
Op-Ed: The euro zone can't survive in tact without Germany. And yet the more Europeans count on Germany, the quicker they are to criticize. Germany may now be to Europe what the United States has long been to the rest of the world: the powerhouse everyone loves to hate.
BERLIN -- The Germans are becoming the favorite scapegoat for the euro crisis. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. For years, op-eds in Germany and around the world called for Germany to step up and take a leadership role in the currency crisis. Now that Chancellor Angela Merkel has done just that, it turns out that’s not right either.
In the United Kingdom, some commentators wax delirious about the “Fourth Reich” that Berlin has supposedly established in Europe. The basic gist of this argument is that what the Germans didn’t achieve in two world wars they are now achieving with the help of the euro crisis: dominance at the heart of Europe.
The Junkers and Barrosos of the world are ticked off because Merkel isn’t up for paying all of the euro zone’s unpaid bills, and has also voiced a certain amount of skepticism about European institutions that failed to prevent the crisis and are not proving to be particularly creative in solving it.
Germanophobiais also spreading in France due to the supposed dim-witted Germans’ insistence on sticking to a couple of principles about the stability of the currency. If the situation weren’t so deadly serious, this might cause a wry smile or two about the irony of history. The irony is that the Germans, who have been fairly obvious about their anti-Americanism over the last decade or so, are now finding out what it feels like to be the lead – and unloved -- player.
Germany is becoming the America of Europe
In Europe, Germany is in the process of becoming what the United States is to the world: the leading power whose every move is examined microscopically. Others are increasingly expecting more problem-solving skill (and will) than Berlin is prepared to give; yet at the same time, Germany awakens much resentment.
And it serves the Germans right. Because looking into the mirror of Europe they find themselves confronted by their own ambivalent expectations of the United States. The patterns are exactly the same.
For decades, the Germans have been skateboarding around on the safety net that the United States spread across Europe and the world. Like many other Europeans, for decades they have not been contributing their fair share to the maintenance of that net.
And yet Germany wants to be a part of the conversation, play an influential role -- and then whatever the Americans finally do isn’t exactly what they had in mind. Which doesn’t stop them from grandly overlooking their own failures: the training of police officers in Afghanistan springs to mind.
One thing’s for sure: the Americans could always have done better. This assumption comes as naturally as the inclination not to get one’s own hands dirty. In security matters, the Europeans are like cranky old critics from the Muppets. They sit on the sidelines and provide commentary about what’s going on, while the Americans and their hard power are out there doing, with more or less success.
This pathological relationship to the West’s leading nation is now being stood on its head. Suddenly it’s the Germans everybody wants a solution from. And when Germany does offer up ideas, they are criticized as inadequate.
What European countries would like best, regardless of whether or not they are in the euro zone, is for Germany to cough up the cash – but without the right to establish any conditions, which would be seen as Germany bullying the rest of Europe.
The picture earlier looked like this: American taxpayers were supposed to bear the brunt of paying for NATO, but everybody wanted a say in how NATO would actually be used. Within Europe today, the attitude is: the Germans should pay without setting any demands, because if they did that they would be playing an ugly “dominance” card.
Europe is currently developing a love-hate relationship with Germany that is very similar to the one Germans feel for the United States. Germany is the “indispensable nation” at the heart of the euro zone, the one without which nothing works. Without Germany, there’s no way to even contemplate a euro zone rescue. It’s in realizing this that the rest of Europe reacts with denial and rejection.
Germans always resented that the Americans not only rescued them from the Nazis but then built German democracy. Something similar can be expected out of the present euro saga, as regards Germany.
Even if the Germans should succeed in stemming the crisis, the rest of Europe won’t forgive them because that would mean recognizing just how dependent they are on Germany. So let’s not expect any thanks. All the more reason to make sure that the interests of the German taxpayer don’t get subsumed by all the crisis management.