Saturday 27 October 2012

Europe and the Crisis: Response to Schäuble

Wolfgang Schäuble: German Minister of Finance
There are many things that I like about Schäuble, our Minister of Finance. He truly believes in the European idea, and I also believe that he feels for our austerity-struck South European neighbours. The wheelchair-bound 70-year old has made politics his life, and in spite of the effort it must take he has not stopped showing complete dedication. Nevertheless, sometimes when I hear him speak, I cannot help but feel that I am listening to a cold technocrat, void of the passion that must undoubtedly and necessarily reside in him. If you speak German, I really advise you to listen to an interview with him on the ZDF. In this interview, he is confronted with the reality of the rise of the right-wing party ‘Golden Dawn’ in Greece, which the journalist sees as a response to the harsh austerity measures inflicted on the Greek population. While I am merely paraphrasing him, he roughly says the following: ‘This is not a question you should ask me; it ought to be posed to the Greek policy-makers. Greek politicians are creating a myth that the crisis is caused by external forces, and that Greece has nothing to do with it. This is an utter lie. The Greek people must realise that Greece, and no one but Greece is to blame for the creation of the crisis. Everything else is a myth.’ He uses the words ‘Greece’ and ‘Greek people’ interchangeably, and strongly contradicts all views indicating that Europe, Germany, or capitalism itself is to blame for anything. Now, this interview somewhat saddened me, because it subtly obfuscates reality beyond a degree that I find bearable. What I am going to say I have written in previous posts, but the constant confrontation with the greatest myth, the greatest lie of all, is really urging me to repeat myself. Germany, Europe, and Greece – we are all partially to blame for the crisis. I will discuss each in turn, hoping to show that Schäuble’s claims are ludicrous, calculated electoral manoeuvres.

Germany, you are responsible for the crisis. Your low-wage policy has outcompeted your own costumers. Your income-stagnation is unparalleled in the eurozone, and your domestic market is dwarfed by your export-economy. You are underpaying your workers, and while you have reduced unemployment, you have made it to number one in another sad statistic: you have the lowest number of children in the world. You claim you are a role-model, appealing to others to emulate your methods, but where are all those exports meant to go? If everyone exports we all lose, for what one country exports, another must import. Do not pretend to be innocent, but finally introduce minimum-wages.

Europe, you are responsible for the crisis. Your Commission has but one policy: integration at any cost. You don’t care if centuries-old agricultural traditions are lost, you don’t care about the wage-discrepancies between your member states, and you don’t care if your currency benefits only your strongest; you only care that it exists. A right-wing party is rising in your cradle, yet you have nothing to say about it. You support the austerity that is being imposed on your south, you don’t care that sovereignty is lost without legitimation. European integration could be great, but the construction of Europe itself has no more intrinsic value than the construction Germany or Luxembourg – it is just another construction. Waving the European flag is not enough; what is more important is that European integration is just.

Greece, you too are responsible for the crisis. Your political system is corrupt, and your politicians take their money from common people, instead of the thousands of millionaires who have brought their money to Switzerland. Your government has spent far beyond its abilities, and you have no functioning tax-collecting system. Your citizens may be happy to pay their taxes, but you have failed to deliver. What good is paying taxes, if your schools are so bad that they require private after-school teaching? What good is paying taxes, if you can achieve much more with a bribe? Yes, you too are to blame, but you are also a victim of a European system that favours the exporters, a system that lacks any kind of reimbursement mechanism for the losers, the periphery.

We are all somewhat to blame, and Schäuble’s monochrome picture is dangerous and deepens the gap between Greece and Europe. Germany and Europe cannot claim that they have nothing to do with the rise of ‘Golden Dawn’. Europeans have produced anti-Europeanism and racism together, and it ought to be a common task to tackle it. Alex and me are both afraid that Europe will once again remain quiet about the rise of racist ideas. However, if all European governments do is spread a competing narrative, that of a corrupt Greek government that is to blame for everything, the gap between Europe and the South will widen and not close.

Harald Köpping

PS: If you want to write your own post, send it to

No comments:

Post a Comment