Germany: Europe's indispensable power


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Germany - the most successful economy in Europe - has become Europe's paymaster since the eurozone crisis broke out. But how do they feel about it in Germany? For The Editors, a programme which sets out to ask challenging questions, I decided to find out.

For years it has been the German creed: a European Germany and not a German Europe.

And yet Germany, with its Wirtschaftswunder - its economic miracle - now finds itself Europe's indispensable power.

Its political class did not seek this role, but in Europe today no major decision can be taken without reference to Germany.

It is one of the great ironies of the eurozone crisis that the single currency, which was designed to bind Germany more closely into Europe, has ended up confirming Germany's strength. For many Germans this remains an uncomfortable truth.

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Gavin Hewitt at the Brandenburg Gate

BBC News: The Editors features the BBC's on-air specialists asking questions which reveal deeper truths about their areas of expertise

The Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, recently told his compatriots: "I warn us against any form of Teutonic snootiness."

The Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, said the German economy was "a source of pride" - but he felt compelled to add "not smugness".

For decades Germany had pretended to be less influential than it was. Some wanted the country to be a kind of Greater Switzerland.

All of that disappeared with the eurozone crisis.

As one German paper said: "They're suddenly realising that the world is relying on them to save the euro and avert a disaster for the global economy."

The article continued: "The Germans are going through a crash course in being a leading power."

It has been a painful process. Initially the Germans were criticised for acting too slowly.

They were accused of putting the interests of German taxpayers above the rest of Europe, of lacking solidarity.

Then events - and American pressure - nudged Chancellor Angela Merkel into action.

She backed a bail-out of Greece and the setting up of a giant rescue fund - but Germany insisted a price would have to be paid.

A Greek protester holds a poster of Angela Merkel Some Greek opponents of austerity have resorted to anti-German stereotypes

Weak countries needed rescuing and the biggest burden fell on Germany. They did not want the role of Europe's paymasters and so a grand bargain emerged.

Berlin would help the countries of southern Europe but, in exchange, they would have to cut costs and embrace reforms. In other words, become more like Germany.

Mrs Merkel and Mr Schaeuble had been influenced by how the economy of the former East Germany had been revived.

They believed there was no other route to economic health than by controlling and cutting budgets and reforming labour laws - making it easier to hire and fire.

As wages were cut and unemployment rose in many parts of southern Europe it stoked resentment.

Berlin, as much as Brussels, is seen as the author of this policy.

On the streets of Athens, Madrid, and Rome Mrs Merkel has been depicted as Hitler. It seemed to bear out the warning from the former German Chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, that: "If we let ourselves be seduced into taking a leading role in Europe, our neighbours will brace themselves against us."

Germany's standing in Europe will depend on results.

Berlin is seeing a construction boom Bailing out the rest of Europe has not stopped a construction boom in Germany

The government in Berlin has staked its reputation on urging countries to cut budgets and to find growth through exports and freeing up labour markets. The jury is still out.

The date when growth will return is forever being pushed back into the future. The argument has not been settled as to whether this policy will give birth to a more competitive Europe or whether it has locked some countries into a cycle of decline or stagnation.

It does not help that the International Monetary Fund has raised serious doubts about the bail-out of Greece. The international economic agency OECD reckons private demand has fallen by 33% in Greece.

The austerity believers have lost some of their faith.

The European Commission has become much more flexible over countries failing to meet targets for cutting deficits.

Suddenly - at least in public - unemployment has become of greater concern than debt. At a recent conference in Paris, Mr Schaeuble spoke of the risk of losing the struggle for European unity if unemployment remained high.

So the Germans, rather suddenly, announced a series of bilateral deals with countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece to help young people.

Germany plans to invest more than a billion euros (£850m) in funding apprenticeships and training in Germany. Berlin understands it needs to win friends in Europe.

Polls suggest that as much as some of Germany's policies are resented, the country remains much admired and respected.

Events and its automotive-based economy have handed Germany enormous power.

The paper Die Welt opined that: "Scarcely a people is less suited to this task than the contrite Germans."

Maybe, but Germany will have to tread softly.

BBC News: The Editors features the BBC's on-air specialists asking questions which reveal deeper truths about their areas of expertise. Watch it on BBC One on Monday 24 June at 23:20 BST or catch it later on the BBC iPlayer or on BBC World News.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    Well, David Horton, your extraordinary statement says it all.

    I do not mention here issues related to industrial espionage, especially as for SMEs which cannot afford expensive countermeasures, and fairness of the judicial system.

    I see that the D notice has not been lifted yet.

    Good luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    David Horton … Where does TEMPORA come from?

    Sorry, my interest in TEMPORA is nearly nil.

    I'm focussed on the chances of getting Britain out of the EU, which I see as having ten times more negative impact on my democracy & personal freedom than some pallid office bound GCHQ nerd with coffee breath, monitoring my emails and HYS mutterings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    As sieuarlu #233 has eloquently stated -- ALL American and British electrical products have the risk of being connected to Prism and Tempora.

    " I think they found a way to watch you in your house through the TV cameras in your smart phone, PC, and tablets.And they can listen with their mikes.Even when they're turned off!"

    --even washing machines --and baby-phones.

    -- Buy German for freedom !

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Have a referendum in Japan about Tempura. I'll bet they'll vote Oui! Oui! Monsieur.

    235 Not only can Germans see you and hear you in your car, if they don't like what they hear they can take control and drive you right off the road and over the cliff.And they know how to make it look like an accident.So you'd better be especially careful what you say in your Mercedes, Porsche, BMW, or Audi. Ya!

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    Extraordinary. I ought to say good night now !

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    #236 77RA

    --The BBC had one already -- moderated.

    Two hours behind (at least moderation), link to blog was removed on website.

    --change of underwear appeared necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Last one … I count on you both, BBC & Hewitt, for a Tempora in Europe next time.

    "For The Editors, a programme which sets out to ask challenging questions"

    ... if, and it is a big IF, the D notice is lifted by that time, which I very much doubt. Extraordinary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    #233 Sieu.

    --You forgot every American and British automobile being made.

    --via GPS and microphone.

    --Buy only German products --to be on the safe side.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Anyway … I am not afraid of a UK referendum on the EU, also because I think that there are other priorities in the UK for the time being.
    A referendum on Tempora ? How do people in Scotland think of Tempora ? Unless … Do you plan to declare war against the EU to defuse all the TEMPORA talk ?

    This doesn’t go away that easily keepers … What are GCHQ and Cobra coming up with this time ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    With TV cameras every 5 feet on every street in the UK, all this wiretapping, internet and e-mail bugging, there must be a lot of watchers.But who's watching the watchers?Paraphrasing George O, Big Bird IS WATCHING YOU! I think they found a way to watch you in your house through the TV cameras in your smart phone, PC, and tablets.And they can listen with their mikes.Even when they're turned off!

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    BBC World Business Report --correction

    --at 10 mins 40 secs.

    --important info.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    David Horton … Where does TEMPORA come from ?
    From the Magna Carta to Tempora ? That is e x t r a o r d i n a r y.
    Had I got it all wrong, on the UK ?

    By the way ... Hague’s Red Card ?
    Fine by me, it makes sense, bring it on.
    But, as Hague reportedly said, /at least/ 3 countries flagging the red card on the /same/ issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    The Irish catastrophe !

    Bankers laughing !

    BBC World Business Report at Ca. 26 mins 30 secs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Nah, it wasn’t GCHQ at the door, not yet, it seems as if given the number of people who are now quoting TEMPORA they now realize they are slightly understaffed.

    Shouldn’t they hire some keepers ?

    BTW ... This is just to correct my previous suggestion:
    p r i s o n e r ...

    TEMPORUM p r i s o n e r

    my latin is a bit rusty

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    "You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
    That your eye was as steady as ever;
    Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
    What made you so awfully clever?"

    "I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
    Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
    Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
    Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    #225 sieu.

    "If I could accurately and reliably predict the future"

    So you cannot defend your statements within a contribution ?

    --to only state them is your argument ?

    -- that was my observation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    225 If I could accurately and reliably predict the future do you think I would be wasting my time chit-chatting here? I'd be down at OTB betting the ponies or day trading the stock market.

    What's so precious about these 10 minutes that make them any different from any other 10 minutes.They all get you 10 minutes closer to dying.Can you predict when that will happen?

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Before you contribute, it would be of assistance if you predicted the answer you may receive --and write accordingly.

    --That would save a precious 10 minutes --as in this case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    223 "You are getting on my nerves"

    Definitely an encouraging sign.

    "with innuendos"

    I'm not sure what you mean. Aren't those Italian suppositories?

    "Please explain your views clearer."

    "More clearly" QOT. Modify the verb "explain" with an adverb, not a adjective. And always remember, it's "I" before "E" except after "C", or pronounced like an "A" as in neighbor or weigh.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    #222 sieuarlu

    -- You are getting on my nerves with innuendos on such topics.

    -- Please explain your views clearer.


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