Do the Germans Realise the Damage They Have Done to Themselves and Europe? Bryan Gould
The Wehrmacht had a crack at it – but that attempt ended in disastrous failure 70 years ago. The long-held dream of German hegemony throughout Europe is, however, back on the agenda and closer than ever to realisation.
The Greek crisis threw up many sub-plots – many of them of great significance of course to the Greeks themselves. But the real story of the Greek crisis is one of much wider import. It has stripped bare to the public gaze just where the pan-European project is really heading.
What we have witnessed over recent months is a painful lesson being handed out to the Greeks – but even more importantly to the rest of Europe. Opinions may differ as to how responsible the Greeks may be for their own plight but what is now clear is that being part of “Europe” does not allow for any back-sliding if events move against you.
So, the Greeks – having already being forced to accept over several years the most destructive of austerity packages – have not only been compelled to accept yet another instalment but have also been stripped of their powers of self-government and of democracy itself.
The bail-out deal forced through the Greek parliament at the behest of European creditors makes absolutely no sense in economic terms. Even the IMF agrees that it makes it impossible for the Greeks to produce the resources needed just to service, let alone repay, their debts; and that is both totally unreasonable and lacking in reason, not only for the Greeks but for the creditors themselves.
But it is the geo-political consequences that are most worthy of note. The Greeks have been treated with scarcely concealed contempt. They have been deliberately and ruthlessly humiliated. The wishes of the Greek people and of their elected government have been over-ridden by external forces who have no concern for their welfare.
The Greeks have suffered this fate, not because they are uniquely culpable, but “pour encourager les autres”. The message has been deliberately designed for the rest of Europe. It is addressed to all those other small and medium-sized members of the euro zone who have suffered under the austerity regime forced upon them. The message is stark – there is no escape.
Any country that might contemplate, as an alternative to euro-austerity, the reclamation of the powers of self-government and monetary sovereignty will be ruthlessly cut adrift. Even the Greeks, benighted as they are, could not brave that fate. The euro-zone is quite evidently a straitjacket, centrally applied and disciplined, whose rules over-ride democracy and the interests of ordinary people.
And who or what, exactly, runs this arrangement from which there is no exit? It is German economic power. The troika of the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission may look comfortingly like a European or even international authority, but the levers of power are actually moved by the German government.
One of the most significant aspects of this unfolding landscape is the extent to which the Franco-German duumvirate, which we used to think actually called the shots, has been left in ruins. The Germans have felt no inhibition or compunction in letting it be seen that it is their view that must prevail. It is a measure of growing German confidence that they could quite publicly reject the preference of their erstwhile partners for a softer approach, and focus instead on giving overt priority to what they see as German interests.
The mailed fist is now clearly visible. Any country in the euro zone that steps out of line will find itself forced back, with its own government and parliament sidelined and left impotent. There can be no debate. There can be no alternative to austerity; neo-classical economic policy and continued stagnation at best is, by decree of the German government, the only option.
The German goal is to establish German hegemony across the whole European economy by ensuring that the policies framed in Berlin are adopted and applied across the continent. They have not found it necessary to fire a shot. But the way forward is not without its risks and casualties.
Any misapprehension about how Germany sees its role in the new Europe has now been dispelled. German ambitions will henceforth be looked at much less tolerantly, and will meet increasingly strong headwinds. Angela Merkel’s confidence that she no longer needs to dissemble about those ambitions will certainly be put to the test.
More importantly, the European ideal has been seriously compromised. A Europe revealed as simply a vehicle for German power is a very different entity from the force for peace and unity which has been sold to us so far.
Europe over many centuries has faced the problem of restraining whichever was the dominant power of the time. They have usually succeeded, one way or another. That is unlikely to change. The Greeks will not be the only ones to pay a price for their bail-out. Europe’s future, too, is now more clouded and uncertain.