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Does Germany know what its national interest is?


Last week, at an event on 'The Maastricht Treaty – 20 years later', Joachim Bitterlich, former adviser to Helmut Kohl, warned that talking about Eurobonds would only increase Euroscepticism in Germany – which, as I see it, was a fairly explicit call for paying more respect to German domestic politics.

This is well in line with the on-going German strategy of trying to comfort the conservative electorate by providing information on a bit-by-bit basis, avoiding to use terms sounding too much like handing over German responsibilities or funds to Brussels (remember how the Lisbon Treaty used to be called earlier on?). The German government has shied away from comprehensively explaining to the populace why bailing out major trading partners in a monetary union is not an act of altruism which, as recent polls show, has apparently benefited Angela Merkel’s popularity in the country.

However, I strongly believe that this is a short-sighted, if not outright wrong, strategy. Telling the story of the almighty former 'Exportweltmeister' saving the impoverished sinners in the periphery whilst making sure that they do their policy homework obviously fails to provide the vision and 'esprit d’équipe' Europe needs so badly for its future.

Fortunately, we seem to have passed the point where German politicians suggest that Greece should sell its beautiful islands, however, we still seem to be far away from seeing German politicians criticising, for example, the domestic arms industry, which has been making their living of massive – unproductive – exports to the troubled country (and to Turkey). Pacta sunt servanda.

When humiliating Greece for its incapacity to realise reforms rapidly, an unfortunate dissonance stems from the fact that it was Germany and France that were the first to overtly violate the Maastricht criteria on public debt. By meddling through the toothless penalty procedure they left the door wide open for further undermining the foundations of the monetary union and sent a fatal message to other Eurozone countries. However, this message was misunderstood, it actually did not say “you do not have to take those rules seriously” but, as we know now, rather “you do not have to take those rules seriously if you are big enough to not to be impeded by other countries”. We are currently observing the price at which this misunderstanding has come and fortunately both the rules and their perception are changing.

There is thus no good reason for bowing to the alleged German anti-Greek and Eurosceptic sentiment – which in any way is little more than a cheap excuse for not taking the blame for the errors of the past and for not grasping this unique opportunity to involve the general public in creating a new vision for a sustainable European economic system.

Bitterlich was certainly right in pointing at the lack of leadership in Europe, but leadership can only yield sustainable solutions for the EU as a whole when it is able to truly overcome the idea that there is an on-going zero-sum game between national interests in the Union. This is especially true for Germany.

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