Wed, Apr 03, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Is Germany too powerful for Europe?

Twenty years ago, Germany’s economy was stagnating. Today, as the eurozone crisis deepens, this giant is keeping Europe afloat. But what does it want in return? German sociologist Ulrich Beck believes that his country has become a political monster

By Stuart Jeffries  /  The Guardian

Now, Beck argues, German reunification is being used as the template for German crisis management in Europe.

As head of the continent’s strongest economic power, Merkel is in a position to dictate the terms under which struggling eurozone nations can apply for further credit, eroding the democratic autonomy of the Greek, Italian and Spanish parliaments.

Beck calls her Merkiavelli — after Niccolo Machiavelli — to highlight the political nous with which she has run rings around other leaders.

He suggests that she is the uncrowned queen of Europe. Queen Merkiavelli the First of Europe, perhaps, demands that Germany’s new colonies save in the interests of stability — a formula based on the good housekeeping practices of a woman who sometimes casts herself as a sensible Swabian housewife.

Beck’s chancellor sounds like former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who also prudently approached the balancing of government accounts as though they were a household budget.

“There is one important difference,” Beck said. “Thatcher was doing to Britain something the British electorate had voted for. What Merkel is doing to Europe has no democratic mandate.”

Viewed thus, Germans are power-crazed anti-democrats using economic crisis to stage a furtive putsch on a supine continent. Are we not witnessing a German power grab?

“Heavens, no. They have no imperial bone left in their body,” Winder said. “They are colonists, but incredibly reluctant ones. There is no smoke-filled room filled with sausage-eating Germans who want to dominate Europe. There is no conspiracy.”

“I think that’s an incredibly silly point to make,” Wehn said. “German dominance in Europe is not anti-democratic. There are parts of Europe that are economically ahead of other parts. It’s just the same in Britain: London is economically ahead of the northeast of England. So should London leave the sterling? That’s obviously a silly answer. The same is true in Europe. There are fishing villages in Greece that are going to be economically negligible, while Germany is dominant. Does that mean we should leave the euro? No. A strong Europe needs a strong Germany.”

However, there is a paradox in Germany’s European domination. It is economically supreme, but culturally negligible.

A number of us are enjoying the bicentenary of German composer Richard Wagner, but it can hardly be argued that his music indicates the virility of German cultural exports in the new millennium. Nobody is wearing lederhosen in Glasgow, Scotland, or Warsaw. Next to nobody is learning German as a foreign language.

Your next box set might well be in Danish, but nobody’s will be in German.

Fatih Akin, Christian Petzold, Hans-Christian Schmid and Ulrich Kohler have one thing in common: Few have heard of these alleged icons of German new wave cinema outside Germany. Yes, the Web site of the Tate Modern did crash briefly when it was announced that tickets were available for a Kraftwerk gig at the Turbine Hall, but that is the exception that proves the rule.

“They’re living on empty, culturally,” Winder said. “There’s no German novel I’m looking forward to, and no German film, but it’s the same throughout Europe. Europe is culturally null. Britain is the cultural dynamo of Europe by a million miles.”

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