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

The book has sold more than 400,000 copies in Germany, but is as yet untranslated here. A shame: It is a popular account of German vergangenheitsbewaltigung that deserves to be read in Britain. Maybe more Britons should learn German.

And what about German television? Why, I ask Wehn, are there no German TV series filling BBC4’s 9pm Saturday night Euro-drama subtitle-a-rama slot?

He contends that we are not missing much, apart from a cop show called Derrick, which finished broadcasting 15 years ago. However, why is there no German rival to Denmark’s The Killing, Sweden’s Wallander, Italy’s Inspector Montalbano or France’s Spiral?

“In Germany there’s no incentive to sell TV content abroad. The BBC makes a lot of money from selling foreign rights, which explains why so much of its content is shown overseas. In Germany, the contracts aren’t like that — and the domestic market is huge so there’s no incentive,” he said.

What does a German Europe mean for the economically bumbling yet allegedly cultural dynamic Britain?

“It is drifting into irrelevance,” Beck said. “There is already a two-speed Europe, with a pioneer Europe in the eurozone that the rest of Europe, especially Britain, doesn’t really take part in decisions about. Cameron doesn’t realize there’s a shifting power base in Europe, but instead focuses on withdrawal from Europe.”

Folly, Beck said.

“Europe isn’t across the Channel. For the first time every European citizen existentially depends on Europe,” he said.

However, that too is a German perspective: Britons have rarely gone for continental things, such as existentialism, still less a cosmopolitan transcontinental menage.

Unsurprisingly, as a good German committed to the end of petty nationalisms, Beck counsels more powers to the EU to bring the undemocratic reign of Queen Merkiavelli to an end.

In the past, budgetary credits were tied to austerity and neoliberal reform: In the future, they should be linked to a readiness to support a new, continent-wide social contract set up to defend job security, extend freedom and promote democracy, Beck said.

Good luck with all that I say.

“It may well sound hopelessly utopian and naive,” he replies, “but why not be utopian and naive? Look at the alternative.”

Maybe only Germans, thanks to the darkness of their 20th-century past, have such sunny hopes for this benighted continent. It is a different kind of German Europe from the one Beck indicts and one that nobody need fear: Not one premised on Teutonic austerity, but filled with a European idealism you get hardly anywhere else on this cynical continent, least of all in Britain.

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