Angela Merkel is no Adolf Hitler
ESSAY: Today’s radical anti-Merkel lobby echoes Margaret Thatcher, who also wanted to use Euro structures to neuter wicked Germany.
Politicians of the right and left, both pro-EU and sceptical, have united in a new strident campaign to make Germany submit and surrender any form of self-interest, economic or political, to the ‘remorseless logic’ of an overarching European Union. In other words, whether it likes it or not, Germany needs to fund a fiscal stimulus as a pain-free escape from the crisis.
Austerity über alles?
Recently, the left British magazine the New Statesman decided to liken contemporary Germany to its Nazi-era predecessor. ‘[Chancellor Angela] Merkel is the most dangerous German leader since Hitler’, the NS claimed. ‘Europe’s austerians have blood on their hands. Suicide rates are up by 40 per cent in Greece; the birthplace of Western democracy is being remorselessly reduced to the status of a developing country.’
And not only does German economic policy literally kill people, it also fuels extremism. To sustain this absurd jackboot theme, the NS also blames Merkel for the rise of the far right across Europe. Germany, without a significant neo-fascist party of its own, is somehow at fault for being ‘relaxed about the rise of anti-austerity, neo-Nazi parties across the EU’. What is Merkel supposed to do? Invade France to fight Le Pen? Get the EU to outlaw far-right parties?
The New Statesman stops short of calling for military intervention – but only just – in a polemic that makes Merkel personally responsible for all Europe’s woes. ‘In denial and bent on austerity über alles, Merkel is destroying the European project, pauperising Germany’s neighbours and risking a new global depression. She must be stopped’, the NS says.
Anatole Kaletsky, a widely syndicated Reuters columnist, has also joined the campaign to force Germany to nourish the credit-starved Euro economy. Asking ‘Can the rest of Europe stand up to Germany?’, Kaletsky attacked the Germans for refusing to sign up to measures designed to save the Euro at the expense of Germany’s economy and political sovereignty.
‘One country poses an existential threat to Europe – and it is not Greece, Italy or Spain. Every serious proposal to resolve the Euro crisis since 2009 – […] jointly guaranteed Eurobonds, a pan-European bailout fund, quantitative easing by the European Central Bank – has been vetoed by Germany, and this pattern looks likely to be repeated’, he opined. ‘[The] question is not whether Europe will agree to live under German leadership, but whether Germany will agree to live under EU leadership – or whether the other nations must form a united front against Germany to prevent the destruction of Europe, as they have repeatedly in the past.’
In the worldview of Kaletsky, the New Statesman and many in the French and British elites, Germans can only be good Europeans by submitting to a supra-national EU leadership and knowing their place in the EU order. The idea that Germany is different or exceptional when it comes to questions of national self-determination lies behind the campaign for the Germans to roll over. In a speech last November, Radek Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, explained a new twenty-first-century twist on the idea of German ‘exceptionalism’: the notion of a collective national guilt for the Holocaust. The new fear, Sikorski argued with references to the war-torn break-up of Yugoslavia, was of a Eurozone ‘crisis of apocalyptic proportions’ caused by German inertia. ‘I demand of Germany that, for your own sake and for ours, you help [the Euro] survive and prosper. You know full well that nobody else can do it. I will probably be first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity’, he said.
The anti-German EU
For all this Germany-bashing, the truth is that the EU structures and statecraft that have given us the current crisis only came into being when European powers forced Germany to be a good European with the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. This, the first Treaty of European Union, was negotiated as the international political price to be levied on Germany for its reunification. The Euro, created by Maastricht, was self-consciously seen by both the saints of European integration and British Eurosceptics as a way of binding Germany into an order that would prevent it exercising national self-interest.
Simon Kuper, writing in the Financial Times recently, observed that the EU’s ‘common currency was born because European leaders around 1990 were still obsessed with the Second World War’. The obsessions with history, combined with Germany’s eastern European geography, are so deeply rooted they are almost racial. Kaletsky, echoing opponents to German reunification such as Margaret Thatcher, identifies Germany as a threat by virtue of its existence. ‘Nobody should be surprised that Germany has become the greatest threat to Europe. After all, this has happened twice before since 1914… Germany is too big and powerful to coexist comfortably with its European neighbours in any political structure ruled purely by national interests’, he argues.
The idea that Germany can only be allowed to exist if it is caged or neutered was the driving force behind the treaties that gave rise to the EU and the Euro. In his book The Euro (2011), David Marsh recounts how Thatcher met François Mitterrand, the then Socialist French president, two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to discuss Germany. President Mitterrand’s aide, Elisabeth Guigou, reported that Thatcher asked whether Mitterrand feared being oppressed by a reunited Germany. Mitterrand replied, with a reference to the strength of the German Deutsche Mark, that ‘without a common currency, we are all of us already subordinate to the Germans’ will’. In other words, a Euro was needed to contain Germany’s power.
A few weeks later, Thatcher and Mitterrand were horrified when Helmut Kohl, the then West German chancellor, announced his country’s reunification without entering into negotiations with the EU. In other words, Kohl was a bad European when he put Germany’s self-interest before the EU’s emerging forms of bureaucratic statecraft. To be a good European, Kohl should have sought permission first. ‘The road to German unity, as we all know, cannot be planned in the abstract or with an engagement calendar in hand’, Kohl told the Bundestag on 28 November 1989.
Thatcher and Mitterrand vs Germany
Recently released UK Foreign Office archives show that Thatcher secretly told Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, her Cold War enemy, that her first priority was the stability of the Soviet Union and its borders. ‘We do not want a united Germany’, she said. ‘This would lead to a change to postwar borders and we cannot allow that because such a development would undermine the stability of the whole international situation and could endanger our security.’
Sir Stephen Wall’s book, A Stranger in Europe (2008), showed that Thatcher was not alone in hoping the Soviet Union would nip in the bud the mass protests that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. ‘The unexpectedly rapid pace caught the political class by surprise, here as elsewhere. I need hardly refer to the meeting of minds between our prime minister and the French president. Mitterrand’s early hopes of Soviet resistance were disappointed’, explained Sir Ewen Fergusson, the British ambassador to Paris, in a secret 1991 Foreign Office telegram.
Thatcher, at least, was open about her reasoning: ‘There was – and still is – a tendency to regard the “German problem” as something too delicate for well-brought-up politicians to discuss.’ But Thatcher’s honesty – to the point of bigotry – was already being overtaken by more secretive, diplomatic negotiations to create an EU and an Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) to bind Germany into a higher European order. Far from being a triumph in European idealism, the Euro was the creation of European leaders who had hoped that the Soviet Union would snuff out German reunification.
Wall’s book gives a fascinating account of the pre-Maastricht negotiations aimed at weakening Germany. ‘Unease over Germany translates into an almost obsessive anxiety to contain them within reinforced European structures as quickly and thoroughly as possible’, reported Fergusson. ‘The clearest example is [France’s] determination to press quickly ahead with EMU as a means of getting a handle on German monetary policy before their economy recovers its former vigour [after reunification] and lest Kohl’s Europeanist policies be replaced with more assertive nationalist ones… Concern about the future direction Germany may take has resulted in France trying to tie Germany into reinforced European structures as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.’
The Euro was created by the self-declared enemies of German reunification to neuter Germany. Are today’s cheerleaders of Eurobonds and fiscal union any different? It was when Germany was a good European, signing up to Maastricht in return for reunification, that the most malign and dangerous chain of events in recent European history was set in motion. The new anti-German brigade wants to do to Germany what has been done to Greece, by imposing a punitive EU order on Europe’s biggest country and most successful economy. Do they really believe that transforming the Treaty of Maastricht into one more like that of Versailles will solve Europe’s problems?
A German cult of austerity?
In a complete inversion of reality, today’s pro-European anti-Germans now claim that the Euro is the means by which an evil Germany, led by the Hitlerian Merkel, imposes austerity on its helpless European victims. No wonder Kaletsky went on to attribute remarks made by a German MP and disavowed by Merkel, to Merkel herself. ‘Merkel’s stated goal is now to create a “German Europe”, with every nation living, working and running its government according to German rules’, he said.
I have been critical of the German economic model and Germany’s own Euro-fuelled bubble. The structures created by the Euro and the evolution of the EU as a flight from accountability by Europe’s elites, including Germany’s, have been highly destructive. But Merkel’s heartfelt belief that if other countries ‘did their homework’, like the Germans do, then there would be no crisis is a comforting home-spun myth, not a blueprint for European domination. The austerity programme being inflicted on Greece is not German in origin but springs from the EU’s structures that were created to bind Germany. Greeks, Italians, Spaniards or French people wanting to escape austerity would be better off criticising the Euro than Germany.
The rules that Merkel wants her fiskalpakt to enshrine into national constitutions were not dreamt up in Berlin. They are the rules already set out in the Treaty of Maastricht that created the Euro. In fact, they are rules that resulted from British and French efforts to hobble Germany inside the Treaty of Maastricht. As noted elsewhere, the authoritarianism of the EU is best expressed in its lingua franca, English, with the mantra There Is No Alternative. The EU is far more dangerous than a straightforward expression of German hegemony because its political culture is common to all Europe’s elites.
The particular character of the postwar German state, long dictated to by foreign powers hostile to reunification, means it has become more bound than any other nation to EU statecraft and institutions. Germany is too weak, not too strong; Berlin is too slavish to the EU. Historically, monetarist austerity is the independent institutional form – through Maastricht’s Stability and Growth Pact – that the EU has taken. Europe’s policies are not German but rather result from the European ‘method’: to ensure that questions of interest are defined by the EU’s bureaucratic statecraft and not political contest or self-interest.
Will the current economic crisis really be over if Germany takes on the debts of Greeks, the French or anyone else? Does anyone really believe that? If Germany and the ECB start buying up Italian and Spanish bonds to lower borrowing costs, will those economies be any healthier as a result? The new Eurobond agenda pushed by President Hollande and Mario Monti, Italy’s technocrat prime minister, is, if anything, more infantile than the idea that dot-to-dot austerity is the answer.
Germans are right to be resistant to the idea that their country should surrender control over its wealth to EU institutions. It is dishonest to try to con other Europeans with the promise of easy German money as an alternative to the hard path of economic reforms, including public-led investment, that Europe needs to take. Merkel might be wrong on internal devaluation but she is right not to flush Germany’s economy down the toilet to please Hollande and the fiscal stimulus cheerleaders.
Besides, wealth is created by people’s labours, not EU structures or the same cheap credit, subsidised by Germany’s economy, that created so many of the current problems. That the EU’s economic policies are destructive to the real economy is not Germany’s fault. It is the fault of those who padlocked Europe’s economies and societies into a Euro straitjacket designed to bind Germany. And now, the shrill anti-Germans want to tighten the straps.
‘No saviour from on high’
It seems that some believe Germany owes the world a living and must sacrifice its economy to prop up the Euro, a single EU currency with roots in a British and French mission to neuter the German nation state after reunification 21 years ago.
Intense pressure this week to make Merkel surrender her opposition to Eurobonds, and other forms of debt sharing, reveal the EU as a form of escapism, a refuge where countries such as Britain, France, Italy or Spain do not have to take responsibility for their actions. The idea that the Euro is in crisis because Germany has refused to take on debts run up by other countries is profoundly dishonest and wrong. Yet this view is being peddled by the G20 and by the British, French and Italian governments.
To peddle the idea of Germany as saviour is to hide from the tasks that really confront European societies. The real distorting principles and injustices at the heart of the EU and its single currency grew out of the historical mission, shared by the EU founding fathers as well as British Eurosceptics, to make Germany pay for its reunification.
As I argued in an essay last year, the EU’s crisis stems from a destructive attempt by Europe’s elites to save out-of-date institutions. Greece has been sacrificed to that aim. Now, to sacrifice Germany on the same altar will not only intensify an economic spiral that is leading to a crash; it will push European states father away from principles of democratic accountability. Over the past year, the destruction of the demos in Greece heralded a new and dangerous trend in European politics. The campaign to make Germany give up self-determination to the bureaucratic EU order represents an even more perilous moment.
Those of us who supported, and continue to support, Greece in the face of the universal demands, including threats made by Germany, that it submit to the EU order, need now to be consistent in defence of self-determination. An EU strong enough to snuff out the politics of self-interest in Germany would be a formidable structure pitted against the practices of democracy and self-determination that Europe needs in order to build its future.
Bruno Waterfield is Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph and author of E-Who? Politics Behind Closed Doors, published by the Manifesto Club.