Berlin Must Choose Between Europe and Isolation

di Joschka FischerIl Sole 24 Ore del 07.06.2012

The situation in Europe is grave, very grave. Who would have ever thought that the British premier, David Cameron, would have urged the euro zone governments to find the courage to create a union of the spending and budget policies, with a common budget and fiscal policy and a public debt collectively guaranteed by all of the monetary union’s countries? And Cameron also stated that the only path that avoids the end of the euro is to progress toward an increased political integration.

A British prime minister, and what’s more, a conservative! The European house is on fire and Downing Street is courteously asking the firefighters to provide a rational and resolute response. Too bad the firefighters are led by Germany and that Germany is led by Chancellor Angela Merkel. The outcome is that Europe keeps on trying to put out the flames by pouring gasoline (the austerity imposed by Berlin) on them, with the result that over the course of just three years, the euro zone’s financial crisis turned into the European existential crisis. Let’s buy into illusions: if the euro should fall to pieces, so will the European Union (the world’s largest economy), giving rise to a global economic crisis of the kind that no one currently alive has ever experienced. Europe is at the edge of the cliff and will fall into it headfirst if Germany—and France—don’t give swerve.

The recent elections in France and Greece, combined with the administrative elections in Italy and the persistent difficulties in Spain and Ireland, have shown that the citizens have lost faith in the rigid austerity imposed by Germany. The deadly Merkelian shock therapy clashed with reality (and with democracy).

Once again we are learning the hard way that this type of austerity, if applied in the midst of a great financial crisis, only helps to plummet us into an economic depression. We thought that by now, this notion would have been part of the common sense of the collective consciousness—one of the main lessons drawn from the policies of rigor enacted by American President Herber Hoover and by Chancellor Heinrich Brüning of the Weimar Republic in the early ’30s. Instead, it seems that it is Germany itself that has forgotten the lesson. The consequence is that Greece is on the edge of chaos, and the possibility of a panic crisis and a storming of bank teller windows looms in Spain, Italy and France, which would be followed by a financial avalanche that would bury all of Europe. And then? We have to erase that which more than two generations of Europeans have created, a colossal investment in the construction of institutions that have brought about the longest period of peace and prosperity in the continent’s history?

One thing is sure: a breaking of the euro and of the European market would mean Europe’s exit from the global scene. The policy currently pursued by Germany is all the more absurd if one thinks about the drastic political and economic consequences it would have to face. The future or our continent is in the hands of Germany and France, of Chancellor Merkel and of President François Hollande. Europe’s safety now depends on a drastic change of course by Berlin regarding economic policy and by Paris’s position on political integration and structural reforms.

France will have to agree to a political union: a common government with a common parliamentary control for the euro zone. The national governments of the euro zone already act in unison, as a de facto executive, to face the crisis. We need to formalize and advance what is, in practice, progressively turning into a fact.

Germany, for its part, will have to opt for a union of spending and budget policies, which, at the heart of it, means guaranteeing the survival of the euro zone through Germany’s economic power: unlimited purchases by the European Central Bank of state stocks of the countries experiencing crisis, Europization of the national debts through euro bonds, and development plans to avoid the risk of a depression in the euro zone and to relaunch recovery.

I can almost hear the insults that would emanate from Germany if it is faced with such a program: even more debt! Loss of control over our economy! Inflation! It cannot work! It’s not true: it works. The German growth, buoyed by exports, is based on similar programs in emerging countries and in the United States. If China and the U.S. had not been pumping money (partially financed by debt) into their economies since 2009, Germany would not be getting along so well economically. The Germans must now ask themselves if they, who profited more than any other country from the European integration, are willing to pay the price for that integration or if they prefer to let it fail.

Beyond the political and budgetary union and the policies for growth in the medium term, Europeans are in dire need of structural reforms that reestablish the competiveness of the old continent. Each of these pillars is indispensable for overcoming the European crisis. Are we Germans aware of the pan-European responsibility that we are charged with? It definitely does not appear so. In fact, Germany has rarely been as isolated as it is today. Almost no one manages to understand our dogmatic policy of rigor, which contradicts all concrete experiences. Furthermore, our positions are far from—in fact, in open conflict with—the dominant perspectives. It is not too late to change course, but the time left at our disposal is counted in days and weeks, maybe months, certainly not years.

Germany destroyed itself—and European order—twice during the 20th century and then convinced the West that it had drawn the correct conclusions from those experiences. This was the only method, which reached its apex with the embrace of the European project, that allowed Germany to snag the agreement to its reunification. It would be both tragic and paradoxical if the reborn Germany, through peaceful means and with the best intentions, were to shatter the European order a the third time.

Fonte: Il Sole 24 Ore

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