The New York Times – correctly – talks about German denial. The euro crisis is certainly present in the German media – especially in Der Spiegel and in newspapers focused on economics, like the Financial Times Deutschland and Handelsblatt – but while the crisis makes headlines in other countries, the broad majority of German media has being playing it down. There is reporting, a sprinkling of analyses and commentary, but no specials and not much of an attempt to put the crisis in political or historical perspective. The reporting is often tucked quietly away in economics sections. There is very little soul searching about Germany’s role in Europe. The cultural (“Feuilleton”) pages - which have often been at the forefront of past debates - are content with a little bit of capitalism-bashing. The German public sphere handles the crisis as if Germany were an island.
In fact Germans often handle the crisis as if they were spectators, not actors. The crisis for a long time was about them - especially 'lazy' Greeks - and not about us. The greater the pressure from outside, the stronger the rejection. German commentators discuss what they see as unfair bashing of Germany, and articles are written about what is seen as unfair treatment by (yes) British tabloids. What unites Germans is the sense that they are right. German success is well deserved, because of German virtues - so why should we pay others people's debts?
The euro crisis now, in its endgame, seems to boil down to one question: how much do Germans want to pay for the Euro? The answer is, at least if you look at the general mood: not very much. Already enough, or already too much.
This attitude is pointing Mrs Merkel towards a disaster. She cannot do what the world expects from her, which is to put Germany’s full weight behind the euro, thereby convincing the markets that the Eurozone is backed up by German economic might. On the other hand Merkel knows that we’re heading towards disaster. What she did in the past was give long-term promises to fight the short-term crisis: rebuilding the Eurozone architecture was meant to calm the markets, winning back the political initiative. But this tactic has failed so far - worse, it has probably exacerbated the crisis, because Merkel at the same time refused to tackle the short-term problems. It has become harder and harder to win back trust and confidence.
Many observers think that Merkel is ready for dramatic measures, and that she is just waiting for the crisis to become more acute, so that she can justify using German resources to their full extent to save the euro. But her calculation might not work, because the German media largely refuses to see the crisis as a fundamental threat to German prosperity and maybe even security. At the moment, it seems that international pressure is only strengthening a kind of passive-aggressive refusal of large parts of the German political and media elites to accept that Germany has no choice but to back up the euro with its full weight. This refusal has become one of the main reasons for the aggravation of the euro crisis in the last few weeks and months.
Ulrich Speck is an independent foreign policy analyst and commentator. He edits the website Global Europe (www.globeurope.com)
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