May 11, 2013
Since its reunification 22 years ago, Germany has become the leading economic power in Europe. The sovereign debt crisis has offered it the opportunity to translate economic might into political clout within the EU. Problem is, as the austerity policies currently ravaging the continent illustrate, German politicians – from both the right and the New Left – are rather ill-prepared for such a responsible role.
This assessment belongs to former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who in 2011 cautioned his party and conationals against issuing economic diktats and against insensitivity to the plight of other, economically less fortunate, EU members (speech re-published by Alternatives Economiques in 2012). He mentioned the fact that the German trade surplus had been obtained at the expense of other countries’ deficits. (Gerhard Schröder labour market reforms prevent Germany from acting as consumer of last resort in Europe, as the purchasing power of millions of Germans has suffered severe reductions over the past few years. The current leadership’s refusal to introduce a minimum hourly wage and its insistence on the imposition of draconian austerity packages in Southern Europe have greatly unsettled a majority of its partners within the Union).
In this election year, German politicians would therefore be wise to keep in mind Helmut Schmidt’s sensible advice:
“Taking into account our central geopolitical position, our unfortunate role in European history until the middle of the 20th century, as well as our current economic performance, the German government has to take the particular care of the interests of our European partners. Such altruism is indispensable.”