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Tue Apr 13th, 2010 at 05:42:33 AM EST
France and Germany traditionally have been the "motor" of the European Union, but relations between the two countries are badly strained over the Greek debt crisis, which is just the latest example of a new German willingness to resist the demands of Europe and assert its self-interest under Chancellor Angela Merkel.
All apparently is not well in the EU household, according to a New York Times article yesterday that describes the contrasting and conflicting outlooks and agendas of France and Germany with respect to how to deal with the Greek fiasco, among other things.
The article is based on quotes with "experts" and articles in the European press --
"Germany is no longer, as a matter of course or of principle, the motor, heart and savior of Europe," said Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. "This isn't the Europe we signed up for. It's much larger, much poorer, and we have to take care of our own."
"People want to be normal, in the sense that other people don't come to us first and say, `You have to pay.' And it doesn't have much to do with political orientation. All of us are huddling with our backs against the storm."
"We sublimated hegemony," said Ms. [Ulrike Guérot, a senior research fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations] Guérot, a German who is working on a paper called "Germany Unbound." "But we're dropping the sublimation now." She laughed, then said: "Of course, this doesn't sound nice to others."
"With the French we have more that divides us than unites us," Ms. Guérot said.
Germans, who have already undergone a wrenching structural reform and paid a huge bill to integrate the former eastern Germany, say they feel that "they're paying a significant personal price," [European Council on Foreign Relations Editorial Director and Head of the Paris Office] Mr. Thomas] Klau said. "Poverty has increased considerably in Germany and is now a social reality. And it makes Germany more inward-looking than the old West Germany, and a more defensive country."
-- as well as anonymous officials --
Mr. Sarkozy yelled at the European Union president, Herman Van Rompuy, whom he summoned to Paris, European Union officials said. He threatened to boycott the summit meeting, while muttering that the Germans "haven't changed," according to French officials.
-- as well as an opinion piece in Le Monde by "Jacques-Pierre Gougeon, a Germany specialist at the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations":
[In fact, French criticism of German economic policy goes beyond the strictly economic and reveals a more profound malaise. Indeed, if the criticism expressed by French minister of economy and finances Christine Lagarde with regards to Germany's "non-cooperative" policy was dressed up in the guise of the righteous cause of Europe -- repeating, actually, the reproaches expressed more discreetly by other European capitals -- it just as much] expresses a French malaise toward the growing gap between the two economies, and more generally toward this new Germany without which nothing is possible anymore in Europe, and which seems less and less likely to compromise if not in its national interests.
[Bracketed portion of quote my own translation].
The article suggests that this German uppitiness is in part due to the current generation of German leaders losing touch with their country's proper place in the aftermath of the Second World War:
Part of the change is generational, with Mrs. Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, representing those born after World War II, with only anecdotal knowledge of Nazi Germany. The members of Parliament are even younger, many of them teenagers or younger when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
So the German leadership paradigm from Konrad Adenauer through Helmut Kohl -- roughly 1949 to 1989, when Germany was a crucial junior partner both for NATO and European integration -- is gone. "When Germany steps out of the film, it changes," Ms. Guérot said.
Looking for a German perspective on this issue, and on the Greek crisis, I found an article in Die Welt about the recent bail-out proposal announced for Greece last Sunday, a bitter FAQ on the issue which rings with skepticism and even resentfulness:
|Nur eine Atempause für Athen | Florian Hassel und Stefanie Bolzen - Die Zeit (13. April 2010, 04:00 Uhr)||Just a Pause for Breath for Athens | Florian Hassel and Stefanie Bolzen - Die Zeit (April 13, 2010, 4:00 AM)|
|Die Kreditlinie der Euroländer bringt kurzfristig Entlastung - doch langfristige Probleme sind ungelöst||The Euro countries' credit line brings short-term relief -- but long-term problems remain unsolved|
|30 Milliarden Euro für Griechenland, dazu milliardenschwere Hil-fe des Internationalen Währungsfonds. Seit am Sonntag EU-Währungskommissar Olli Rehn und der Präsident der Eurogruppe, Jean-Claude Juncker, das Ergebnis fieberhafter Beratungen zwischen den Euroländern bekannt gaben, steht fest: Das hoch verschuldete Griechenland wird nun doch von der Eurozone rausgekauft - allen voran von Deutschland. Doch der Teufel steckt im Detail: Bisher steht weder fest, ob die Griechen Hilfe überhaupt in Anspruch nehmen, noch, was sie als Gegenleistung tun müssen. Die WELT gibt Antworten auf die wichtigsten Fragen. ...|
|30 billion Euros for Greece, plus billions worth of help from the International Monetary Fund. Since European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Olli Rehn and Euro Group president Jean-Claude Juncker announced the outcome of feverish discussions among Euro countries, one thing has been certain: Deeply indebted Greece will yet be bought out by the Eurozone -- first and foremost by Germany. And yet the devil is in the details: it is still not certain whether the Greeks will even take advange of the offer for help, nor what they would have to do in return. Die Welt provides answers to the most important questions. ...|
Professor Gougeon's Le Monde piece lays out a series of points that illustrate the striking robustness of Germany's economy, even in the face of the current crisis:
|Non-dit franco-allemand, par Jacques-Pierre Gougeon | Le Monde (05.04.10 | 13h39)||What's Left Unsaid about France and Germany, by Jacques-Pierre Gougeon | Le Monde (April 4, 2010 | 13:39)|
|... le déficit public allemand atteignait 0 % du PIB en 2008 et 3,1% en 2009, celui de la France respectivement 3,4% et 8,2% ; l'excédent commercial allemand s'élevait à 135 milliards d'euros en 2009, le déficit français à 43 milliards ; la part de marché des exportations allemandes au sein de la zone euro est passée, entre 2000 et 2009, de 25 % à 28 %, celle des exportations françaises de 16 % à 13 % ; l'Allemagne est parvenue à conserver une industrie forte, fer de lance de ses exportations et représentant 26 % de son PIB, en augmentation depuis 2000, contre 14 % pour la France, chiffre en net recul ; l'Allemagne consacre 2,6 % de son PIB à la recherche et au développement, la France 2%.||... the German public deficit reached 0% in 2008 and 3.1% in 2009, that of France 3.4% and 8.2% respectively; while Germany's trade surplus grew to 135 billion euros in 2009, France's trade deficit grew to 43 billion; German export market share in the heart of the euro zone went from 25% in 2000 to 28% in 2009, France's from 16% to 13%; Germany has managed to maintain a strong industry, the spearhead of its exports and representing 26% of its GDP, an increase since 2000, in contrast to 14% in France, where that number is declining; Germany spends 2.6% of its GDP on research and development, France 2%.|
| Signe des temps : depuis 2008, l'Allemagne a détrôné la France du rang de troisième exportateur mondial de produits agricoles et agroalimentaires. Même ce qui avait longtemps constitué un avantage pour l'économie française, le coût élevé de la main-d'oeuvre allemande, n'existe plus puisque dorénavant une heure travaillée dans le secteur marchand a un coût supérieur de 10 % en France comparé à l'Allemagne où le coût unitaire de la main-d'oeuvre a baissé depuis 2000 de 1,3 % contre une augmentation de 17 % en France. Même ce qui est vanté comme un modèle français de protection face à la crise connaît des limites : pour une récession deux fois plus importante que la France en 2009, l'Allemagne a vu son taux de chômage augmenter trois fois moins. ||Sign of the times: since 2008, Germany has dethroned France as the world's third largest exporter of agricultural and food industry products. Even the higher cost of labor in Germany, which had long been an advantage for the French economy, no longer exists, since now one work hour in the commercial sector costs 10% more in France than in Germany where the unit cost of labor has dropped by 1.3% since 2000 whereas it has risen 17% in France. Even that which is vaunted as a French model of protection against the crisis meets its limits: faced with a recession two times greater than France's, Germany saw its unemployment rate grow three times less.|
Can't help but make one sympathetic to Germany's Verbitterung about having the screws turned on them.
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