#BTW17

To lead Europe Germany needs to come to terms with its crucial role in it

National elections naturally concentrate on national issues. But Germany, whose role in Europe is absolutely pivotal, had a duty to itself vigorously to debate its role in, and proposals for, shaping Europe’s future. It is, thus, greatly disappointing that the federal election campaign now drawing to a close has been so parochial, so empty of any serious debate on Europe, on the eurozone, on all that Berlin needs to do to stabilise the political and economic environment in which Germans live and dream of a better future.
It is commonplace amongst Europeanists to admonish the provincialism of the political debate in Britain that not only yielded Brexit but also ensured a process of leaving the EU that is detrimental to the interests of the people of Britain, especially the young. But was the quality of the debate during this German election debate any better? Politicians clashed on radio and television, delivered speeches to their constituents, wrote articles in newspapers as if Europe was something ‘out there’ that did not really concern them.
German friends with their finger on German society’s pulse tell me that Mrs Merkel will be returned because they trust her to insulate them from the ‘bad stuff’ happening elsewhere in Europe. The feeling that “Germany is doing alright” under the Chancellor’s pragmatic project of maintaining the status quo is what will prevail on Election Day. However, this belief is predicated upon a dangerously false assumption: that Germany’s stability and prosperity can be reproduced within the European Union’s current dynamic, as long as Berlin manages to impose the ‘rules’ more strictly.
The greatest threat from this misconception is falling upon the youth of the country. Young Germans crave to be good citizens of Europe. They want to traverse European borders and feel that they are Italians in Italy, French in France, and even Greeks in Greece. This is a splendid sentiment which must be encouraged and honed. It is, indeed, in concert with the spirit of radical internationalism that our Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM25, espouses. Alas, it is a sentiment that the current pre-election debates put in jeopardy by giving the politicians who will be in government soon the false signal that Germany can stay more or less as she is in a Europe that stays more or less as she is.
For several decades, Germany had the privilege of being free to allow itself to behave as Europe’s gleaming, efficient, quality-product producing workshop. And so it was, and remains. However, this privilege, this freedom, was underpinned by the fact that someone else was securing enough global demand for Europe’s quintessential workshop: the United States of America. Between the early 1950s and 2008, it was America’s freedom from deficit-phobia that created enough global demand for German, Dutch, Japanese and, later, Chinese factories to keep churning out their products and find buyers for them with enough money to pay above-cost prices.
It was during those times, when global demand was managed by America, that the German economic miracle took place and the European Union was made possible. We Europeans love to think of our Union as a European achievement. While we can be proud of it, the truth is that it was the Americans who provided the macro-economic environment in which the miracles of Europe and Germany could flourish. It was in that world that ordoliberalism made sense.
Alas, in 2008 the United States lost its capacity to keep stirring up enough demand for the net exports of the economies basing their economic model on large trade surpluses. Which means that Germany’s time honoured refusal to replace the United States, at least within Europe, as the manager-in-chief of aggregate demand will sooner or later destabilise the German economy. The roots of this discontent are already growing into forests of disgruntlement around Europe. Left unattended, their poisonous blossoms will prevent young Germans from fulfilling their dream of a pan-European citizenship.
This is why it is so very pressing that ordoliberalism, whose time has passed, must be abandoned and be replaced by a progressive, macroeconomically sensible, pan-European economic and social agenda. Casting an eye on the current political terrain, hours before the polls open, the only political forces that I see as being in tune with this are Die Linke, as personified by Katja Kipping, and elements of the Greens who have not yet been co-opted by the ordoliberal or pro-Diesel lobbies within that party.
 
Article originally published in freitag.de
 

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