Germany should admit its part in causing European crises, says former minister


Two leading figures have asked Germans to look a little more critically at themselves, writes DEREK SCALLY

THE EU is facing “creeping death” unless Germany seizes the eurozone crisis as a chance for final European integration, German philosopher Jürgen Habermas and former foreign minister Joschka Fischer have warned.

Mr Fischer said Berlin was being disingenuous in factoring out the culpability of German banks – particularly state-owned institutions – in the Irish financial crisis.

“We are currently going about sinking 50 years of European history,” said Prof Habermas at a Berlin event organised by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Under the “Europe-sceptic Angela Merkel”, he said, Germany had ditched its “European vocation” in favour of a “blatant leadership claim of a European Germany in a German-influenced Europe”. The irony of this, he said, was that Germany wanted to assume a leading role in the EU precisely at the point where Berlin had lost its European compass.

“Awareness of a historical-moral obligation was the source (in the EU) of German restraint and readiness to adopt the position of others and to defuse conflicts through advance payments,” he said. Pointing to the recently agreed EU austerity measures, he said: “The economic package ... was put together with so little sensitivity by the economic model student that neigbours no longer talk of not wanting a Brussels political model imposed on them rather a German political model.”

European political discussion in Germany had, he said, been degraded to “opinion poll-driven opportunism” and “driving-by-sight, compass-free politics”.

“Since 2005 the contours are melting away, one can no longer see what it’s about, and whether it’s about more than electoral success,” he said. “Citizens notice with politics hollow of normative meaning that something is being kept from them.”

Mr Fischer agreed that “serious leadership failure” in Berlin had stalled the EU integration motor, which was now “in danger of running out of steam”.

“If Germany no longer sees integration as its greatest interest, the EU will not just stagnate but decline,” he said. The time had come to take the bull by the horns and make a final push for European integration.

“I think the people who want Europe should come out and say where they want to be,” he said. “The goal isn’t something diffuse, the child needs a name. What we are talking about here is the realisation of the United States of Europe.”

One element preventing this was, he said, growing resentment caused by the failure of German politicians – by omission rather than design – to explain to their voters Germany’s role in the Greek and Irish crises.

“In the backrooms in Dublin it was our (state-owned) Landesbanks earning all the money to the delight of our state governments of all political persuasions. No one tells the people here that part,” he said. “I don’t see in this a master plan, but a bit of the reality is being kept from view. Ireland could have gotten away well if Brian Cowen had said, ‘we will save Irish banks but English Banks and German banks are not our problem’.”

Economics professor Henrik Enderlein went further, saying Dr Merkel’s government was “hushing up on purpose” German involvement.

“It’s clear German state-owned banks are a key issue in the (Irish) problem,” he said. “But if this got out into the open we’d have a problem with five state governors and if the German federal system needed to become part of solving European difficulties, then we would have a real problem.”