2014: Europe as the problem

The dominant narrative of the crisis emerged from a view of Europe that existed from before 2008. Led predominantly by German voices, the political elites established an interpretation of the crisis in which they are now trapped.
By Dimitris Christopoulos

The German view of the crisis dominates in Europe. This is not only because Germany has the means with which to exert its influence (through its media, institutions, 'organic' intellectuals etc) but also because the majority of European societies were already predisposed to adopt it. The so called ‘German’ view of the crisis was, at least in some form, already integral to the way most European people perceived reality pre-crisis.

With this in mind then, to talk of a ‘German’ narrative is probably a crude generalisation. Firstly because, despite it being the majority view in Germany, there are some who don’t share it (the Left Social Democrats as well as majorities of the Green and the Left parties) and, secondly and more importantly, because inherent in its basic assumptions are various already well-established perceived differences between the European countries and particularly those of the South. In short, we are talking about what we have always talked about.

That Southerners are corrupt, for instance, is a dominant view in the majority of European (corrupt and not) living rooms, from Rome to Berlin and from Athens to Helsinki. This perception appears to accept as more corrupt those who receive bribes as opposed to those who give them, as it was not a rare occurrence - quite the opposite in fact - for a major financial scandal in the European South to have been funded by those in the North. The perception that Southerners are more spendthrift than the measured Northerners is also taken as a given, and indeed provides a starting point for many theories regarding recent European history and how relative scarcity in the South lead to overconsumption. Of course this fails to explain why the Germans of Hamburg rarely engage in overt displays of wealth, unlike their Bavarian counterparts who engage in ostentatious displays entirely comparable to the flashiest nouveaux-riche of Southern Europe.

Finally, the idea that some countries are a burden on others who pay more than their fair share is not the product of a recent PR campaign by the German chancellor’s press office, but amounts to a deep-seated belief regarding the balance of power and responsibility in Europe held by many since the 1980s. The gumption and cunning of certain politicians of the South resulted in their countries obtaining privileges disproportionate to what they contributed to the European whole, while the very fact that some countries became members of the then European Common Market is attributed to deft handling of the situation by certain political giants rather than the actual capabilities of their countries. The same, and worse, applies to the eurozone where the inclusion of certain countries, with Greece at the forefront, is attributed to trickery, while it is forgotten that whatever trickery there may have been failed to fool anybody. In other words, everybody knew the situation and, regardless, went ahead. And of course this doesn’t just have to do with ‘Greek statistics’ but the statistics of others as well.

The dominant narrative attributes much suffering to the fact that today’s Europe is lacking great leaders who would, like modern day Atlases, steady and lift a staggering Europe. Yet despite this there is someone the American president can call when, in the words attributed to Henry Kissinger, he wishes to ‘call Europe’: the German chancellor. It is the first time since the war that there is such an uneven distribution of power in Europe, that is such a concentration of power and capital in one country, and for that reason the majority of the chancellor’s European ‘partners’ (I put that word in quotes because it implies a relationship between equals which with such an imbalance of power has quite disappeared) believe that she has a rather short-sighted and selfish view of how the German national interest relates to Europe. After all it is no coincidence that of the leaders of the 12 member states that have had elections during the crisis she is the only one still in power. It is indicative that while none question her power none also fail to pay homage to her generosity. And in any case the theory that the economic giant of Germany is a political midget is not a product of the crisis, but of an older mentality. So just as the people get the leaders they deserve, so too has the situation created the leaders it deserves.

I have tried to summarize how Europe interprets its crisis today using the same tools that it formerly used to describe European normalcy. European nations have been raised on these tools for generations and so it is probably futile to hope for this to change now that belts are tightening. Because Europe, before giving birth to the euro was the cradle for the nation-state. And that, in all the urgency over the common currency, seems to have been forgotten. Just as it has been forgotten that the nation-state is the last refuge for frustrated, beaten and fearful citizens. Given that we are discussing Germany that is something worth remembering.

The European Right, in a rare show of political wisdom, took the charred remains of Europe following the Second World War and tried to turn them into a community. It struggled and to a degree it achieved it. Then it lost it. Now as the European Parliament elections are coming they’ll demand we acknowledge it.

When the European mind is preoccupied by money, and we forget our ugly history, that’s what we get.

So to everyone a good year, and a good memory.

Tuesday 7 January 2014
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