Talking of poor diplomacy . . . According to an ECB review, the per capita net wealth of Germans is lower than that of their EU counterparts in Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. Der Spiegel welcomed this news with the headline “The lie of poverty. How crisis-stricken European countries are hiding fortunes”. The accompanying cartoon showed a southern European riding a donkey with panniers overloaded with euro notes. I guess stuff like this contributes to the view that “A German EU is triumphing economically but failing politically”.
As I've said a few times, the Spanish are the best apologisers on the planet and usually look as if they mean their florid forgive-me's. Maybe this comes simply from practice, after a lifetime of apologising to people who've been upset by your acts of selfishness or thoughtlessness. But, anyway, I believe I've detected the one transgression for which no one apologises. Indeed, the opposite can happen, when the transgressor becomes verbally aggressive. This is when someone takes someone else to task for blocking their passage by chatting to a friend. And this can be whether the conversation is taking place in an entrance, on the pavement or in the middle of a road. If the aggrieved party should show any impatience, he or she is likely to be met with a verbal insult and a contemptuous wave of the arm. To show that he or she is breaking a fundamental rule of Spanish life – Talking is paramount.
Wednesday was a bank holiday here. But yesterday wasn't and neither was today. Nonetheless, my perception was that the town and the roads were busier than usual and my suspicion is that many people were indulging in another Spanish custom, that of making a 'bridge' between the real holiday (Wednesday) and the weekend. I do hope no Germans were watching this flagrant holiday-making and seeing it as evidence of Spanish laziness.
While typing this post, I took this call:-
Hello. Is that José Luis?
Is it José Fernandez?
Who are you?
More to the point, who are you?
Someone called me from this number.
No they didn't
I'm trying to contact José Luis or José Fernandez. Are you José Luis or José Fernandez?
No, I'm not.
Perhaps I mis-dialled the number. Is this your number xxxxxxxx?
Yes, it is.
But you're not José Luis or José Fernandez?
I listened to a discussion today between three people of different faiths. The subject was a 'just war'. They all agreed in general that there could be a just war but they differed in their views on a particular war. For God it seems - in his capacity as the Cosmic Joker - had given each of their faiths different criteria. Which must make sense to someone, if only Him.
Finally . . . According to Joschka Fischer, former Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany:- “This crisis threatens to destroy the EU and the only way to save it is to apply solidarity to the debt and, in general, to cede more sovereignty. It's not known whether France or Germany are disposed to do this”.
Here's a Google translation of the rest of his article. You may or may not like his prescription of a fiscal and banking union as the solution but I think we can all agree with him on the size and nature of the problem:-
A few weeks ago it seemed that the worst of the European financial crisis was behind them and that was approaching a return to stability. But appearances deceive. A problem that (at least in relative terms) could have been lower, that of Cyprus, was combined with an almost incredible degree of incompetence on the part of the troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) and became a major crisis.
Although markets remained calm, the Cyprus crisis laid bare the full extent of the political disaster caused by the eurozone crisis: European Union is disintegrating from the core. Today, Europeans face a crisis of confidence in Europe that can not be resolved with further injection of liquidity by the ECB and therefore is much more dangerous than a relapse of the markets.
Europe had in the past a political order based on competition, distrust, conflict of powers and, ultimately, the war between sovereign states. That order collapsed on May 8, 1945 and in its place came another system based on mutual trust, solidarity, the rule of law and the pursuit of negotiated solutions. But now that the crisis is undermining the foundations of this order, the trust becomes distrust, solidarity succumbs to old prejudices (and even before new hatreds between southern poor and northern rich) and give way to a negotiated external imposition. And once again Germany plays a key role in this process of disintegration.
Sooner or later one of the great crisis reject the austerity imposed from outside
This is because to resolve the eurozone crisis Germany (which is by far the strongest economy in the EU) imposed the same strategy that worked for her in the early millennium, but internal and external economic conditions are totally different. For southern European countries hit by the crisis the formula defended by Germany, with its mix of austerity and structural reforms, is proving deadly because they lack two key components: debt forgiveness and growth.
Sooner or later, one of the major European countries in crisis political leaders will choose not to accept any longer the austerity measures imposed from outside. Even now, at election time, national governments more or less openly promise to protect their citizens from Europe because Germany has ensured that the main ingredients of the recipe for resolving the crisis are: austerity and structural reforms.
The effects of the thesis that southern Europe had to be treated with "severity" for their own good (because, otherwise, everything would remain the same) are obvious. So severe was the treatment that it caused a rapid downturn, massive unemployment (above 50% among young people) and a continued deterioration in the fiscal situation by increasing the cost of debt interest. In fact, at this time all eurozone countries were experiencing insufficient economic growth or outright recession.
What does Germany want? We cannot demand that all of Europe conforms to Germany and the German political class lacks the courage and determination to try to conform Germany to Europe. The question is: Does Germany want to keep the monetary union and, with it, the European Union, or leave things so that doubt and a lack of vision accelerate erosion of the foundations of Europe?
In this crisis, decisions surrendered to actions (or lack thereof). Recently, “The International Herald Tribune” quoted the words of Winston Churchill: "It is not enough to do our best, sometimes you have to do what is necessary." That is precisely what we need to do in Europe and the eurozone.
It has long been known what is necessary. The price for the survival of the monetary union and the European project is to expand the communitarian sphere via the creation of a banking union, a fiscal union and a political union. Those who oppose these changes because they fear shared responsibility, the transfer of resources from the rich to the poor and the loss of national sovereignty will have to accept the renationalisation of Europe and with it, the loss of international prominence. There is no alternative (and, indeed, the status quo will serve for nothing either).
In Europe everyone knows that the current crisis with either destroy the European Union or produce a political union and that the only way to save the euro includes solidarity over debts already incurred and a future partial debt mutualisation. These measures necessarily involve large transfers of sovereignty. Is Germany ready for it (or, for that matter, France)?
National politicians are responsible, in part, for failures that are attributed to Brussels.
The real crisis of the EU and monetary union is not of a financial but a political nature; more precisely, it is a leadership crisis. All European capitals suffer from a notorious lack of vision, courage and firmness of purpose, but this applies especially to Berlin (and both the government and the opposition).
European National politicians never cease to criticize the EU for its lack of political legitimacy; but they are partly responsible for the object of their accusations. Or is that the pro-europeans are now so cowed and discouraged that they prefer to relinquish command to populist and nationalist anti-Europeans? If so, it will be a disaster, because the crisis is too deep to admit of a technocratic solution.
Germany is preparing for a national election in which (more or less as happened in France during the presidential elections last year) the European crisis does not figure, or at most it has a secondary role. Both the government and the opposition believe that it is best to wait until the day after the election to tell people the truth about the most important question (and then only in dribs and drabs).
Getting to that extreme would make democracy a farce. But maybe things will turn out very differently: it may be that the dynamics of the European crisis derail the plans of German politicians. There may still be some unpleasant surprise and, from where we are, maybe that's the main hope for Europe.