Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Damned if they do and damned if they don’t: please lay off the Germans. They really do mean well

In the beginning there were no greater Euro fans than the Germans, for reasons which have been well-rehearsed. They were also a, if not the, driving force behind the creation of the euro. They are one of the hardest and one of the best-managed nations in Europe and have a tendency to keep things tidy. For some reason it is a joke to many that the Germans value Ordnung, but the joke falls very flat indeed when you find yourself in deep in a situation where there is no Ordnung, as the unfortunate Greeks now do. But as one of the great Euro fans it is only right that they should shoulder some of the responsibility of how things have gone wrong. So why am I feeling very, very sorry indeed for all the abuse now being hurled at the Germans?

I have just read an interesting piece by Gideon Rachman in the FT in which he says Germans are slowly beginning to admit that the concept of the eurozone was fatally flawed: that in the long run a single currency would not and could not succeed unless all those in the eurozone belonged to a single state with all that entailed. Many people made that very point 12 years ago when the euro was established and were decried as little nationalists and killjoys. But here is not the place to shout, like kids in the schoolyard, ‘we told you so’. It would not only be impolite, but also utterly pointless: we’re in the shit and the priority is to get back out of the shit. Deciding who and what to blame can be done in many years’ time when the crisis is a matter of history. But it is interesting that influential Germans are now admitting that the whole euro project was flawed from the outset (and leave aside for now the important point that although a successful eurozone needed to be created in the context of a single state, creating that single Euro state would then, as now, have proved politically impossible to achieve.) In Rachman’s FT piece, he also quotes the head of Bosch as advocating that Greece should leave the eurozone. That, too, is a new development: until Christmas the very idea would not have been countenanced.

Solutions to the crisis - that is solving the crisis with the minimum damage - rest on Germany coughing up even more money and Germany agreeing to underwrite the debts of other eurozone members. Germany is adamant that it will not do the latter by agreeing to the creation of eurobonds and feels that not only would it be unfair to ask its taxpayers to pay up more, it is also politically impossible. I agree with them because I think the German position is the only sensible position. Unfortunately, many disagree, and when - not ‘when’ not if - the euro crisis explodes in sheer misery for millions throughout Europe, it is a very safe bet that Germany will come top of the list when appointing the scapegoats. And that is very, very unfair.

Predictably, images from Germany’s Nazi past are being hauled out of cold storage with Greek and Italian newspapers usually regarded as ‘serious’ and ‘respectable’ indulging in some of the worst behaviour. This, too, is wholly unfair. From where I sit, the very worst the Germans can be found guilty of is calling a spade a spade: they are inclined to speak their minds and that often comes over as tactlessnees. So when someone or other in Germany suggested that an EU-appointed commissar should oversee the Greek budget, this was immediately portrayed as a ‘renewed attempt by Germany to dominate Europe’. It would be funny if it were not so insulting. It is not a point one can prove, but of all the nations least interested in ‘dominating Europe’ it is the Germans. I think my German cousins would agree with me that the pervading sentiment in Germany is to lead as comfortable a life as possible, and ‘dominating Europe’ would not enable the Germans to lead a very comfortable life. Ah, I hear some of you cry, what about the Nazis. That’s a fair point. But perhaps you would allow me to ask: what about the Italian fascisti? What about Spain’s long dictatorship under Franco? What about Portugal’s long dictatorship under Salazar? What about the dictatorships, which lasted longer than the modest 12 years of Nazi rule in Germany, by the Communists in the then Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania? What about the Croatian fascists?

Are we all really so certain that every single last German in the country from 1933 to 1945 was wholeheartedly behind the Nazis? What happened to those on the Left, the communists and the socialist, all very active and who often engaged in street-fighting with the Nazis? Did they all, almost overnight, become convinced National Socialists? Do you know, I rather think not. Dredging up Nazi imagery and metaphors sells papers, most certainly - the British Daily Mail’s Simon Heffer has come out with some of the same crap, except that he is able to express himself in a more genteel fashion - but it is wholly unfair.

. . .

Just seen a trail for a programme on tonight: ‘Britain’s favourite supermarket food’ (ITV1 at 8pm). No doubt several tens of million viewers with rather more time than sense will be tuning in and congratulating themselves when a product is featured which they, too, ‘enjoy buying’. For God’s sake, get a fucking life. I won’t claim that the population is being dumbed-down because I think mankind, for the pas 300,000 years, has always had a dumb streak. So nothing really to worry about.. . .

A family visit to London tomorrow by the Powell family. They are coming up by train, and we shall spend the next two days visiting the Science Museum in South Kensington, Hamley’s in Regent St followed by Selfridges in Oxford St, and then go to a matinee performance of Billy Elliot in the afternoon before driving back home to Cornwall. I’m rather looking forward to it. It is all also costing me an arm and a leg.

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