Saturday, September 11, 2010

German Pride, EU Crisis, and the US

Check out this big-picture perspective on resurgent national pride in Germany from the New York Times.  The country that Jurgen Habermas once termed the "self-absorbed colussus," crippled with guilt over two world wars, the horrors of the Nazi-led Holocaust and global acrimony spanning generations is now staging a comeback -- to itself. 

The historically conflicted "German-German relationship" of its citizens could be showing signs of thaw, evident in new roles of German prominence from crisis-time leadership in the European Union, to its soccer team's success in this summer's World Cup to the current preponderance of German acts on European pop charts. From the article:

“Maybe it’s our time again,” said Catherine Mendle, 25, a school social worker strolling the grounds and halls of the square glass and concrete Chancellery building on a recent afternoon as part of a government open house. A military band played in the background, and Mrs. Merkel signed autographs for curious visitors.
“We have this extreme helper syndrome, to try to make the world love us again, and it’s completely overdone,” Ms. Mendle said. Germany, she said, had been reduced to simple stereotypes — Oktoberfest, auto factories, the Holocaust. Its rich traditions in music and literature, and its enduring emphasis on social welfare and a strong commitment to the environment, deserve more respect abroad and at home, Ms. Mendle said.

And this on German politics and history:

 "... Chancellor Angela Merkel has led a bloc of countries fending off President Obama’s calls for stimulus spending to combat the economic crisis, certain that the world should follow Germany’s example of austerity.
German pride did not die after the country’s defeat in World War II. Instead, like Sleeping Beauty in the Brothers Grimm version of the folk tale, it only fell into a deep slumber. The country has now awakened, ready to celebrate its economic ingenuity, its cultural treasures and the unsullied stretches of its history.

As Germany embarks on this journey of self-discovery, the question is whether it will leave behind a European project which was built in no small measure on the nation’s postwar guilt and on its pocketbook."

It remains to be seen how Germany will deal with its load of problems also shared throughout Europe. On integration, for example, a stark line is drawn between the assimilated and those who suffer the brunt of the global unemployment trend, including immigrants, like the Turkish manual laborers brought in en masse during the 1970s and after. Immigration remains today a question roiled by entrenched opinion, and the European demographics problem doesn't help. The German vision for economic recovery stands at loggerheads with the socialized economic thinking of France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere. 

The risk of playing the EU's rich daddy during the crisis, of course, is that other Europeans won't remedy their economic weaknesses exposed by the 2008 meltdown -- or worse yet, that Europe will come to expect German bail-outs at every hard turn -- both after the crisis and in the long run.

And what would such a reality mean for the United States? Frittered German cash means badly depleted EU capital, both of the economic and political kind. (And on the latter: ask an average American to name three EU leaders, they'll likely say "Uhh," "Hmm" and "What?") Skeptics and Euro-Doomers are already airing bold claims that "Europe is history" -- and that particular damning, from IHT editor-at-large Roger Cohen. 

A healthy future transatlantic relationship is not just a matter of national pride as with the Germans, a growing light within a confused-as-ever European palette. Both the US and Europe want to see a finished EU masterpiece -- not because it should be beautiful, but because it's vital to our common interests.

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