Rebellion of the Elites

BERLIN/MADRID |

BERLIN/MADRID (Own report) - A Spanish government advisor has sharply criticized German dictate in the Euro crisis. In a recent press article, José Ignacio Torreblanca, director of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), declared that some states, "led by Germany" are using the crisis to impose their economic model on other sovereign EU members. If this continues, the European Union will end up being, in the eyes of many Europeans, what the International Monetary Fund was for many Asian and Latin American countries in the 1980s and 1990s: a tool for the imposition of socially devastating economic measures, risking the "end of Europe." The German chancellor's demand, yesterday, that Greece and other Southern European countries significantly raise their retirement ages, serves as a confirmation of Torreblanca's criticism. The expert in Madrid expressed the suspicion that in light of its booming business, particularly with China, the south of Europe is seen as a hindrance to economic growth, that Berlin is no longer against throwing overboard. Torreblanca warns against a "new Germany," whose elites are in the process of losing their previous interest in Europe.

Torreblanca's article was published in the weekend edition of El País, Spain's largest daily and an English translation is also available.[1] Torreblanca is a professor at Madrid's Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED); he has headed the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) since 2007 and, previous to this appointment, was employed at the Spanish capital's renowned Elcano Royal Institute for International Affairs. In his article, he shows a great deal of sympathy for European integration - and warns that a policy, such as is promoted by Germany, would be seriously detrimental to the EU.

Admiration and Jealousy

Torreblanca recalls that a mere ten years ago, European integration was still in a powerful upswing. With the Euro, a common currency was introduced. With the Lisbon strategy, Brussels sought, within a few years, to become the most dynamic economic region in the world. A common foreign policy was initiated; even in the realm of domestic policy, further steps were initiated toward communitarization, including the incorporation of Eastern and Southeastern European nations, as well as Cyprus and Malta into the EU. All these activities were supposed to be crowned with an EU Constitution, which, even with minor concessions, but essentially identical to the Lisbon Treaty, could finally be passed. At that time, talk of Europe did "not provoke weariness or indifference, but rather admiration and even, in Washington, Beijing and Moscow, unconcealed jealousy."[2]

Blatently Racist

Torreblanca considers that the previous euphoric mood has turned completely sour. In numerous European countries, recently for example in Sweden and Finland, xenophobic forces have gained ground in elections; some have crossed the line from xenophobia to a blatantly racist discourse. Torreblanca uses the example of "Thilo Sarrazin."[3] In the discourse introduced by Sarrazin, one speaks of the "inferior intelligence of Muslims" dangerously evoking memories of how "the Nazis spoke of Jews, blacks and Slavs as 'Untermenschen'" (inferior human beings). The "values of tolerance and openness" are in doubt or even in retreat. The European response, in the face of the expulsion of Romanian Gypsies from France, was just as weak as that to the excesses regarding freedom of the press in the Hungarian Constitution or the "harassment of irregular immigrants in Italy." One can "expect little" from the EU in the form of humanism.

The IMF Image

Torreblaca sharply criticizes Berlin, in particular. Some states, "led by Germany" are using the Euro crisis to impose their economic model on other sovereign EU members. Those countries hardest hit are to be forced to comply with stringent austerity measures. These "solutions" are "presented hand-in-hand with moralizing and condescending preaching" - as if the deficit or surplus of a country reflected the "moral superiority or inferiority of a whole group of human beings." This version of the crisis must be contested, writes Torreblanca, it "risks the end of Europe." It threatens not only to totally strangle the national economies in question (german-foreign-policy.com reported [4]) but also damage the concerned population's perception. Because, if the European Union only imposes austerity programs, it will end up being in the eyes of many Europeans, what the International Monetary Fund was for many Asian and Latin American countries in the 1980s and 1990s: a tool for the imposition of socially devastating economic measures that lack any democratic legitimacy. It could be that this method "works," but the EU will suffer from "a severe democratic and identity deficit," warns Torreblanca.

Pure Colonialism

As if to provide confirmation of this warning, the German chancellor announced Wednesday that the countries of Southern Europe must immediately raise their retirement ages. "It is not only a question," declared Merkel, "that people in countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal should not go on retirement earlier than in Germany, but also that everyone must make the same effort."[5] Berlin has decided to raise the retirement age in Germany from 65 to 67. The countries in Southern Europe, according to Berlin, must follow suit. Hefty protests are being raised over this most recent German meddling. "That is pure colonialism," the president of the Portuguese CGTP trade union confederation is quoted as having said.[6] At the same time, the Greek government is giving in to German pressure - and has commissioned the Deutsche Bank to "advise" it in the privatization of Greek state property. Greece has been forced, primarily under German pressure,[7] to privatize 50 billion Euros worth of state property by 2015.

A New Germany

Torreblanca expressed the suspicion that the "new Germany" is losing interest in Europe, not least of all because of its booming business relations with Asia, particularly with China. This is relativizing the role of the EU - exports to China are on the verge of surpassing exports to France [8] - and, in Germany, is promoting the image of southern Europe being a "hindrance to growth." Whereas one usually is confronted with Euro-skeptical tendencies among the population, in the case of Germany, there is also, what could be called "a rebellion of the elites," where the EU no longer plays its previous role in their plans. "Can Europe break apart?" asks Torreblanca and answers: "yes, of course it can." The Spanish government advisor leaves no doubt about his holding Berlin, in particular, responsible for whether a break-up occurs or not. Germany, which had pursued European integration as long as it had served as an instrument for attaining global player status,[9] will decide whether this instrument is still useful - or if it can be easily discarded.

[1] José Ignacio Torreblanca: Cinco razones por las que Europa se resquebraja; www.elpais.com 15.05.2011. José Ignacio Torreblanca: Five reasons why Europe is cracking; www.elpais.com 15.05.2011
[2] Zitate hier und im Folgenden: José Ignacio Torreblanca: Five reasons why Europe is cracking; www.elpais.com 15.05.2011
[3] see also Herrschaftsreserve
[4] seee also From the Crisis, Into the Crisis
[5] Merkel fordert einheitliches Rentenalter; www.faz.net 18.05.2011
[6] Alarm im Club Med; www.spiegel.de 18.05.2011. Laut Angaben der EU beträgt das tatsächliche Renteneintrittsalter gegenwärtig in Griechenland 61,5 Jahre, in Deutschland 62,2 Jahre, in Spanien 62,3 Jahre und in Portugal 62,6 Jahre.
[7] see also Steil abwärts
[8] see also Intensifying the Pressure
[9] see also The will to world power and Potential of a World Power