Teutonic Arrogance

ATHENS/BERLIN | | griechenland

ATHENS/BERLIN (Own report) - German politicians are reacting to the Greek government's call for a partial remission of its debts and its throwing the EU-Troika out of the country, with ultimatums. "Tsipras had better cease his attacks on Angela Merkel," threatened the European Parliament's President Martin Schulz (SPD). "Beating up on the Germans" is "shortsighted." State-financed German media organs are castigating Greece's newly elected head of state as "obstinate" and complaining that he "is jeering," "Germany is only one country among others." US experts warn that in the EU's crisis countries, the German austerity dictate has resulted in "a level of misery" "that surpasses the limits of tolerance for a democratic society," and suggest that Greece be dealt with pragmatically - a partial debt remission along the lines of the London Debt Conference 1952/1953 model. Two years ago, Greece's new Minister of Finance Giannis Varoufakis had already called on Germany to shift from an "authoritarian" to a "hegemonic policy" that would not use its economic power to hold the EU countries down, but to allow them to participate in the hegemonic benefits, as Washington had once done for the Federal Republic of Germany with its Marshall Plan. Varoufakis wrote explicitly, "Europe" does not need an "authoritarian" but "a hegemonic Germany."

Thrown Out

The new Greek government's announcement that it was no longer tolerating the country's submission to the supervision of the Troika, comprised of the EU, the ECB (European Central Bank) and the IMF, has triggered German threats. "Our country refuses to cooperate with the Troika," announced Finance Minister Giannis Varoufakis Friday and, referring to the fact that the Troika's rejection had brought the new government an overwhelming electoral victory, added, "our first action cannot be to relinquish this standpoint."[1] Instead, Varoufakis is calling for an international conference - along the lines of the London Debt Conference - 1952/53 model. What had been granted, at the time, to the Nazi Reich's successor state, cannot be refused to Greece. Part of the solution, in any case, must be a significant remission of debt - sixty percent is being discussed.

Circumventing the Parliament

Within a few years, Greece was plunged into unprecedented poverty under the auspices of the Troika, whose activities are no longer tolerated by the new government. Since 2010, the unemployment rate has doubled to more than 25 percent. During that same period, wages have fallen by one-fifth. Under Troika pressure, the minimum wage had been cut by 22 percent, to 586 Euros per month.[2] The expenditure cuts in the Greek health system have taken on proportions, that the authors of a report for the European Council refer to as a "humanitarian crisis." (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) Media organs in Greece have recently exposed that the Troika had qualified planned legislation of the Greek government as insufficient ("not extensive enough") or undesirable ("to be refused") and had them withdrawn. At times, the Troika had specifically insisted that the Greek parliament be circumvented, thereby making the democratic scrutiny of its extensive measures impossible. For example, in one Troika email concerning the imposition of planned mass layoffs, sent to the Greek government, one reads: "It would be wrong to create a commotion in parliament, when we can propose and implement other solutions, to achieve our goals."[4] The fiscal result of these anti-democratic, dire poverty-producing measures: Greece's debts have grown from 128 percent of the GNP in 2010 to 177 percent in 2015. Officially, the intention was the opposite.

Privatization Halted

The new Greek government will halt not only the activities of the Troika, which have driven the country over the cliff, but the comprehensive privatizations, as well. In return for EU "bailouts," Athens had to sign over billions in public property to foreign investors. German companies, such as the Fraport airport operating company, are among those who have benefitted. In November 2014, Fraport was awarded the contract for running 14 Greek regional airports, including the airports on Crete and Rhodes, popular vacation islands, and Thessaloniki, the country's second largest city. Fraport has set its hopes on a profitable business, through the expansion of the Greek tourism industry. The new government has now fired the administration of the privatization authorities. This is "a first step toward a new policy of privatization," which will halt the comprehensive "sell out" of public property and only permit sales creating tangible growth and new jobs. The privatization of sectors of the ports in Thessaloniki and Piraeus, the railway system and the public-owned refineries have been halted. It is currently not clear, whether last November's sales of 14 regional airports to Fraport, will be finalized.[5]

"Outrageous" and "Obstinate"

The establishment in Berlin is fuming. Criticism of the German Chancellor is undesirable, declared European Parliamentary President, Martin Schulz (SPD). "Tsipras had better cease his attacks on Angela Merkel." "Beating up on the Germans," is "shortsighted."[6] German attacks on Tsipras and the new Greek government have not ceased. They have intensified. "Greece runs amok," according to a column in the state-financed Deutsche Welle. Athens is as "obstinate" as a little kid, the government is a "demolition commando," a "chaos battalion," whose objective is "to pull the entire EU down in its maelstrom."[7] "Tsipras and his crew" substitute "irrationality and bad manners for reason and realism." Over the next few days, Tsipras will visit Rome, Paris and London to garner support for his demands, even though "the British" are not members of the Eurozone and should "keep their mouths shut on this issue." He is not coming to Berlin. "Germany is merely one country among others, jeered the Greek Prime Minister."

The Tolerance of Democratic Societies

In the current emotionally charged atmosphere, objections simply are not taken seriously. Greece "needs a remission of debt," observes, for example, the US economist, Jeffrey Sachs in a recent newspaper article. Sachs is known for having inspired the adoption of and even having himself promoted the implementation of economic neoliberalism in Eastern Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, leading to dire impoverishment of large sectors of the populations. However, Sachs warns that "anyone who can count (sometimes it seems that few European politicians have this ability) knows that Greece, with a foreign debt at 170 percent of its GNP, cannot repay its foreign debts. In any case, not without producing a level of misery that is beyond the limits of tolerance for a democratic [!] society."[8] "Some Germans are insisting today that debts are debts, and the Greeks must pay up in full," criticizes Sachs, who proposes a pragmatic approach recalling to mind the London Debt Conference of 1953 and the debt remission that was decided there. "From their own history, they should know better."

Alliances against Athens

Berlin remains unmoved. Commentaries in the media are characterized by debates on the best way to bring Athens to its knees. "Forge alliances against Athens," is the recommendation made by the Deutsche Welle, for example. Talks between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's President François Hollande Friday evening to help prevent Paris from reaching accords with the Greek government were a step in the right direction.[9] "First of all, let them come," advises the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The new Greek government, with its headlong surges, is making itself unpopular "throughout half of Europe." "Angela Merkel is waiting," the article continues. "That is the right strategy." The paper recommends that dissention between Greece and other EU countries should be used to pit the latter against Athens. "Greece is also allowed to quarrel with other countries."[10]

"Hegemonic rather than Authoritarian"

Already two years ago, Greece's new Finance Minister Varoufakis expressed himself unambiguously on German policy, warning that a change of course was needed - one that does not even put into question German hegemony over the EU. Varoufakis had simply pointed out, "Germany’s disciplinarian imposition of the greatest austerity upon the weakest of Europeans," will "backfire with mathematical precision," causing Greek debts to soar. This is an "authoritarian," ultimately counterproductive policy. Varoufakis then expressed the hope that there would be a shift from an "authoritarian" to a "hegemonic Germany." Hegemonic in the sense of it supporting its partners with costly, but long-term measures - similar to how the United States supported its allies with its Marshall Plan after the war - that lets them share, to a certain extent, in the hegemonic profits. "Europe needs a hegemonic Germany," he writes, aimed not at austerity and domination, but rather at a certain participation in prosperity, which would stabilize the hegemony of the Federal Republic of Germany.[11]

Dressing Down

As shown by the current aggression against the government in Athens, Germany is incapable of making this shift. "For years, the Germans have determined the course of the Euro Zone," writes one German daily with an unhabitual degree of self-criticism. "Representatives of problematic countries often feel talked down to and complain of Teutonic arrogance. At last Monday's Eurogroup meeting, for example, the German Minister of Finances gave Eurogroup President, Dijsselbloem a severe dressing down, in the midst of the entire assembly, because he had wanted to fly to Athens, rather than summon the Greeks to Brussels. That is not the way you win friends in Europe."[12]

Further information and background on Germany's policy toward Greece can be found here: Protectorate-Like, Patterned after the Treuhand, Impoverishment Made in Germany, On the Relevance of Democracy, Squeeze Dry and Obscure, Austerity Kills, Millions for Billions, Legacy without a Future, Domino Effect.

[1] Griechenland will nicht mehr mit der Troika kooperieren. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 31.01.2015.
[2] See Kein Licht am Ende des Tunnels.
[3] See Todesursache: Euro-Krise.
[4] See Domino Effect.
[5] Griechenland entlässt die Privatisierungs-Chefs. www.faz.net 31.01.2015.
[6] "Tsipras sollte seine Angriffe auf Merkel beenden". www.welt.de 01.02.2015.
[7] Barbara Wesel: Kommentar: Griechenland läuft Amok. www.dw.de 30.01.2015.
[8] Jeffrey Sachs: Schuldenerlass - oder es knallt. www.sueddeutsche.de 30.01.2015.
[9] Allianzen schmieden gegen Athen. www.dw.de 31.01.2015.
[10] Patrick Bernau: Erst mal kommen lassen. www.faz.net 31.01.2015.
[11] Yannis Varoufakis: Europe needs a hegemonic Germany. yanisvaroufakis.eu 22.02.2013.
[12] Claus Christian Malzahn, Jan Dams, Martin Greive: Hat Merkel in Europa bald nichts mehr zu sagen? www.welt.de 01.02.2015.