Monday, 28 March 2011

A Japanese reactor meltdown will not undermine the euro

Regional elections in Germany gave negative results for Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union. The disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant has apparently given the Green party a boost, and so much so that all other parties also lost ground. In the financial press, Merkel’s weakening domestic stance is likely to be used in attempts to discredit the new European Stability Mechanism.

The arguments will be something like: Merkel is losing support. Younger generations of Germans are unlikely to accept the sacrifices imposed by the German financing of the bail-out of Southern Europe. Merkel will be less firm in her support and will try to impose further draconian measures on the countries in need of a bailout. If she does not have her will, Germany may simply withdraw from the euro. 

Given the German-bashing that in particular the London-based financial press thrives on, there is nothing new in that view. However, there are two things that need to be said in return. On 12 March 2010, German Finance Minister Schäuble published an article in Financial Times laying out the principles that Germany wanted to form the basis for any new agreements.

German policy towards the Euro crisis has been in line with Schäuble's statements. Nonetheless, there has been a lot of talk that Germany has in fact only saved her own banks and that Southern Europe/Ireland are “sacrificed” in order to avert significant losses in German banks.

Yes, German banks have certainly been exactly as greedy and silly as any other banks. And yes, there may well be an important element of self-help in the German bankrolling of the ESM.

But let us not forget that Greece had falsified public accounts to fool the world while the government tax collection was in shambles. Ireland let herself go in an orgy of cheap credit while using corporate tax rates as a means of stealing jobs from other EU-countries. Portugal studiously avoided economic reform and it it shows now, as the rest of the world is on the mend.

Still, the German policy is built on the rather healthy observation that you cannot have a monetary union unless there is some kind of cohesion in the economic policy.

As Germany is again pressured into taking out the check book, of course concessions are being forced upon the most profligate EU members in order to secure the long-term viability of the Euro project.

The far more important point is that Germany will not leave the Euro, irrespective of local election results. Membership of the Euro is one of the geopolitical imperatives Germany must live with, as it is the guarantee against ever again having to fight a two-front war. Following the defeat in 1945, clear-headed thinkers across Europe understood that in order to make Germany change her ways, it was necessary to change the strategic position, whereby Germany was facing Russia on one side and France/UK on the other side.

By tying Germany into the EU, the most important military enemy, France, was turned into an ally. When the Berlin wall fell, French President Mitterrand managed to convince (maybe even bluff) then-Chancellor Kohl that a currency union was the best way of anchoring Germany in Western Europe, now that the big enemy in the east was retreating.

Germany has not at any point – irrespective of whether the foreign minister came from CDU, SPD, FDP, or indeed the Green Party – questioned Germany’s Euro membership. No matter whether this week-end’s skirmishes will eventually undermine Chancellor Merkel, whoever succeeds her as German Chancellor must accept the geopolitical situation and embrace the EU solution of having a single currency.

However expensive it is to support the Euro’s continued existence, the alternative to doing so would be a major transformation in Germany’s geostrategic situation. It would require a complete political about-face and would mean that Germany again had to ready herself for a two-front war, as the demise of the EU would follow. Given the price of this alternative, Germany will remain a firm supporter of the Euro. But will of course not be willing to be taken for granted to pay for the foibles of everybody else.

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