Ah, these reckless Germans!

by Lorenzo Piccoli

The last few weeks of high tension over Greece threatened to break Europe in two. It has been a nasty game that finally brought to light some profound differences, weakened the credibility of many governments and ultimately strengthened the worst stereotypes about European peoples.

National stereotypes have seriously endangered trust, which is the most important currency of all. As the whole conflict climaxed, more and more arguments have been made about the lazy Greeks, the sneaky Italians, the opportunistic Lithuanians.

But there is one stereotype that has acquired new value over the last weekend. It is about reckless, cruel Germans, and it might be the most perilous of all. True: the scale of the demands being put on Greece by the German delegation has been labelled by a respectable German newspaper as “a punitive, cruel and a deliberate humiliation” of Greece. In today’s short op-ed on ‘Killing the European Project’, Paul Krugman writes against “German morality-play economics that so signally failed to supply in the past. But much of the damage has already been done. Who will ever trust Germany’s good intentions after this? … The European project — a project I have always praised and supported — has just been dealt a terrible, perhaps fatal blow. And whatever you think of Syriza, or Greece, it wasn’t the Greeks who did it“. As Angela Merkel insists that Greece lost Europe’s trust, Germany risks losing it too.

The German demands, however, are not driven by reckless cruelty for its own sake. As Old Tom reminded me yesterday, there are deeply political reasons behind them. Let us put it simply: (1) Germany always opposed a fiscal union with monetary transfers (2) paying for Greece today would be the first step in this direction. It is a game of politics. It can turn nasty, but let us try avoid making it even nastier by falling into the trap of national stereotyping.