Europe's new 'Germanophobia': Who's afraid of big bad Germany?

Article published on Jan. 4, 2012
Article published on Jan. 4, 2012
Tones of anger against German chancellor Angela Merkel's lack of action over the eurocrisis and a 'Germanophied' Europe, are getting louder and more intense

There is a spectre haunting Europe that goes by the name of 'Germany's continent'. Nigel Farage, from the British right-wing populist party UKIP has ranted about a ‘Germany dominated Europe’ while according to the conservative paper the Daily Telegraph, Germany wishes to ‘seize power’ in Europe. Meanwhile, French government ministers are getting hot under the collar about the matter with one heavyweight in the government claiming that Germany wants to impose itself as Europe's ‘Führer’.

So where has this sudden fear of Germany come from? In principle it comes from the (too) large role that Germany plays within the EU: only Germany has the financial power to hold the hands of struggling European countries, which is why Germany is seen as the saviour of the euro (or will be the cause of its demise). On 28 November, the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorskiappealed to the German government to bring about European reforms and avert the break-up of the eurozone.

The first hurdle is this: in order to offer more financial aid to Europe's weak economies, Merkel would need more control of the respective national economic systems. This has stirred memories of the Nazi aspirations of old: for instance the British tabloid The Daily Mail wrote that ‘Where Hitler failed by military means to conquer Europe, modern Germans are succeeding through trade and financial discipline. Welcome to the Fourth Reich.’

Populist gibberish also rife in Germany

As far as Great Britain is concerned, the ‘tact’ of Volker Kauder, party leader of the German ruling party CDU, has added to the situation. In February he ended his critique of alleged British egotism with the words: ‘Now all of Europe will speak German.’ The British media manned the barricades, led by the tabloid the Daily Mail, complete with reference to the Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. However, those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. German commentators too have often used an inappropriate tone and behave, according to the German blog Sprengsatz, like ’bulls in European china shops.’

It is therefore no wonder that Germany finds itself criticised throughout Europe. Newspapers printed in Greece – territory formally occupied by Hitler – christened German EU official Horst Reichenbach ’Third Reichenbach’ and captioned photographs of his office as the ’new gestapo centre‘. The Greeks also regularly protest in Nazi uniforms against the apparent German imposition. Spanish daily newspaper ABC joked that Merkel has ’roughly the same perception of the outlook of the EU in six months time as an unemployed Spaniard, a Greek builder, a Danish housemaid or a factory worker at German car manufacturer Daimler Benz.’ According to Il Sole, an Italian economic newspaper, Germany has locked itself away in an ‘ivory tower’ while Romanian paper Dilema Veche awarded an Oscar to ‘Merkozy’ for best lead actors in the ‘Horror film '2011: An economic Odyssey'’. The German chancellor has been criticised within Germany for her course of action.

Merkel's strategy can indeed be seen by other EU member states as inconsiderate: is she only interested in personal gains, whilst other EU nations, along with the euro, fall overboard? Clearly Merkel's stern course of action is not without political risk: the dissolution of the currency union, followed by the EU. Such crisis scenarios are already being discussed in various brokerage houses. The EU member states are worried they will lose their national sovereignty, a worry reinforced by the fear of a second ‘nazi Germany’.

'No win' situation for Germany

To some extent, the buck has stopped with Germany. British and French readers criticise that their countries have simply made Germany responsible for their own mistakes. The conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson said that Germany ’simply finds itself forced into this position due to its economic strength and a political necessity.’ Germany finds itself in a 'no win' situation, with former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer explaining that ‘When Germany acts, people fear that it will dominate Europe. When it doesn’t act, they worry that it is abandoning Europe.’

'When Germany acts, people fear that it will dominate Europe. When it doesn’t act, they worry it is abandoning Europe.'

However, Merkel has anything but left the EU out of her plans. The required financial discipline should instead calm the markets and as a result stabilize the EU – the chancellor has underlined that other EU members firstly must not struggle when faced with a Germany that is willing to spend, and secondly that aid can only come from a financially strong Germany. At first the German chancellor's strategy seemed to be coming to fruition: financially weak states got to grips with their domestic finances and the financial markets were thrilled. Until the next lot of bad news arrived.

Should Germany stay stolid and further advance the collapse of the euro, many see a dismal future (if any future at all) for Europe. French politicians have hinted at ‘catastrophe’ (economist Jacques Attali), ’death by asphyxiation’ (former MEP Jean-Louis Bourlanges) and ’the end of national democracy’ (centre-right politician Jacques Myard). Unity only prevails in one sense: the belief that Germany has all of its fingers in the European pie, withFrench newspaper Le Monde describing the future of the continent as being entirely in German hands. However, one thing has been completely left out of the equation: Germany cannot save Europe on its own.

Images: main (cc) Pentadact/ Flickr; video (cc) europarl/ YouTube