The Eurozone Crisis and the Implications of Resurgent Germanophobia
The sovereign debt crisis that has wracked the Eurozone since 2008 has had obvious and far-reaching effects on the entire European political system. Throughout the EU, there have been major shifts of power as governments fall, new political contenders emerge, and entire states face a future of austerity, emigration, and political turmoil. Of the various member states, it would appear that Germany has maintained the best position. Its government has remained in power throughout the entire crisis; it has experienced an enviable level of economic and political stability; and, through its direction of the European response to the crisis, it has emerged as the most powerful force in the EU.
That being said, its visible role in crafting European responses to the problems of member states has provoked backlash among citizens whose countries have been bailed out by the European Central Bank (ECB). Figures like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her vociferous Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schauble, are feared and demonized in almost equal measure by many of the people in countries where ECB programs have gone into operation. Protestors from Dublin to Nicosia have made use of slogans such as “We won’t be Germany’s slaves,” and banners comparing Chancellor Merkel with Adolf Hitler.
Virulent Germanophobia is not itself a completely new development in Europe, or even within the EU. However, it has traditionally been relegated to the fringes of political life, as in Poland, where Germany is a common target of the populist radical right, and is often painted as the nation’s traditional oppressor. Or has been expressed primarily in the form of sporting rivalries, as in the case of the Netherlands and the UK.
What is important about this wave of Germanophobia is that it can no longer be dismissed as the domain of radical nationalists and football hooligans. It is becoming a major part of public discourse in many of the smaller and/or peripheral members of the EU. The perceived lack of sympathy displayed by Merkel and Schauble toward the bailout countries, augmented by the willingness of Berlin to interfere in the electoral processes of at-risk countries such as Italy, has exacerbated this situation.
This is clearly a major problem for European integration when Germany has become recognized as the de facto leader of the EU. By continuing to act in a seemingly aloof and arrogant manner, the leading German politicians fuel a situation where potential mainstream partners could alienate their supporters, to the advantage of fringe political extremist groups who are not constrained in their rhetoric by having to interact with German leaders on a daily basis. More importantly, their apparent lack of sensitivity to austerity measures that have been visited most heavily upon those people who had the least responsibility for their country’s economic hardships undermines the principle of solidarity between European nations. Without a much greater effort to engage with and listen to the people most affected by the crisis, the popular legitimacy upon which the EU relies could be undermined; as a result, Germany’s emergence as a political leader could become meaningless as countries distance themselves from the EU.
Submitted by Michael Toomey
The opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not represent the opinions of Rutgers University or the Division of Global Affairs.