New York Times Berlin bureau chief Nicholas Kulish was harsh on his hosts in his “Memo From Germany” on Wednesday, “Success and Advice Cast a Giant as a Villain, Not a Model, in Europe.” Germany’s leadership has had the gall to fix work-force rules and institute pension reforms and are insisting that bailout help for free-spending, sclerotic Greece must be contingent on similar requirements, or as Kulish calls it, “austerity and suffering.”
Throughout the crisis in the euro zone, as governments have fallen, debt burdens have mounted and economies have stagnated or shrunk, Germany has floated above the fray. While its economy has hummed along nicely, its leaders have steadfastly insisted that the path to redemption for the debtors lies in austerity and suffering.
When Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday described the debt crisis as Europe’s “most difficult hours since World War II,” she was describing something most Germans had only read about in newspapers or watched on television. The German economy once again surprised experts on Tuesday, growing an unexpectedly healthy 0.5 percent in the third quarter and 2.5 percent higher than the year before.
Germany’s continued prosperity has helped fuel growing anger in countries like Greece and Spain against what is increasingly viewed as harsh German domination. More and more, Germany is cast in the role of the villain, whether by protesters in the streets of Athens or by exasperated politicians in the halls at the recent Group of 20 meeting in Cannes, France.
“The Germans often don’t sufficiently appreciate how wrenching the economic changes are that they’re prescribing,” said Philip Whyte, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform in London.
Kulish didn’t seem offended by comparisons of today’s Germany to the Nazi regime:
Greeks in particular have been outraged at demands for change dictated by Berlin that impinge on their sovereignty. Some Greek protesters have even carried blue European Union flags with yellow swastikas in the middle and compare the debt deals to the occupation of Greece during World War II.
The European crisis has often been likened to a morality play -- sinful southerners, virtuous northerners -- but at times in Germany it has taken the shape of Wagnerian opera, with Germany cast as the dragon guarding its hoard of gold.
Reporter Kulish inserted a value judgment into his copy.
Last week, Germany was awash with reports of a proposal floated at the Group of 20 meeting that might have allowed the International Monetary Fund to draw on German gold reserves to bolster Europe’s rescue fund.
The condemnation was swift and disproportionately harsh for a suggestion that was basically doomed from the start. “The German gold reserves must remain untouchable,” said Philipp Rösler, the economy minister and vice chancellor.
Who said it was "disproportionately harsh" besides Kulish himself? He finally got to Germany’s side in paragraph 19 of 22.
As the overall health of Germany’s economy and its fiscal position widen the rift with Europe’s poorer periphery, Germans have a ready response. They say that they already made the structural changes in work-force rules and pension reforms that they are now recommending for the slow-growth countries, and that, by the way, they actually pay their taxes. So if the laggards want Germany’s money, they have to play by German rules.
Kulish does not write like a fan of fiscal disicpline. In September 2011 he joined the line of reporters suggesting the rioters who burned and looted shops in London for shoes and smart phones were actually alienated victims of budget cuts engaged in political protest.