There are no quick and easy solutions to the European sovereign debt crisis, which will probably last for years. That is the message German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave last week to the Bundestag, the German Parliament, as she asked her countrymen for prolonged sacrifices to save the euro, the common currency of 17 members states of the European Union (EU).
In 1940, Winston Churchill told the British that he could only offer them "blood, sweat and tears." Merkel told the Germans that for the foreseeable future she can only offer them financial sacrifices. However, whereas Churchill asked the British for sacrifices to safeguard their country's independence and liberty, Merkel is asking for sacrifices in order to sign her nation's sovereignty away on behalf of the EU. The eurozone, she said, has set the EU on an "irreversible course towards a fiscal union."
Many Germans resent Merkel's commitment to continued German financial support for eurozone countries that are facing insolvency as a result of policies in which German voters have had no say whatsoever. The eurocrisis is as much a financial crisis as a crisis of democratic accountability.
Germany, the EU's richest country, is paying a heavy price for its generosity towards the Mediterranean countries it is currently bailing out. The stability of the eurozone requires that Germany underwrite more or less all eurozone sovereign debts.
Credit rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor's, Fitch and Moody's, are threatening to downgrade Germany's triple-A credit ratings as a result of the obligations it has assumed towards the nearly bankrupt eurozone countries in Southern Europe.
Merkel's policies are controversial, both at home and abroad. To reassure the German people that they would not be throwing good money after bad, countries receiving aid have to introduce austerity measures and economic reforms in exchange for German and EU help. The populations of the countries which the Germans are currently bailing out, however, blame Germany for their economic meltdown and their increasing poverty. Instead of blaming their former politicians whom they themselves elected, the Greeks and the Italians are blaming Berlin for the severe austerity programs they are suffering.
Anti-German feelings are growing along the Mediterranean. Instead of gratitude, the Germans are being scorned and insulted. Some Greeks are even comparing the current "financial occupation" to that of Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Newspapers are publishing cartoons of the European financial inspectors and advisors in the Nazi uniforms of Hitler's Third Reich. It does not help that the head of the EU task force for Greece is a German named Horst Reichenbach. Members of the Greek government are lampooned as Nazi collaborators.
A well-known Greek cartoonist for a national newspaper who frequently depicts Finance Minister Venizelos in a Nazi uniform explains that he does so because it shows "that what Germany did not manage with weapons during World War Two, it is now trying to do through economic means" – presumably referring to a German desire to control all of Europe.
One of the cartoons, published in the paper Eleftherotypia, depicts a soldier in German uniform watching over Venizelos as he barks at a Greek citizen to cough up more money in taxes. The irony of the eurocrisis is that the Greek taxpayers feel exactly the same as the German taxpayers who are being asked to cough up money to save the Greeks from a decade of economic and financial mismanagement by profligate and corrupt Greek politicians who were voted in because they allowed the Greeks to live beyond their means.
Instead of receiving love for their help, the Germans are hated. "We hate the Germans now," a Greek writer told an American journalist recently. "When I hear them I turn the other direction," he said, pointing at a group of elderly German tourists. Other Greeks claim that it is only right that Germany should help them because Germany still owes them reparations for its wartime occupation of Greece. Germany paid Greece $67 million in war reparations in the 1960s, but leftist groups say it should pay at least another $40 million.
A recent political scandal in Germany has further tarnished its reputation. Last month, the German authorities discovered by chance that between 2000 and 2006 a neo-Nazi terrorist cell had murdered one policewoman and nine immigrants, including one Greek. The German police had consistently ruled out racist or political motives for the murders.
Even in Italy, a country which collaborated with the Nazis during the war, the Germans are being depicted as arrogant bullies goosestepping over debt-ridden countries such as Italy. The fact that the elected governments of both Greece and Italy have, as a result of EU pressure, been replaced by governments of unelected technocrats, has exacerbated the feelings of democratic deprivation in Athens and Rome.
In France, François Hollande, the Socialist candidate in next Spring's presidential elections and currently leading in the polls, is conducting a Germanophobic campaign. He is criticizing his opponent, President Sarkozy, for obeying a German "diktat" and pandering to Merkel's "Bismarck-like policies."
While the eurocrisis is reawakening the old ghost of German domination in Europe, at home, too, the crisis is causing Merkel political problems. The Chancellor is leading a coalition government of her own Christian-Democrat Party and its junior partner, the Liberal FDP.
The FDP is deeply divided over the bailout. Last week, the FDP's secretary-general Christian Lindner, a close collaborator of party leader Philipp Rösler, the German Vice Chancellor and minister of Economics, resigned over Rösler's refusal to hold a referendum among party members over the EU bailout program.
Lindner, an ally of Rösler's, was forced to resign over having insulted Frank Schäffler, the influential party's financial spokesman in the Bundestag and a proponent of the referendum. Lindner had called Schäffler… "the FDP's David Cameron." The British Prime Minister David Cameron, critical of the EU, recently vetoed Merkel and Sarkozy's plan to rewrite the EU Treaties to ensure a stronger fiscal union.
The FDP is currently so unpopular as a result of its euro policies that the party has fallen below the 5% electoral threshold necessary for representation in the Bundestag.
Rösler's party, however, is also causing Merkel problems on another issue. Following last month's discovery of the neo-Nazi terrorist group, the Interior Minister, Hans-Peter Friedrich, a Christian-Democrat, started proceedings to have the far-right NPD party banned. The NPD is a tiny party with no representation in the Bundestag, but is suspected of involvement in far-right violence. The neo-Nazi terrorist cell discovered last month was allegedly helped by at least one former NPD member.
"We want to ban the NPD. But if we start the proceedings we must be sure we will succeed," minister Friedrich said. "If we don't win it will be a triumph for the NPD." In 2003, a previous bid to ban the NPD failed when the Constitutional Court threw out the case. The Court argued that, as the German intelligence services had so many informants in the NPD leadership, it was impossible to decide to what extent NPD policies had been the result of provocations by government agents.
This time, the German Interior Ministry would like to use telephone- and wiretapping to build its case against the NPD. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Germany's minister of Justice who represents the left wing of Rösler's FDP, is, however, opposed to intercepting electronic and telephone communications among the NPD leadership. She claims it would violate civil rights.
Merkel's Christian-Democrats are convinced that it would help Germany's reputation if political parties suspected of involvement in neo-Nazi violence were adequately screened by the German authorities. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger's opposition to wire-tapping the NPD does not contribute to the relations between the two coalition partners at a moment when some of Merkel's advisors are suggesting that a coalition between the Christian-Democrats and the pro-EU Socialists would serve Merkel better than her partnership with Rösler's shaky Liberal Party. No matter what one thinks about the austerity programs Merkel and the EU are imposing on countries such as Greece, however, comparing contemporary Germany to Nazi Germany is neither accurate nor fair.