Greek crisis tests German will to defend euro zone

Wolfgang Schauble
Wolfgang Schauble

Germany’s leaders have made clear in the Greek debt crisis that they lack unlimited will to put European unity ahead of German self-interest.

The German Parliament last week approved, with some reticence, new negotiations on another financial bailout for Greece. But Chancellor Angela Merkel and German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble appeared unenthusiastic.

Schäuble has pushed a deal that would keep Greece in the
euro zone, but he also has indicated that Greece would fare better by exiting the European common currency system. Many regard him as the unseen force in the German government. Portrayals of Schäuble in Greece show him as a Nazi. Italian newspaper L’Espresso put a photo of Schäuble on its front page with the headline: “This man scares us, too.”

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Germany for decades has financed and benefited from European unity. But the tone of the Germans in negotiating with Greece has been aggressive and contemptuous, and suggestions that Greece exit the euro have exposed the limits of German commitment to European unity.

The tougher tone may prove transitory. But for many residents of Europe, aggressive German rhetoric in the Greek crisis “revealed a more brutal Germany, embodied by Schäuble,” said Hans Kundnani, author of The Paradox of German Power.

“But we see, with this crisis, a qualitative transformation of the European Union into a more coercive bloc, different from the one the founding fathers had in mind, or even the creators of the common currency,” Kundnani said. “And Germany is at the heart of that.” [New York Times] — Mike Seemuth