At the Camp David summit last month, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was left in no doubt about the weight of responsibility that rested on her shoulders. If the euro fails, she was told by those present, it will be Germany’s fault. For the third time in a century, that nation stands accused of blowing up Europe. To stop this catastrophe in the making, Germany must give up on incremental shilly-shallying and act boldly now.
Actually, the parallel with the two great wars is a ridiculous one, as there is plainly a world of a difference between the acts of aggression that sparked the mass slaughters of the last century, and refusing to support with taxpayer euros a political and economic endeavour that was flawed from the start.
The German position is, in many respects, understandable and correct. To be panicked into a federal Europe for which there is virtually no popular support is not obviously a sustainable solution, never mind the open-ended liability it would impose on German taxpayers. Much of the European periphery, where restrictive labour laws and other semi-corrupt practices are still rife, in any case desperately needs the structural reform Germany insists on. And though it is true that austerity is proving counter-productive, what do its opponents suggest? That Spain and Ireland build even more houses, redundant regional airports, motorways, and spanking new municipal facilities? This was the kind of stuff that got the banking system into trouble in the first place. Just how much more construction can a country sensibly take?
That’s how I see it. Imagine if you were a German taxpayer. How would you feel about digging even deeper into your wallet to pay for the mistakes of people who have no accountability for their spending? This is a form of taxation without representation. Let’s say it was possible to save the euro with a big burst of German spending; how, exactly, does that stave off the crisis next time, if the big German sugar mama is there to bail out everybody else?