Germany's Stuck in the Past Europe Is Led by a Country That Doesn't Want the Job, Writes Columnist Clive Crook

By Crook, Clive | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

Germany's Stuck in the Past Europe Is Led by a Country That Doesn't Want the Job, Writes Columnist Clive Crook


Crook, Clive, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


The gap between the European Union's pretensions and capacities has never looked so wide. Its stagnant economy and the crisis in Ukraine point to gross failures of leadership. In both cases, Europe's de facto leader - Germany - is especially to blame.

The EU's current economic policy is indefensible: The EU has chosen to extend the recession by rejecting available remedies. As far as its foreign and security policy goes, this can barely be said to exist. Europe didn't make Vladimir Putin the ruthless outlaw he is, but it provoked him while knowing it was unwilling or unable to deal with the consequences.

Germany's input to these mistakes has been disproportionate. It isn't just that the size and strength of Germany's economy have made Berlin the de facto capital of Europe. It's also that the errors are characteristically German - postwar German, that is. Germany's morbid dread of inflation and what can follow has paralyzed Europe's economic policy, and its overwhelming desire for commerce with Russia and reluctance to confront threats with force has defanged the EU's security policy.

Don't misunderstand me. Germany's desire to heed the lessons of its modern history is noble. Better this, no doubt, than financial recklessness combined with resurgent militarism. But 70 years after the war it's ashamed of, Germany is still - how to put this? - overcompensating.

Fiscal austerity and monetary stringency are imposing huge economic costs and threatening Europe with outright deflation. Germany's pathologically orthodox policy makers have set their faces against fiscal relaxation and resisted the European Central Bank's timid moves to loosen monetary conditions. Quantitative easing of the sort used by the Federal Reserve is needed to support demand. Europe's suffocating fiscal rules, set down in the Stability and Growth Pact, could be adjusted too, given the will. These initiatives wouldn't be entirely without risk, but fears of a 1920s-style hyperinflation are absurd in current circumstances. They need to be expunged from the discussion.

The desire for peace and commerce isn't absurd and doesn't need expunging - but Europe must be capable of showing Russia sufficient resolve to make Mr. Putin think twice. Led by Germany, the EU has dragged its feet over sanctions against Russia since the crisis in Ukraine began. Aside from reducing the immediate costs to Russia of its actions in Ukraine, this timidity calls into question Europe's willingness to defend itself and its NATO partners. …

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