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Saturday, October 29, 2011

What the Chancellor said

[N.B.: Those who visited yesterday may wish to scrol down and go through the Chancellor's speech again. I was extremely tired when I worked on the translation yesterday morning, and I did not realize how sloppy it was. I have now smoothed it out considerably.

Chancellor Merkel's speech, in my opinion, reflects great credit on her, but far greater credit on the political culture of Germany and Europe. I do not in fact agree with the thrust of some of the policies it lays out: they emphasize austerity in Greece and elsewhere, rather than economic growth (although, as she points out, her own country at this moment has a very impressive and enviable employment record of which to boast.) But the speech promises, directly and repeatedly, to make a sustained attack upon some deep-seated problems within the EU and the Eurozone in a continuing effort to preserve the achievements of her parents' generation. And in particular, at the end of the speech, she, like Lincoln and FDR in their time, puts the current crisis in the context of previous ones. While she does not name Bismarck or Adenauer or de Gaulle, she promises that her generation shall not fail the comparable test that it faces. It is symptomatic of the wretched mess in which the United States finds itself that neither President Obama nor any Republican ever wants to make such an appeal to the past. The Boom generation of historians seems successfully to have persuaded public opinion and our elites that history began in the late 1960s.

Europe does face critical, possibly insurmountable problems. In an effort to preserve the Euro the Greeks have made genuine sacrifices of their sovereignty. This may indeed crack the Eurozone, though not the EU itself, but if it does not, it will be a critical precedent that may move European political life into a new phase. The Europeans, in any case, are still engaged in an extraordinary attempt to widen and deepen their political order. The contrast with the United States could not be clearer: we are engaged, not in saving our grandparents' and parents' achievements, but in tearing them down. And it is no accident, clearly, that Republicans now cite Europe's regulated capitalism, complete with single-payer health care and truly modern infrastructure, as some sort of catastrophe that the United States has to avoid. Europe is still the continent of the Enlightenment. Paradoxically, the United States--the first political child of the Enlightenment--is now the advanced country where its spirit is under the heaviest attack.

The transcript of Merkl's speech shows that the applause came mainly, though not exclusively, from her own coalition. Yet she did not speak as a party leader several of her most important pronouncements drew unanimous applause. This has become unheard of when the President addresses the Congress. My old friend Stanley Hoffmann, in his review of Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's new book This Used to Be Us, suggested that European parliamentary systems are simply more effective than our own separation of powers, but I think this was an oversimplification. Presidents such as Truman and Eisenhower have accomplished great things with the help of Congresses at least partially controlled by the opposition party. We are in trouble now not because of our constitution, but because of our almost complete lack of any common civic spirit. No European leader faces an opposition determined to ensure that anything he or she does fails, but that is the situation we have been living with for three years, and it will get worse before it gets better.

Having suffered the worst of modern western civilization during the last crisis, the Europeans remain committed to a relatively strong government and a welfare state. No major European nation has de-industrialized to the same extent as the United States, either. Chancellor Merkel's positions on the regulation of financial markets--including hedge funds!--were far in advance of President Obama's. The Europeans face big problems--but their governments are addressing them. If they can succeed, they seem very likely to regain the leadership of the western world which, half a century ago, they seemed to have lost forever. That would not disturb me. The Atlantic world is a family, and one one family member goes crazy, others must step forward. That was our role 70 years ago; now it seems once again to be theirs. We are all, in any event, in this together.


Anonymous said...

The two halves of the eurozone are locked in a broken

One by one, the democracies of Southern Europe are being broken on the wheel of monetary union.


Bozon said...


Thanks for this note.
Some great observations here for me.

It is great to have an American with European insights say something.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

Leadership may live, but the democracy will
live too.

It does seem that the Greek voters will have a
chance to give their own opinion of the leadership
from a foreign country imposed upon them.

'Dismay,' 'irritation' at referendum announcement


Anonymous said...

It's getting more and more interesting by a minute!

Opposition parties accuse PM of 'blackmail'


Anonymous said...

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in a message
posted on Twitter: "I truly fail to understand what
Greece intendes to have a referendum about. Are
there any real options?"


Anonymous said...

Papandreou Is Right to Let the Greeks Decide

Europe is stunned. The Greek prime minister
wants to allow the people to vote on the euro rescue
plan for their country. Georgios Papandreou is
putting all his eggs in one basket -- but he has
made the right decision.

It must be said right at the beginning: The Greeks
will, for a change, decide for themselves how they
and their country will move forward.

They have had no real opportunity to do so for quite
some time. For about a year and a half, this once
proud country has been under foreign
administration; it is de facto no longer a sovereign
state. The government's most important task has
been dragging the austerity programs and
structural reforms though parliament and
implementing them. These are dictated by the strict
troika of the EU Commission, the European Central
Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund.
Otherwise there will be no more bailout money,
and the country would go bankrupt.


As you can see Dr. Kaiser the decision seems to be
going back to people and not the leaders.

Are you OK with that?

Anonymous said...

Fast cars and loose fiscal morals: there are more
Porsches in Greece than taxpayers declaring
50,000 euro incomes

Something can’t be right when the modest city of
Larisa, capital of the agricultural region of Thessaly
with 250,000 inhabitants, has more Porsches per
head of the population than New York or London.


Anonymous said...

Revenge of the Sovereign Nation

The spokesman of French president Nicolas Sarkozy
(himself half Greek, from Thessaloniki) said the
move was “irrational and dangerous”.
Rainer BrĂ¼derle, Bundestag leader of the Free
Democrats, said the Greeks appear to be “wriggling
out” of a solemn commitment. They face outright
bankruptcy, he blustered.

Well yes, but at least the Greeks are stripping away
the self-serving claims of the creditor states that
their “rescue” loan packages are to “save Greece”.

They are nothing of the sort. Greece has been
subjected to the greatest fiscal squeeze ever
attempted in a modern industrial state, without
any offsetting monetary stimulus or devaluation.

The economy has so far collapsed by 14pc to 16pc
since the peak – depending who you ask – and is
spiralling downwards at a vertiginous pace.

The debt has exploded under the EU-IMF Troika
programme. It is heading for 180pc of GDP by next
year. Even under the haircut deal, Greek debt will
be 120pc of GDP in 2020 after nine years of
depression. That is not cure, it is a punitive


Anonymous said...

The World from Berlin
Greek Exit From Euro Zone Just a 'Matter of Time'


Anonymous said...

"We will not implement any program by force,
but only with the consent of the Greek people.

This is our democratic tradition and we demand that
it is also respected abroad."

-- Greek prime minister George Papandreou

Anonymous said...

Euro area leaders talked openly for the first time of
a possible Greek exit from the 17-nation currency
area, seeking to maximize pressure on Athens and
to preserve the euro in case of a Greek "no" vote.

Merkel told a midnight news conference that while
she would prefer to stabilize the euro with Greece
as a member, the top priority was saving the euro,
not rescuing the Greeks.

The chairman of euro zone finance ministers,
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker,
said policymakers were working on possible
scenarios for a Greek exit.

"We are working on the subject of how to ensure
there is not a disaster for the people in Germany,
Luxembourg, the euro zone. We are absolutely
prepared for the situation,"
Juncker told Germany's
ZDF television.

France's Europe minister, Jean Leonetti, said bluntly
the euro could survive without Greece.

"Greece is something we can get over, something
we can live without,"
he told RTL radio in an


Graham Lyons said...

A well-connected Greek PhD student told me in 1993 that no one pays their taxes in his country and a large proportion of the population shuffle paper in civil service-style pseudo jobs. Not only that, most of the paper shufflers will shuffle paper in your favored direction if bribed to do so.
When tax income does not balance govt. expenditure then shortfalls must be covered by borrowing. And Greece has borrowed for decades.

John Murphy said...


You write well but I do not share your world view. I've lived in Europe and witnessed the internecine conflicts and a social structure that relies upon fewer individuals supporting a growing group of beneficiaries; not unlike the situation in the US.

I guess I fail to understand how you can define the problem, at least in part, as "the situation we have been living with for the last three years,....". Perhaps you were traveling abroad during George W. Bush's term in office. Or perhaps, more recently, you missed the current officeholder tell the loyal opposition that "elections have consequences", and subsequently go on to exclude the republicans from any participation in the economic and legislative actions taken by a congress fully controlled by his party.

I came to this site expecting objective and insightful opinion. I'm leaving a bit disappointed.

John Murphy

Bozon said...


I have to admit that I favor nationalism over 'bloc' politics, for the foreseeable future, in Europe, and elsewhere.

I do not see any way that Greeks can stand to be yanked about by mainly foreign (and foolish) bankers,

even though they themselves, the Greeks, are not untarnished foolish actors,

as some of your commentators have rightly pointed out.

What, after all, at this moment in history, is so wrong with old nationalism?

The Greek version, after all, has a much longer, and venerable, history, going back to the wars with Persia, and with the battle of Marathon.

Surely, they were under the Ottoman heel for a long long time.

What is so wrong with that nationalist heritage, compared to a so called common overbearing currency, an abomination, politically, after all.

I could give very good, 'risk averse' arguments, about uncoupling somewhat from globalist entanglements, but why bother really?

All the best,

Anonymous said...

I would be hoping that you might comment on topic
such as this one that is much closer to home. But I
doubt you will touch anything that the current
administration is doing/involved in. Such a pity!

A double standard on war crimes?
The liberal line on anti-terrorism measures
has changed now that their guy is in the White


Not that a liberal double standard is anything new
or unexpected!

David Kaiser said...

To anonymous, directly above:

I allowed your comment, although it is abusive and anonymous--the usual criteria for deletion--just to say that you could not be more wrong. Regulars readers know very well that I have been very critical of this administration, including with regard to war crimes, and if you took the trouble to do a search you could confirm that for yourself. This is one liberal who does not argue like a modern "conservative." He thinks for himself.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Kaiser :

I looked and haven't seen anywhere on the blog that
you'd commented on killing of American citizens such
as Al Awlaki by the current administration.

Please do direct me to such a commentary, if it

Thank you.