Governments and NGOs: Germany Spied on Friends and Vatican

Efforts to spy on friends and allies by Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, were more extensive than previously reported. SPIEGEL has learned the agency monitored European and American government ministries and the Vatican.

Radarkuppeln stehen am 07.05.2015 in Bad Aibling (Bayern) auf dem Gelâ°nde der AbhËrstation des Bundesnachrichtendienstes (BND). Die Dienststelle sei weder f¸r die â¹berpr¸fung der US-Suchkriterien noch f¸r die Sichtung der Treffer zustâ°ndig, sagte der Dienststellenleiter am Donnerstag vor dem NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss des Bundestages. Foto: Angelika Warmuth/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The BND’s listening station in Bad Aibling, Bavaria: In addition to spying on friends, German intelligence also monitored Oxfam, Care International and the Red Cross. Radarkuppeln stehen am 07.05.2015 in Bad Aibling (Bayern) auf dem Gelâ°nde der AbhËrstation des Bundesnachrichtendienstes (BND). Die Dienststelle sei weder f¸r die â¹berpr¸fung der US-Suchkriterien noch f¸r die Sichtung der Treffer zustâ°ndig, sagte der Dienststellenleiter am Donnerstag vor dem NSA-Untersuchungsausschuss des Bundestages. Foto: Angelika Warmuth/dpa +++(c) dpa – Bildfunk+++

Three weeks ago, news emerged that Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), had systematically spied on friends and allies around the world. In many of those instances, the BND had been doing so of its own accord and not at the request of the NSA. The BND came under heavy criticism earlier this year after news emerged that it had assisted the NSA in spying on European institutions, companies and even Germans using dubious selector data.

SPIEGEL has since learned from sources that the spying went further than previously reported. Since October’s revelations, it has emerged that the BND spied on the United States Department of the Interior and the interior ministries of EU member states including Poland, Austria, Denmark and Croatia. The search terms used by the BND in its espionage also included communications lines belonging to US diplomatic outposts in Brussels and the United Nations in New York. The list even included the US State Department’s hotline for travel warnings.

The German intelligence service’s interest wasn’t restricted to state institutions either: It also spied on non-governmental organizations like Care International, Oxfam and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. In Germany, the BND’s own selector lists included numerous foreign embassies and consulates. The e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and fax numbers of the diplomatic representations of the United States, France, Great Britain, Sweden, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and even the Vatican were all monitored in this way. Diplomatic facilities are not covered under Article 10 of Germany’s constitution, the Basic Law, which protects German telecommunications participants from such surveillance.

The initial revelations came after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Chancellery, which is in charge of overseeing Germany’s intelligence agencies, informed the Bundestag’s Parliamentary Control Panel, which is responsible for applying checks and balances to intelligence efforts, in mid-October that the BND had been surveilling the institutions of numerous European countries and other partners for many years.

In October 2013, Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned spying on her mobile phone by saying, “Spying among friends? That’s just not done.” Apparently these words didn’t apply to the BND.

BREAKING: Over 1,000 ISIS and Al Nusra Militants Surrender To Syrian Army In Last 24 Hours

 

 

The development came after President Bashar al-Assad in a televised address in July pardoned all soldiers who have fled the army, saying that his words served as a general decree to relevant officials.

Hundreds of gunmen have been laying down their weapons and turning themselves in to authorities in areas across the country.

This number seems to be on the rise as the army has been making steady gains in the battlefield against the terrorist groups, recapturing an increasing number of regions, including strategic sites, which helped cut off many of the militants’ supply routes and forced them to surrender or run away.

Also in the past 24 hours, the Syrian air raids destroyed concentration centers of the ISIL, al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups in Hama and Idlib.

The Syrian warplanes conducted airstrikes against positions of ISIL and the so-called Jeish al-Fath terrorists in the countryside of Hama and Idlib.

The airstrikes hit positions of the ISIL terrorists in al-Rahjan village, 50 km to the Northeast of Hama City, destroying a number of terrorists’ vehicles with all arms, ammunition and equipment on board.

The airstrikes also hit positions of al-Nusra Front and other terrorist groups in Aqrab village in the Southwestern countryside of Hama, killing scores of terrorists.

A number of vehicles belonging to Jeish al-Fath terrorists were also destroyed in airstrikes in Abdin village in the countryside of Ma’aret al-Nu’aman in Idlib countryside.

Meantime, the Syrian fighter jets pounded hideouts of the Takfiri militants in the countryside of Homs.

The Syrian air raids destroyed Takfiri terrorists’ hideouts and vehicles in al-Qaryatain, al-Sa’an, and in the vicinity of al-Sha’er field in Homs countryside.

The Russian air group in Syria is using Kh-29L air-to-surface missiles to conduct airstrikes against the ISIL militants, the Russian military said Sunday.

“A Kh-29L surface-to-air missile is equipped with a semi-active laser guidance system. When the launch is conducted, a pilot illuminates a target with a laser sight. At the same time an aircraft can continue the flight,” Aerospace Forces Spokesman Colonel Igor Klimov said.

Also, the Syrian army conducted military operations against the foreign-backed Takfiri militants in Aleppo province, leaving hundreds of them killed and injured.

Hundreds of terrorists were killed or wounded in Aleppo City and its countryside in the past 24 hours, a military source said.

Elsewhere, at least 28 militant fighters of the ISIL terrorist group were killed during clashes with the Kurdish forces in the Northeastern Syrian province of Hasaka.

“The YPG forces besieged the ISIL militants near Mount Abdulaziz and killed dozens of terrorists and destroyed several vehicles,” a spokesman for the YPG Media Center told ARA News.

Also, gunmen from the Jeish al-Fath coalition of extremist groups are pulling out their forces from Idlib and other towns in Northwestern Syria.

The radical group started moving towards the Turkish border on Saturday after having experienced “the efficiency of the Russian aerospace forces’ strikes,” the As-Safir Arabic-language daily reported.

The coalition is led by al-Nusra terrorist group, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, which is sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. The group seized the Idlib province this spring.

The report said field commanders fear at any moment the attack of Syrian forces supported by Russian warplanes on the key town of Jisr al-Shugour, on the Lattakia-Aleppo highway.

German Company is Top Tax Evader in Greece

Region:

 

El-Venizelos1-400x285A German company was found to be the biggest tax evader in Greece. A court in Athens found that Hochtief, the German company that was running the “Eleftherios Venizelos” Athens International airport was not paying VAT for 20 years. It is estimated that Hochtief, will have to pay more than 500 million Euros for VAT arrears. Together with other outstanding payments, like those to social security funds, it might have to py more than 1 billion Euros.

It must be noted that under the “Troika” austerity programme Greek employees lost around 400 million Euros from cuts to their salaries.

Hochtief, which is the biggest German Construction company, specializing in airports, was also running the Athens International airport through a subsidiary until 2013, when it sold it’s share to a Canadian company.
(source: neurope)

 

 

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Unruly Hearts will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article.

Europe Revolts: “What Is Happening Now Is A Defeat For Germany”

 

Angela Merkel reacts before a party board meeting in BerlinChancellor Merkel

 

In Spain, only Vladmir Putin is more disapproved of than Angela Merkel. Such is the level of polarization that Germany’s chancellor has created in Europe that, as WSJ reports, even domestically she is being deriled for saddling Greeks with “soup kicthens upon soup kitchens.” As Marcel Fratzscher, head of the German Institute for Economic Research, a leading Berlin think tank notes, “Germany has, at the end of the day, helped determine most of the European decisions of the last five years,” and therefore, “what is happening now is a defeat for Germany, especially, far more than for any other country.”

“They want to humiliate Greece to send a warning to Spain, Portugal and Italy,” Hilario Montero, a pensioner at a pro-Greece demonstration in Madrid recently, said of Berlin and Brussels. “The message is you are not allowed to cross the lines they set.”

As The Wall Street Journal reports,

 Ms. Merkel’s power after a decade in office has become seemingly untouchable, both within Germany and across Europe. But with the “no” vote in Sunday’s Greek referendum on bailout terms posing the biggest challenge yet to decades of European integration, risks to the European project resulting from Germany’s rise as the Continent’s most powerful country are becoming clear.

On Friday, Spanish antiausterity leader Pablo Iglesias urged his countrymen: “We don’t want to be a German colony.” On Sunday, after Greece’s result became clear, Italian populist Beppe Grillo said, “Now Merkel and bankers will have food for thought.” On Monday, Ms. Merkel flew to Paris for crisis talks amid signs the French government was resisting Berlin’s hard line on Greece.

 

“What is happening now is a defeat for Germany, especially, far more than for any other country,” said Marcel Fratzscher, head of the German Institute for Economic Research, a leading Berlin think tank. “Germany has, at the end of the day, helped determine most of the European decisions of the last five years.”

 

In Greece last week, it was the stern face of 72-year-old German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble that appeared on some of the posters urging voters to reject Europe’s bailout offer. “He’s been sucking your blood for five years—now tell him NO,” the posters said.

 

“They want to humiliate Greece to send a warning to Spain, Portugal and Italy,” Hilario Montero, a pensioner at a pro-Greece demonstration in Madrid recently, said of Berlin and Brussels. “The message is you are not allowed to cross the lines they set.”

 

And she is left stuck between a rock and hard place…

 “Germany is in this hegemonic role in Europe because we have no relevant right-wing populist parties,” Mr. Münkler said.

That is why Europe’s current showdown with Greece is critical for the future of Germany’s place in Europe, analysts say.

If Ms. Merkel approves a new lifeline for Athens after weeks of vitriolic debate, she is likely to face a furor from Germany’s right and stoke the country’s incipient euroskeptic movement.

If Greece careens out of the euro, Ms. Merkel will face blame for an episode that has further polarized Europe at a time when controversies over the U.K.’s EU membership and how to treat migrants and refugees are adding to the tensions wrought by the Ukraine crisis.

Claudia Major, a security specialist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said: “If Greece were to leave the eurozone, this may someday be seen as the beginning of the end of the project of European integration—when the Germans were not in the position, as the leading power in shaping Europe, to be able to resolve things with the Greeks.”

As they conclude…

With every crisis in which Ms. Merkel acts as the Continent’s go-to problem solver, the message to many other Europeans is that for all the lip service about the common “European project,” it is the Germans and faceless bureaucrats in Brussels who run the show.

The pushback against German power in Europe is likely to grow if the eurozone crisis worsens or if Berlin’s policies grow more assertive.

Angela’s Ashes: How Merkel Failed Greece and Europe – By Spiegel Online International

German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after a session at the Bundestag lower house of parliament on the Greek crisis on July 1, 2015 in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "the future of Europe is not at stake" because of the crisis over Greece after the breakdown of debt talks and expiry of its aid programme. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN

German chancellor Angela Merkel leaves after a session at the Bundestag lower house of parliament on the Greek crisis on July 1, 2015 in Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the future of Europe is not at stake” because of the crisis over Greece after the breakdown of debt talks and expiry of its aid programme. AFP PHOTO / ODD ANDERSEN

Angela Merkel relishes her reputation as queen of Europe. But she hasn’t learned how to use her power, instead allowing a bad situation to heat up to the boiling point. Her inability to take unpopular stances badly exacerbated the Greek crisis.

By Peter Müller and René Pfister

July 03, 2015 – 08:17 PM

Angela Merkel was already leaving for the weekend when she received the call that would change everything. The chancellor had just had a grueling day, spending all of it in meetings with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras — sometimes as part of a larger group, and others with only him and French President François Hollande.

They discussed debt restructuring and billions of euros in additional investments. When it comes to issues important to him, Tsipras can be exhaustingly stubborn. In the end, though, Merkel was left with the feeling the EU summit was the milestone that could quite possibly mark a turn for the better.

Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, had pulled Merkel aside in Brussels and whispered to her that Tsipras was seeking allies in the opposition, with whom he could push a reform program through Greek parliament even without the consent of the radical wing of Syriza, if necessary. “Can you help me?” Tsipras had asked Schulz. Schulz has good connections in the Social Democratic PASOK Party.

But when Merkel returned to Berlin, she received a call from Tsipras. He told her that he was not interested in a deal, but that he intended to hold a referendum in Greece first. A short time later, he tweeted: “With a clear ‘NO,’ we send a message that Greece is not going to surrender.”

Merkel is known for not being easily fazed. She has made it this far in part because she has firm control of her emotions. And she remained silent throughout the weekend. But at a Monday meeting of leading members of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU), she hinted at the depth of her disappointment in Tsipras. His policies are “hard and ideological,” she said, adding that he is steering his country into a brick wall “with his eyes wide open.”

Merkel had always described Tsipras as a man who, while leading a crazy organization, was quite open and accommodating in person. She had hoped that Tsipras would ultimately help reason prevail. Now, though, it appears that he has handed Merkel the greatest debacle of her tenure as chancellor.

‘Nothing Left to Fear’

In the end, of course, it will primarily be the fault of the radical Greek government if the country is ejected from the euro zone. How should one deal with a prime minister who conducts negotiations using the language of military mobilization? “We have justice on our side. If we can overcome fear, then there is nothing left to fear,” Tsipras tweeted on Monday.

But the divide that is now opening up in Europe also has something to do with Merkel’s leadership style — and with her idiosyncrasy of allowing things to drift for extended periods. This method works when it comes to negotiating a compromise, and when everyone involved is interested in a favorable outcome. But it reaches its limits when someone like Tsipras is determined to carry things to the extreme.

It has long been clear that Greece is a special case in the context of the euro crisis. It is a country in which neither the taxation system nor the land registry system works, a country that is so deeply in debt that no reasonable economist still believes that it can ever repay what it owes. In addition, parties that habitually plundered the state ran the country for years. Then came Syriza, a movement that, at least in its radical quarters, dreamed of toppling the system.

Merkel knew all of this. Nevertheless, she tried to fix the problem with recipes she had used in German domestic politics: delaying, hiding and allowing things to remain vague. There was no lack of cautionary voices. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has long argued that Greece should be taken on an orderly path out of the euro.

Merkel hopes that the Greeks will vote against Tsipras and in favor of their creditors’ austerity proposals on Sunday. If that happens, the Greek prime minister will hardly be able to remain in office. But even so, Greece will remain a bankrupt country and would be faced with forming a new government in the midst of chaos.

The Greek crisis required leadership and a plan, but Merkel was unwilling to provide either. Although she likes power, when push comes to shove, she doesn’t know what to do with it. And now she faces the wreckage of her European policy. How could things have come to this?

McKinsey Policies

To understand Merkel’s policies, it is worth turning back the clock to 2003. She had only been head of her party for three years and was in the midst of writing a new agenda for the CDU. There were four-and-a-half million unemployed in Germany, social security coffers were empty and employers were groaning about an excessively high tax burden. Germany wasn’t nearly as badly off as Greece is today, but it was in urgent need of restructuring, and Merkel began to prescribe a strict reform program for the country. The McKinsey management-consulting firm provided the numbers to support her bitter message of austerity.

McKinsey specializes in delivering unpleasant truths and is normally hired by companies that need to cut costs and lay off employees. It is easier for managers if they are able to hide behind the consultants’ analyses. That’s the McKinsey principle.

Merkel applied the principle to politics. When the euro crisis erupted in 2010, she made sure that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was involved in Greece’s restructuring. She did so against the will of Finance Minister Schäuble, who believed that Europe should solve its own problems.

In a sense, the International Monetary Fund is the McKinsey of global politics. It helps out wherever countries face financial difficulties, granting loans if countries agree to enact reforms in return.

Reintroducing Mathematics

The idea made sense at first. One reason Europe had slid into the crisis was that the Continent, amid the euphoria of integration, had paid little attention to numbers. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl introduced the euro, but in doing so, he paid too much attention to his emotions and not enough to economic realities. The purpose of bringing in the IMF was to reintroduce mathematics to the equation.

But the McKinsey principle conflicts with Merkel’s claim to power. Her advisers like to portray the chancellor as the queen of Europe, as someone who shapes its guidelines. But in recent months, she has come across as a woman who is hiding behind the advice and recommendations of IMF experts — behind the “technocrats,” as Tsipras puts it.

In this sense, the struggle between Merkel and the Greek premier is also a battle over the definition of the political. Tsipras has turned the IMF into a symbol of oppression, into a group of technocrats who lack democratic legitimacy and yet are subjugating an entire country. He knew how to stylize resistance to the IMF into a battle over a nation’s self-determination. His aim was to elevate the conversations to the political level.

For Tsipras, politics is a magic wand that can make everything disappear: mountains of debt, reform requirements and the rule that prohibits the European Central Bank (ECB) from keeping countries liquid by printing money. It is hard to say what Syriza actually wants. The party is as much a home to former Maoists as it is to disillusioned social democrats. Some dream of a revolution, while others would be satisfied with debt forgiveness. But one thing is clear: Tsipras’ radicalism lies in his faith in the power of the decision. If he doesn’t accept rules, he demands that they be dissolved. This is the logic of Syriza.

Merkel’s real failure is that she did not decisively stand up to his way of thinking. First, she hid behind the troika, because she didn’t want to be the one to deliver the bitter truths to the Greek government. She followed the McKinsey principle.

Then, when Tsipras’ demands became more and more urgent, she bowed to his logic. She adopted the motto: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” In Germany, these words were interpreted as a sign of goodwill — of the desire to keep Greece in the euro zone. But Tsipras interpreted them completely differently: as a challenge to bring matters to a head.

Merkel’s Europe

Last Monday, Merkel stood in front of a blue screen in the lobby of the Chancellery and uttered a sentence that typifies her European policy. She was discussing the question of whether a “no” vote by the Greeks to the creditors’ reform program was tantamount to a “no” to the euro. Instead of saying “yes” or “no,” she said: “I will say quite openly: I am divided on this issue.”

One cannot accuse Merkel of not having principles when it comes to foreign policy. Her fidelity to the US is unbreakable, a fact that the NSA’s surveillance of her mobile phone and of several German ministries has done nothing to change. She stands firmly behind Israel, even if the current government has done nothing to establish peace with the Palestinians. And in the end, she has managed to get along with every French president who has crossed her path, even with François Hollande, who campaigned against the German chancellor and her austerity policies.

Her position on Europe, however, is less clear. On the one hand, there is the Merkel of numbers. When she travels the world, to China or Indonesia, for example, she always has all the tables and diagrams at hand to show the great effort such countries are making and how good Europe has it with its prosperity. A typical Merkel triplet goes as follows: Europe contains just 7 percent of the global population and is responsible for just 25 percent of global economic output, but pays half of all global social welfare. From her perspective, a high school diploma isn’t necessary to realize that such a situation cannot continue forever.

On the other hand, she has learned over the years that it doesn’t come across well when she only casts a cold economic eye on Europe. It seems unfriendly. That helps explain why Tsipras was able to cast her as the villain — as the German dominatrix of austerity — because she was constantly talking about amortization and interest rates. In addition, she is the head of a party that pushed harder than any other for European integration and didn’t focus exclusively on money. She knows that she cannot simply ignore that tradition — which is why she sometimes has to slip into the role of the convinced European.

Just how divided Merkel is can also be seen by looking at her advisors. Chancellery head Peter Altmaier is a portly, unruffled man from the state of Saarbrücken near the French border. Prior to becoming involved in German politics, he worked for the European Commission and speaks fluent English, Dutch and French. In the past several months, Altmaier has done his part to ensure that Merkel remain committed to Greece, arguing that the European idea would be damaged were the community to allow a country to fall out. His answer to the crisis is: more Europe.

No Illusions

On the other side is Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, who has led the Chancellery’s Europe department for several years. He is a wiry bureaucrat with a sharp tongue, but not without humor. Meyer-Landrut’s view of Europe and its problems is free of emotion. He is the one who provides Merkel with all the numbers that show why progress isn’t being made in Greece. His answer to the crisis is: nation states need to take control.

Numbers-Merkel has no illusions about Greece. She doesn’t believe the political classes in Athens will be able to get the country on the right track. Once, during a flight she was suddenly gripped by a laughing fit. She said that the Greek government was refusing to pay the bill for German submarines it had purchased. Their justification was that the subs were crooked. “Crooked!” Merkel said as tears of hilarity rolled down her cheeks.

In October 2012, she visited then-Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras in Athens. She didn’t have much respect for Samaras, who had won as head of the conservative party Nea Dimokratia by running against the reform program demanded by Greece’s creditors. Once he got into office though, he buckled — but as has so often been the case, his pledges to Brussels were never fulfilled.

On the return flight to Berlin, a bemused Merkel told of a boast Samaras had made in an interview — that his ministers could reach him on weekends as well. The moral of the story was clear for her: How can a country move forward when its leader sees something so banal as an act of heroism?

Back in 2012, Merkel was close to pushing Greece out of the euro, but she balked in the end. She was afraid that it could have a similar effect as the Lehman bankruptcy did in 2008. That was the spark that ignited the global financial crisis.

A Policy of Pedagogical Imperialism

Since then, the chancellor has gone back and forth. Sometimes she is Numbers-Merkel and sometimes she is Europe-Merkel. Numbers-Merkel sees the Grexit as the most reasonable solution. But Europe-Merkel is concerned about being seen as the EU’s grave-digger should she let Greece fall. There are decent arguments on both sides, but Merkel never made up her mind. She left things open.

The euro crisis opened up a new dimension of power for Merkel. Since 2010, there has been an endless series of crisis summits in Brussels and the German chancellor was always the center of attention. She was the one sitting on the biggest war chest, a fact which granted her far-reaching influence. And Merkel enjoyed her role as the queen of Europe. She didn’t lord it over the others: She wasn’t as loud as Gerhard Schröder and wasn’t as forceful as Helmut Kohl.

Instead, she did what no German chancellor had ever done before. She followed a policy of pedagogical imperialism, with the lesson plan calling for budgetary discipline, labor market reform and privatization. It worked in Spain, Portugal and Ireland, but in Greece, the conditions imposed by creditors were not seen as necessary medicine but as a poison that was destroying society.

Merkel saw what was happening, but she didn’t have the courage to face the consequences. And there were alternatives. She could have offered Greece a safe and supported path out of the euro zone. That is the course of action that Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has supported internally for years. She could also have offered Greece a debt haircut. Had she done so at the right moment, she could at least have prevented the radicalization of Greek politics.

None of these options would have been free of risk. They would have required courage and money, and they would have opened up Merkel to attack. And that is something she didn’t want.

So she hid behind the troika, behind the hated technocrats, thereby accelerating the rise of Syriza. Indeed, Tsipras is, to a certain extent, a product of Merkel’s vacillating leadership style. In the Chancellery, people are expressing relief that Tsipras was unable to drive Europe apart and that nobody is blaming Germany for the current impasse. That may be true, but it is also a rather simplistic view. Success for Merkel is when nobody is pointing their finger at her.

In the Shadow of the Giant

In just under five months from now, on Nov. 22, Merkel will have been in office for a full decade. Thus far, she hasn’t paid much attention to her legacy. Which makes sense. The mere fact of who she is makes her unique among German chancellors. Konrad Adenauer firmly anchored Germany in the West. Willy Brandt reconciled Germans with democracy. Helmut Kohl is the chancellor of reunification.

Merkel is Germany’s first female chancellor. That’s not a small thing. It is important symbolically. But people who know her well say that Merkel is determined to run again in the next general elections. Because of Europe. She wants to use her power to reshape the Continent. Should the euro zone disintegrate, it would forever overshadow her time in office. She would be seen as a failed head of government.

Last Monday, Merkel held a speech on the occasion of the CDU’s 70th birthday, a good opportunity to say make a few things clear. Strangely, though, she remained trapped in the rhetoric that Helmut Kohl once used. The party was held in a power station, and Merkel noted in her speech that the facility had been part of the Wehrmacht’s last line of defense against the advancing Red Army. “Just like this factory, the entire country lay in ruins.”

Europe, she continued, is the answer to the horrors of that war. It is a nice thought and a vitally important one. But it is far from new. The consequence drawn by Kohl is that Europe must continually draw closer together. But Merkel has drawn no such conclusion. And therein lies her contradiction. She borrows from Kohl’s rhetoric, but not from his political convictions. Which explains why there is a growing gap between her words and her deeds.

What Does She Want?

Three days before the CDU celebration, Merkel was at an EU summit in Brussels. The Greek crisis was on the agenda, but there was another issue to discuss as well. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tentatively presented a paper in an effort to give Europe a new goal, a new idea that reaches beyond the day-to-day.

He proposed that the Commission be granted greater powers — on budgetary oversight, for example. Juncker wasn’t trying to launch a revolution, nor was he trying to lay the cornerstone of a European government or to eliminate European nation-states. It was nothing more than an attempt to draw a couple of practical consequences from the euro crisis.

But Merkel doesn’t even want that. At the press conference following the summit, she spoke about everything: about Greece, about refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean, about Jacques Delors, who had been named an honorary citizen of Europe. Regarding Juncker’s proposal, she had but one thing to say: she “took note of it.” In politician-speak, that essentially means: Forget it.

Merkel wants a Europe of nation-states and not a deeply integrated Europe. She was concerned about Juncker running as the lead conservative candidate in 2014 European elections, worried — correctly — that it could result in a reduction of power for European heads of state and government. Furthermore, she doesn’t trust the European Parliament because majorities aren’t as dependable as they are in the Bundestag back home in Berlin.

The chancellor says none of this openly because it would contradict the CDU’s founding principle. She can speak like Kohl, but she breaks with what he stood for. Left behind is a confused EU that doesn’t know what the most powerful woman on the Continent actually wants.

Kooperation statt Konfrontation: Wie die Syriza-Regierung der Troika hilft, das Spekulationskarussell in Gang zu halten

 

 
 
greece-euro-crisis-400x300Am 25. Januar brachten die Wahlen in Griechenland das Bündnis Syriza an die Macht. Trotz seines Sieges werden die Geschicke des Landes seitdem nicht von Athen, sondern weiterhin von Washington, Berlin und Brüssel aus gesteuert. Und nicht nur das: Die seit 2010 andauernde Zwangsverwaltung Griechenlands durch die Troika aus IWF, EZB und EU-Kommission ist sogar noch verschärft worden.

Nachdem der IWF bereits im Dezember 2014 seine Zahlungen an Griechenland ausgesetzt hatte, zog die EZB im Februar 2015 nach. Sie akzeptiert seitdem keine griechischen Staatsanleihen und keine vom griechischen Staat garantierten Banken-Bonds als Sicherheiten mehr. Zudem droht die EU-Kommission dem Land immer wieder mit dem Rauswurf aus der Eurozone.

All diese Maßnahmen zielten von Anfang an darauf ab, die neue Regierung unter Druck zu setzen, die arbeitende Bevölkerung einzuschüchtern und einen Keil zwischen beide zu treiben. Dass dies bisher weitgehend geglückt ist, liegt allerdings nicht nur an der Härte der Troika, sondern auch an der Politik der Syriza-Regierung.

Ungeachtet ihrer Zusage, die Austeritätspolitik zu beenden, haben Premier Tsipras und sein Finanzminister Varoufakis seit ihrer Wahl nicht etwa auf Konfrontation, sondern auf Kooperation mit Griechenlands Zwangsverwaltern gesetzt. Allen markigen Sprüchen vor der Wahl zum Trotz verfolgen sie seit dem 25. Januar eine doppelte Strategie: Während sie den Menschen in Griechenland weiterhin Versprechen machen (die sie nicht einhalten werden), zeigen sie der Troika gegenüber Unterwürfigkeit (ohne deren Forderungen erfüllen zu können).

Das Ergebnis: Die Troika weicht keinen Millimeter von ihrer bisherigen Linie ab. Sie besteht mit kompromissloser Härte darauf, dass die arbeitende Bevölkerung und die Armen auch weiterhin für die durch Banker und Politiker angerichteten Schäden aufkommt. Aus ihrer Warte betrachtet, ist dieser Kurs sogar folgerichtig, denn der Degenerationsprozess des Weltfinanzsystems hat inzwischen ein Stadium erreicht, in dem Reformen in einzelnen Bereichen zwangsläufig die Gefahr eines Einsturzes des ganzen Gebäudes mit sich bringen.

Seit 2008 wird versucht, die durch die Bankenrettung entstandenen Löcher in den Staatshaushalten zu stopfen, indem zum einen die arbeitende Bevölkerung mittels Austeritätsprogrammen zur Kasse gebeten wird und zum anderen Unmengen an Geld gedruckt und der Finanzindustrie zu Nahe-Null-Zinsen zur Verfügung gestellt werden – angeblich, um die stagnierende Wirtschaft wieder in Gang zu bringen. Statt dieses Geld aber in Form von Investitionskrediten zu vergeben, wird es von den Finanzinstitutionen zur Spekulation an den Aktien-, Anleihe- und Währungsmärkten benutzt. Die Folge sind riesige Blasen am Anleihenmarkt, an den Aktienbörsen und im Immobiliensektor.

Das einzige Mittel, um diese Blasen nicht platzen zu lassen, besteht darin, das sich immer schneller drehende Spekulations-Karussell auf Biegen und Brechen in Gang zu halten. Dass das in Griechenland bisher gelungen ist, lässt sich vor allem der Doppelstrategie der Syriza-Regierung zuschreiben: Sie hatte bei der Wahl im Januar nur deshalb so viele Stimmen auf sich vereinigen können, weil sie den Menschen ein radikales Ende der Austeritätspolitik versprach. Die vielen Solidaritätsbekundungen vom Rest des Kontinents zeigten, wieviel Hoffnung die Menschen auch in anderen Ländern in Syriza setzten.

Doch schon wenige Tage nach der Wahl wurden die hohen Erwartungen zum ersten Mal gedämpft. Dass Syriza eine Koalition mit den rassistischen rechtspopulistischen Unabhängigen Griechen einging, stieß weitgehend auf Unverständnis. Die danach von ihren führenden Funktionären ständig wiederholten Bekundungen, man wolle mit der Troika kooperieren und sämtliche durch Spekulation entstandenen Schulden Cent für Cent zurückzahlen, sowie das Herausschieben der Verwirklichung ihrer Wahlversprechen kostete weitere Sympathien.

Dass die Syriza-Regierung inzwischen aber in die Kassen der Rentenversicherung, der Krankenkassen und öffentlicher Betriebe, darunter sogar Hospitäler und Schulen, greift, um Kredite an die Verursacher der griechischen Notlage zurückzuzahlen, dass sie Steuern erhöht, hohe Rüstungsausgaben duldet, Bargeldzahlungen einschränkt und selbst einen weiteren Sozialabbau entgegen ihren Wahlversprechen nicht mehr ausschließt, hat nicht nur viele Anhänger der Bewegung in Griechenland schockiert, sondern auch zu einer Welle der Ernüchterung im Ausland geführt. Man erinnere sich nur daran, mit welchen Vorschusslorbeeren Syriza Ende Januar von Podemos in Spanien begrüßt wurde und wie deren Führung den Beginn „einer neuen Epoche“ in Europa ausrief. All das ist inzwischen Schnee von gestern.

Die Syriza-Politik der vergangenen Monate lässt sich in drei aufeinanderfolgende Phasen unterteilen: Zunächst hat das Bündnis sich mit falschen Versprechen an die Spitze des Widerstandes gegen die Austeritätspolitik gesetzt. Dann hat es die Menschen durch seinen Zickzack-Kurs und in sich widersprüchliche politische Aussagen verwirrt und verunsichert. In der dritten Phase arbeitet es immer unverhohlener mit der Troika zusammen, plant bereits die Durchsetzung von Arbeitsmarktreformen, diskutiert Rentenkürzungen und eine Senkung des Mindestlohnes und hat mit der Privatisierung von Staatsbetrieben begonnen. Ideologisch verbrämt wird dieser politische Offenbarungseid mit der Begründung, man habe ja Widerstand leisten wollen, sei aber an der Härte der Gegenseite gescheitert.

Dass Syriza sich im Verlaufe der vergangenen dreieinhalb Monate vom vermeintlichen Gegner zum Instrument und zum Helfershelfer der Troika entpuppt hat, hat auch dem Widerstand gegen die Sparpolitik in anderen europäischen Ländern empfindlich geschadet. Die Hoffnung der spanischen Bevölkerung, dass mit Podemos im Schlagschatten von Syriza ein neuer Wind in Europa wehen könnte, ist weitgehend verpufft. Es ist kaum noch damit zu rechnen, dass die Wahlen im Herbst zu dem bis vor kurzem vorausgesagten Triumph der Podemos-Bewegung führen werden.

Bei aller Ernüchterung lässt sich aber auch feststellen, dass Syriza durch die Enthüllung ihres wahren Charakters einen entscheidenden Beitrag zu einem extrem wichtigen politischen Klärungsprozess in Europa geleistet hat: Es war noch nie so offensichtlich, dass Appelle an das menschliche Gewissen von Troika-Technokraten vollkommen sinnlos sind und dass eine menschenwürdige Zukunft des Kontinents nicht durch Kooperation mit der Troika, sondern einzig und allein durch die Konfrontation und den entschlossenen Kampf gegen das Bündnis aus EU, EZB und IWF möglich ist.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are of sole responsibility of the author(s). Unruly Hearts will not be responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statement in this article.

‘The Fourth Reich’: What Some Europeans See When They Look at Germany

 

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 Following World War II, a German return to dominance in Europe seemed an impossibility. But the euro crisis has transformed the country into a reluctant hegemon and comparisons with the Nazis have become rampant. Are they fair? 

By SPIEGEL Staff

May 30, 1941 was the day when Manolis Glezos made a fool of Adolf Hitler. He and a friend snuck up to a flag pole on the Acropolis in Athens on which a gigantic swastika flag was flying. The Germans had raised the banner four weeks earlier when they occupied the country, but Glezos took down the hated flag and ripped it up. The deed turned both him and his friend into heroes.

Back then, Glezos was a resistance fighter. Today, the soon-to-be 93-year-old is a member of the European Parliament for the Greek governing party Syriza. Sitting in his Brussels office on the third floor of the Willy Brandt Building, he is telling the story of his fight against the Nazis of old and about his current fight against the Germans of today. Glezos’ white hair is wild and unkempt, making him look like an aging Che Guevara; his wrinkled face carries the traces of a European century.

Initially, he fought against the Italian fascists, later he took up arms against the German Wehrmacht, as the country’s Nazi-era military was known. He then did battle against the Greek military dictatorship. He was sent to prison frequently, spending a total of almost 12 years behind bars, time he spent writing poetry. When he was let out, he would rejoin the fight. “That era is still very alive in me,” he says.

Glezos knows what it can mean when Germans strive for predominance in Europe and says that’s what is happening again now. This time, though, it isn’t soldiers who have a chokehold on Greece, he says, but business leaders and politicians. “German capital dominates Europe and it profits from the misery in Greece,” Glezos says. “But we don’t need your money.”

In his eyes, the German present is directly connected to its horrible past, though he emphasizes that he doesn’t mean the German people but the country’s ruling classes. Germany for him is once again an aggressor today: “Its relationship with Greece is comparable to that between a tyrant and his slaves.”

Glezos says that he is reminded of a text written by Joseph Goebbels in which the Nazi propaganda minister reflects about a future Europe under German leadership. It’s called “The Year 2000.” “Goebbels was only wrong by 10 years,” Glezos says, adding that in 2010, in the financial crisis, German dominance began.

For a long time, it was primarily the Germans who obsessed about their country’s Nazi past, but recently, other countries in Europe have joined them. Chancellor Angela Merkel with a Hitler moustache, German tanks heading south: There has been a flood of such caricatures in Greece, Spain, Britain, Poland, Italy and Portugal in recent weeks and years. And Nazi symbols have become de rigueur at anti-austerity demonstrations.

People have even begun talking about the “Fourth Reich,” a reference to the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler. That may sound absurd given that today’s Germany is a successful democracy without a trace of national-socialism — and that no one would actually associate Merkel with Nazism. But further reflection on the word “Reich,” or empire, may not be entirely out of place. The term refers to a dominion, with a central power exerting control over many different peoples. According to this definition, would it be wrong to speak of a German Reich in the economic realm?

A Shadow over the Present Day

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras certainly doesn’t have the impression that he is free to steer his country’s policy as he likes. This Monday, he is in Berlin for meetings with the German chancellor, at which Germany’s national-socialist past will be a topic of conversation. Greece is demanding that Germany pay reparations for Nazi war crimes visited on the country during World War II.

Those demands, of course, have much to do with the desperation now being felt by a government that has thus far acted with a significant degree of amateurism. But it would be a mistake to believe that the German past is no longer relevant. Again and again, it casts its shadow over the present day.

A heavy accusation has been levelled at Germany — by some in Greece, in Spain and in France but also by some in Great Britain and in the United States. The euro crisis, a certain breed of politicians, journalists and economists argue, has allowed Germany to dominate Southern Europe and to suffocate it in order to impose its principles even as its export policy has meant that the country has profited from that same currency crisis more than any other country. Germany’s image in some countries has become one of an egotistical economic occupier flanked by smaller Northern European countries from the same mold.

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Graphic: German Dominance

The accusations come primarily from opinion-makers in countries that have experienced years of mass unemployment and the anger is palpable, which is why the demons from Germany’s past are returning. And it is hardly surprising that those now suffering humiliation would demand payment of past debts. Germany’s historic guilt is now being wielded by the powerless as a weapon to make noise and be heard.

Surveys abroad, to be sure, have found that Germans are widely respected overseas. But in Europe today, people are nevertheless quick to cry Nazi when German policy becomes uncomfortable.

The accusations against the German government have a strange dialectic: Germany is dominating, people say, but it isn’t leading. It is a hegemon, but a weak one. That, too, leads us to history. In his 1987 book “From Bismarck to Hitler,” historian Sebastian Haffner wrote that turn-of-the-century Germany had an “unwieldy size.” It was, he said, both too big and too small. That may be true once again.

How, then, does Germany’s role in Europe look at the moment when viewed from outside? And inside?

‘Tank Divisions of Yore’

Next to the Milan stock exchange, not far from where an 11-meter (30-foot) tall sculpture of a middle finger offers its unique commentary on the decline of high finance, the headquarters of the newspaper Il Giornale can be found. There, in exactly the same office once used by renowned Italian journalist and author Indro Montanelli, Vittorio Feltri is now sitting. Seventy-one years old, Feltri has been a journalist for more than half a century with Corriere della Sera and other papers. Last year, he published a remarkable book together with another well respected journalist named Gennaro Sangiuliano, deputy head of news for the national broadcaster Rai 1. Its title: “The Fourth Reich: How Germany Subdued Europe.”

It isn’t just desperate, radicalized demonstrators who draw comparisons to the past. Often, respected intellectuals and citizens who are free of financial concerns, like Feltri and Sangiuliano, do the same.

The two authors see the euro as a means to a German end, writing that the common currency is reminiscent “rightly or wrongly ” of the “tank divisions of yore.” The euro, they believe, is to secure territory under German control. And Germany’s high court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht? “Sounds like a Wehrmacht weapon.” They write of Chancellor “Merkiavelli, in her pretentious headquarters, the “Kohlosseum,” and say that she is now completing the plan that Hitler failed to make reality. The book, says Feltri, is intended as a polemical tract meant to point out the “unsuitability of this common currency that only Germany is profiting from.”

A large share of Italy’s political class shares Feltri’s view. Last year, the Social Democrat Romano Prodi, former president of the European Commission, raised eyebrows with an essay published in the periodical L’Espresso. “In Germany, populist and nationalist sentiments are covered by Merkel,” he wrote. “But in Brussels in recent years, only one country has determined the direction; Germany has even seen fit to teach others unacceptable moral lessons.”

Whereas Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is careful to emphasize his proximity to Germany, radical tones can be heard on the right wing. Germany expert Luigi Reitani said at a conference late last year that some in Italy have begun drawing “a line from the barbarian invasions via Bismarck and Hitler to Merkel.”

Things sometimes sound similar in France. Arnaud Montebourg, who would later become economics minister, said in 2011 that “Bismarck united the German principalities to rule over Europe and, in particular, France. In a shockingly similar way, Angela Merkel seeks to solve her domestic problems by foisting the economic and financial order adhered to by German conservatives onto the rest of Europe.” In other words, Germany’s former expansionary policies have returned in the economic realm.

‘The Blood of Our People’

The fear of German hegemony in Europe is likely nowhere so great as it is in France, which was at least partially occupied by its neighbor three times during an 80-year period. In recent years, “Germanophobia” has increased dramatically across the political spectrum, from Front National to the leftist wing of the governing Socialists. That has partially served to distract attention from political leaders’ own failures to implement reform, but they are nonetheless sentiments that deserve to be taken seriously.

The leftist French intellectual Emmanuel Todd warns that Germany is “increasingly pursuing politics of power and of hidden expansion.” Europe, he says, is being ruled by a Germany which, in its past, has constantly fluctuated between reason and megalomania. Since reunification, Todd says, Germany has brought a huge area of Eastern Europe under its control, a region once under the influence of the Soviets, to use it for its own economic aims.

In Athens, in a building belonging to the Ministry of Culture, Nikos Xydakis, deputy culture minister for the Syriza government, echoes the sentiment.

“It is as though my country were experiencing the consequences of war,” he says. European savings policies have ruined Greece, he says: “We have lost a quarter of our gross domestic product and a quarter of our population is unemployed.” Furthermore, he said, Greece didn’t ask for emergency loans, they were forced upon the country together with the cost-cutting program. “Now we are paying with the blood of our people.”

Germany, he says, has become too powerful in Europe. The country, he concedes, is a leader both politically and economically. “But those wanting to be a leader have to behave like one too.” Germany, he says, should be more generous and stop viewing weaker countries in Europe as its inferiors.

Xydakis says that he has to pay rent for his office because the building was sold to a fund to help pay back Athens’ debts. “I feel as though we were in Leipzig or Dresden with the bombs raining down.” The only difference, he says, is that the bombs of today come disguised as savings measures.

For him — just as for almost all critics of German policy — a single word has become the focus of their complaints: austerity. It refers to policies of thrift, a concept that has positive connotations in Germany. But in European countries hit hardest by the debt crisis, it stands for a bleak policy of externally-imposed deprivation. Germany isn’t just exporting its goods anymore, it is also exporting its rules.

Aggressive Trade Policy?

The goods, to be sure, are sold without any form of coercion. Europe loves products from Germany, and Berlin’s export surplus in 2014 stood at more than 7 percent of economic output. An export surplus means that Germany, in trading with other countries, takes in more money than it spends on their products. The difference often flows back out of Germany in the form of so-called capital exports. In other words, banks in Germany loan foreign companies money so that they can buy German products.

Since the turn of the millennium, Germany’s trade surplus has almost quadrupled and now stands at €217 billion ($236.4 billion). With France alone, the surplus was €30 billion in 2014. Even if exports to euro-zone member states dropped as a result of the crisis, no other country in the world has a trade surplus as large as Germany’s. Why is that? Is it because of aggressive trade policy?

German economist Henrik Enderlein is not dogmatic and doesn’t view the world through a national lens. A professor of political economics at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, Enderlein studied in both France and the US, worked at the European Central Bank (ECB) and taught at Harvard. He is an economic advisor to Germany’s Social Democrats and his father was a politician with the business-friendly Free Democrats. “The fact that Germany today has the highest trade surplus of all countries has a simple reason,” he says. “After the introduction of the euro, we had no other choice than to become more competitive. But it is absurd to believe that Germany did so in order to harm other countries.”

Enderlein believes that Germany didn’t consciously strive for its current roll but that it happened due to the structure of the euro zone. He also believes that the ECB is partially to blame because in the years after the euro’s 1999 introduction, the euro zone’s prime interest rate was kept between 3 and 4 percent. For southern European countries, this was much too low and led to a boom with rapidly climbing salaries and prices. For Germany, on the other hand, such interest rates were too high and employers had no choice but to keep salaries low so as to keep their products affordable. At first glance, that doesn’t seem aggressive, but southern European countries complained that Germany was guilty of “wage dumping,” or keeping domestic wages artificially low.

The resistance to rising wages led to German growth, self-confidence and, as a result, power. When Angela Merkel travels to Brussels, she does so as the leader of by far the strongest economy in the euro zone. Policies she doesn’t agree with don’t get passed. Power as such isn’t a bad thing when those that have it use it wisely. But do they?

There is a new tone in Germany. It is one that no longer abides by the noble customs of diplomacy. Whispering, suggesting and hinting have been replaced by ranting and blustering.

Here is what this new tone sounds like coming out of the mouth of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. Of Greece, he said that “a country that for decades has suffered and lived far beyond its means due to the failure of its elite — not because of Europe, not because of Brussels and not because of Berlin but exclusively because of the failure of its elite — has to slowly come back to reality. And when those responsible in this country lie to their people, it’s not surprising that the people react as they have.” He made the comments last Monday at an event hosted by the center-right foundation Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.

Triumphalism

The day before, Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder sounded similarly aggressive during an appearance on a German talk show with Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. He didn’t miss a single opportunity to gloat about Bavaria’s economic and financial strength.

Volker Kauder, the conservatives’ floor leader in German parliament, is the author of a particularly triumphalist example of the new tone, uttered way back in 2011. At a party conference of Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Leipzig, Kauder said in a speech: “Suddenly, German is being spoken in Europe.” Though CDU delegates loved it, the sentence was not well received further afield and Kauder now says he wouldn’t repeat it.

Merkel, of course, would never adopt such a tone, at least not publicly. She is more careful, her utterances sometimes so twisted that it isn’t immediately obvious what she is trying to say. Last Tuesday, she told conservative parliamentarians in Berlin that “Germany must be a country that doesn’t leave anything untried in the search for progress.” She meant progress elsewhere, in Greece.

The chancellor has an expansive project that is to ultimately result, one could say tongue in cheek, in a Merkel Reich. She isn’t nearly as focused on Europe as her predecessor Helmut Kohl, who wanted to see Germany dissolve into the European Union. Merkel thinks more in nation-state terms, but she knows that Germany alone will have little influence on the world. Countries that want to have a say must have a large population and a strong economy. Germany has the latter, but, relative to China or the US, lacks the former — which is why Germany needs populous Europe. But it must be a competitive, economically powerful Europe — and that is what Merkel is working toward.

Early on in the euro crisis, she developed ideas for so-called bench-marking. The concept called for European countries to be measured in several categories against the best in that category, which was often Germany. In this way, a German Europe would be created.

In the battle against the debt crisis in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece, Europe considered two different approaches. The southern countries wanted to stimulate growth through increased spending in the hope that state revenues would climb. Germany and northern European countries, by contrast, preferred cost cutting and structural reforms, an approach that made significant demands of the citizens of the countries affected.

The economically powerful Germany got its way. In order to put the struggling countries on the right track — on the German track, that is — Merkel brought in the International Monetary Fund so as to free Germany from having to play the strict overseer. Still, it has not escaped notice that Berlin is in charge.

From an early point in the crisis, other European leaders dared to protest openly. Then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that he had “fundamental doubts about the method” and asked Merkel at an EU summit: “Why do you have to foment division?” But three quarters of a year later, Merkel got her way with the passage of the rather German concept of a “fiscal pact.” In addition, EU leaders agreed to anchor debt limits in their national constitutions, to impose stricter penalties for those who exceeded maximum deficit limits and to pass structural reforms on the model of those Germany passed from 2003 to 2005. German sociologist Ulrich Beck, who has since passed away, referred to the pressure being exerted on Europe from Berlin as “Merkiavellismus.”

‘Madame Non’

The change in Germany’s approach to European policy has been dramatic. Helmut Kohl sought to avoid isolation at all costs when it came to important negotiations, but Merkel has all but completely rejected that approach. “I am rather alone in the EU, but I don’t care. I am right,” she once said to a small group of advisors during a discussion about the role of the IMF. Later, she said: “We are in Europe what the Americans are in the world: the unloved leading power.”

European Parliament President Martin Schulz says that during his campaign in 2014 as the center-left’s lead candidate, he was frequently asked: “How can you run for the office of European Commission president? You’re German after all.” Schulz, it must be said, speaks four languages fluently, has spent almost his entire political career in Brussels and has long fought for positive German-French relations. “I was seen as being part of the German dominance,” he says. “There is this feeling that Germany is too powerful, but when you ask questions about it, you never get a concrete answer.”

Senior officials in the Chancellery have reflected on how things got to this point and have come to the conclusion that much of it has to do with the larger role played by nation-states in the euro crisis. Only national governments, after all, were able to mobilize bailout money fast enough for ailing euro-zone partners. In addition, the further the French economy fell behind, the more powerful Germany appeared.

Merkel is sometimes referred to as “Madame Non.” When one of the other EU leaders finishes speaking during European summit meetings in Brussels, it is said, people tend to look first at Merkel to gauge her reaction.

But caricatures of her with a Hitler moustache? Referring to today’s Germany as the “Fourth Reich”?

The Nazis called their Germany the “Third Reich” in an effort to place themselves in a line with two previous eras of German dominance. The first was the Holy Roman Empire, born in the Middle Ages. Far from being a nation state, it was an area ruled over by mostly German emperors who controlled a large portion of Europe, all the way to Sicily. It came to an end in 1806 after Napoleon conquered many areas that once belonged to the empire. The second reich, according to this count, was the so-called Kaiserreich that Bismarck founded in 1871 after victories over Denmark, Austria and France. The smaller German states soon joined together under Prussian leadership, which is why Bismarck is considered today to have laid the groundwork for contemporary Germany. On April 1, his 200th birthday will be celebrated.

But soon after the founding of the Kaiserreich, a dangerous sentiment began to spread. It was a German hubris, a feeling of being superior to others, to know better and to be better. But it was mixed together with pusillanimity and a sense of being threatened.

The Dominance of Others

Bismarck’s reich, under Emperor Wilhelm II as of 1888, was also of an awkward size. It was too large in the sense that it was the most powerful state in Europe, leading France, Britain and Russia to all feel threatened. But it was too small to rule over Europe by itself. The Germans too had to form alliances — and the internal and external logic of these alliances was one of the most important reasons for the outbreak of World War I. The Kaiserreich lost, and broke apart in 1918.

Hitler believed that his “Greater Germany” was large enough to rule over Europe, but he was badly wrong. Even with the most brutal of war tactics and oppression, Nazi Germany was unable to defeat the Allies.

After the end of the Third Reich, German dominance on the Continent appeared to have been rendered an impossibility for all time. West Germany and East Germany both were initially tentative states that more or less willingly subordinated themselves to their big brothers, the US and the Soviet Union. They ceded to the dominance of others.

West Germany, though, soon developed a new — economic this time — instrument of power: the deutsche mark. Because the West German economy grew rapidly and its sovereign debt remained relatively manageable, the German central bank, the Bundesbank, dominated economic and financial policy in Europe in the 1970s and 80s. Governments in France, Britain and Italy paid close attention to the decisions being made in Frankfurt. Shortly before German reunification, a senior official in the office of the French president was quoted as saying: “We may have the nuclear bomb, but the Germans have the deutsche mark.”

François Mitterrand, president of France when the Berlin Wall fell, was not a fan of German reunification. He was afraid that a German colossus in the middle of Europe might soon begin seeking political dominance once again. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher believed so too, as did many Germans, particularly on the left wing. Author Günter Grass believed the country would return to its old hubris, its feeling of superiority.

German national team trainer Franz Beckenbauer seemed to confirm as much in 1990 when, after winning the World Cup in Italy, he said: “We are now that number one in the world after long having been the number one in Europe. Now, we are getting the players from (East Germany). I’m sorry for the rest of the world, but the German team won’t be beatable for years to come.”

In the political realm, too, there were occasional signs of megalomania. Chancellor Helmut Schmidt believed himself to be the best economist in the world in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When he met with US President Jimmy Carter, he didn’t see it as a meeting between the big US and little Germany, he saw it as a meeting of big Schmidt and little Carter — and not because of their physical sizes. Then, in the 1990s, came Oskar Lafontaine, a member of the Social Democrats at the time. As German finance minister in 1998, Lafontaine undertook the first effort to rebuild Europe according to Germany’s vision. Because he wanted to harmonize European financial markets and was fighting for a currency union, the British tabloid Sun wondered if he was “the most dangerous man in Europe.”

Too Small and Hesitant?

Ultimately, Lafontaine failed, and the German national team likewise experienced its share of losses, at least until 2014. Furthermore, united Germany initially kept a low political profile and remained modest. But then, the euro arrived, which Mitterand hoped would take away Germany’s “nuclear bomb.” The euro was supposed to break Germany’s economic dominance, but it has had the opposite effect. The shared currency has bound together the fates of euro-zone member states and granted Germany power over the others.

Which is why the “German question” has returned. Is the new Germany too big and powerful for the other European countries or is it too small and hesitant?

Hans Kundnani is head of research at the European Council on Foreign Relations, a pan-European think tank based in London. His focus is German foreign policy and he has written a widely noted book about Germany called “The Paradox of German Power.” Kundnani links the old German question with the new debate about Germany’s role in the euro zone. The strength of Germany’s economy combined with mutual dependence of the member states has created, he argues, economic instability that is comparable to the political instability that characterized the Bismarck era.

The problem, Kundnani believes, is not so much that Germany is exercising hegemonic power in Europe, but that it is only halfway exercising such power. It is focused entirely on itself — and it may be too small for the role that it should be playing.

“Germany is once again a paradox. It is strong and weak at the same time — just like in the 19th century after unification, it seems powerful from the outside but feels vulnerable to many Germans,” Kundnani writes. “It does not want to ‘lead’ and resists debt mutualization, but at the same time it seeks to remake Europe in its own image in order to make it more ‘competitive.'”

“Lead,” in this context, means to frequently pay, which is also how Varoufakis sees things. The Greek finance minister wants Merkel to establish a kind of Marshall Plan, just like the US once did to get postwar Europe back on its feet.

A real hegemon like the US, Kundnani writes, doesn’t just establish norms. It also creates incentives for those it rules over so that they remain part of the system. To do so, it must compromise in the short term so as to secure its long-term interests.

‘More Like an Empire’

Germany, to be sure, has been the primary backer of two Greek aid packages, but they haven’t proven sufficient. The new Greek government aims to fundamentally change the euro zone, establishing more mutualized debt and fewer German rules. Others agree. “This is not a monetary union,” the Financial Times wrote back in May, 2012. “It is far more like an empire.”

The investor George Soros warned that Europe could become split between countries with trade surpluses and those with deficits, describing it as a German empire in the middle of Europe with the periphery as its hinterlands. Empire, of course, is another word for Reich.

In today’s world, dominated as it is by economic issues, rulers and the ruled have ceded their historical roles to creditors and debtors. Germany is Europe’s largest creditor. Creditors have power over the debtors: They expect gratitude and they often have clear ideas regarding what the debtors must do so that they can one day pay back the money they owe. Creditors are not generally well liked.

Creditors want to have power over their debtors because they are afraid. Afraid that they won’t see their money again. Germany could pay Greece’s debts, but not those of Italy and Spain.

Germany may be big enough to impose its rules on Europe, Kundnani writes, but it is too small to be a real hegemon. Just like it was before World War I, Germany is afraid of being encircled by smaller countries. A part of that fear is that the ECB could ultimately be controlled by Southern European countries and that the power could be transferred to the debtor countries.

Germany is acting not like a hegemon, but like a “semi-hegemon.” It is an argument previously made by the German historian Ludwig Dehio in describing Germany’s position in Europe after 1871. Though the context was radically different, former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski also said in a speech in Berlin in November 2011 that he was less afraid of German power than he was of German inaction and urged Germany to take the lead in Europe.

Kundnani has observed a tendency for Germans to see themselves as being the real victims of the euro crisis — a view that is in diametric opposition to how debtor nations see things. Aggression is the result, to be seen in the new political “tone” in Germany or in the German tabloid Bild, which never tires of calling the Greeks “greedy.”

Misguided Nazi References

Whereas Germany has dominated Europe economically during the euro crisis, it has remained a foreign policy dwarf. The apex of this refusal to play a significant political role was its abstention in March 2011 United Nations Security Council vote on the NATO intervention in Libya. European partners like France also saw the vote as a step backwards for Germany. After all, the country had been involved in the Kosovo air strikes as well as the Afghanistan war.

Viewed superficially, the call for more German leadership, which has been heard from many Eastern European countries in recent years, stands in marked contrast to the complaints of Germany’s economic dominance. But the two are connected. Germany seeks to be an economic power, but not a military one. Its nationalism is based on economic output and export statistics, not on a desire to become a geo-political power. The same dilemma can be seen in the role Germany has played in the Ukraine crisis.

Germany, Kundnani writes, “is characterized by a strange mixture of economic assertiveness and military abstinence.” For that reason alone, the references to the Nazi period are off base. It is not about violence or racism. It is about money. And that is a vast difference, even if monetary questions can be uncomfortable as well.But an empire is in play, at least in the economic realm. The euro zone is clearly ruled by Germany, though Berlin is not unchallenged. It does, however, have a significant say in the fates of millions of people from other countries. Such power creates a significant amount of responsibility, but the government and other policymakers nevertheless sometimes behave as though they were leading a small country.Germany is, in fact, not big enough to solve the problems of all the others with money. But it would still be important sometimes to show more greatness, sometimes by way of generosity. And it would certainly be easier to make progress in Europe without the new polemic tone from Munich and Berlin. Power and greatness can sometimes be shown by ignoring the inappropriate comparisons, or by elegantly refuting them. By Nikolaus Blome, Sven Böll, Katrin Kuntz, Dirk Kurbjuweit, Walter Mayr, Mathieu von Rohr, Christoph Scheuermann, Christoph Schult