The month began reasonably well.
On September 7, the German Constitutional Court repealed a complaint by a group of German professors and declared that the integration approach followed vis-à-vis European financial bail-outs is not in breach of German citizens’ basic constitutional rights and, by default, those of the national parliament. The latter, nevertheless, maintains an important oversight / legislative function.
But good news is no news …
In an op-ed for the conservative German daily ‘Die Welt’ on September 11, the young sympathetic leader of the German Liberal Party FDP, and Vice-Chancellor, Philipp Rösler, came out against European ‘centralism’ as displayed by moves to establish a common economic and fiscal policy.
What we need, he wrote, are ‘regulative value fundaments’ (what?!) on the basis of which nation states implement prudent policies following a ‘stability codex’(a what?!) Those who misbehave should be sanctioned in order to avert the risk of ‘political adulteration’ (yes, he really used that term!). This includes thinking through the scenario of state bankruptcy, for which a better term would be ‘resolvency’, whereby a country could be placed under close supervision and even lose its sovereignty till it resumes being well-behaved. (The notion of ‘resolvency’ is not existent as such in either English or German, but in medicine a resolvent reduces inflammation by dissolution.)
There are many things to criticize about Rösler’s op-ed, including its anti-European, anti-democratic and anti-federalism stance—all three especially surprising for a liberal party—not to mention its strange use of military and medical metaphor. But, above all, it is unintelligent and populist. The background: on September 18, there are state elections in Berlin, and it is projected that the FDP will not manage to pass the threshold. Rösler is only doing what several politicians do—going with the wind, in the hope that the wind carries him forward.
But OK, this is all local—why should we care if German politicians persist in treating themselves and their citizens like idiots?
Well, in this time and day, when news travel quickly—and nowhere faster than in financial markets, which are also populated by numerous ignorant and half-knowledgeable brokers and financial advisers—the ‘opinion’ spiraled downward to make headlines, namely, that a Greek state-bankruptcy is no longer a taboo subject for Germany. Add to this the Finnish wanting to have guarantees for their contributions to the Greek financial package; the Slovaks pledging to oppose the ratification of the extension of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF); everyone being against Eurobonds; financial markets plummeting—and the prudent ‘cool down’ policy that had prevailed in the second half of the summer had suddenly evaporated.
When Merkel, this time playing wise, indirectly reprimanded Rösler for his lack of sobriety, he answered that in a democracy it is possible to think and speak out freely. Sure. But that is not what this is about, is it?
In any case, instead of concentrating on the substantive issues, namely, the implementation of the second financial package for Greece, which includes several positive elements, the extension of the EFSF in the mid-term, and the long-term establishment of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Europeans are fighting turf wars confounding discussions at different levels.
The principal discussion of ‘Quo vadis Europa?’ with respect to its political and constitutional framework is not new. Back when the Euro was introduced, everyone knew that in the medium-term, for monetary union to work, a common economic policy would be necessary and that this, in turn, implies a different form and balance of power-sharing between the supra-national and national levels than is currently the case. Pretending now otherwise and that in the middle of a crisis is irresponsible. Justifying this with reference to the electorate is double irresponsible.
It is time to snatch out of the crisis cognitive schema. Coming up and diffusing negative sound bites is easier than relying upon and diffusing expert knowledge—but this is no excuse for giving into the former temptation. Sure there is a crisis and losses are unavoidable. It’s not the first, won’t be the last. But does it all have to become a prisoner’s dilemma?
This is no longer about winning or losing. It is about losing much (or all) versus losing little.