Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jürgen Habermas on the euro crisis

Jürgen Habermas is a committed European, i.e., supporter of the European Union. And he continues his alarmed criticism of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's disastrous euro crisis policies in Merkel's European Failure: Germany Dozes on a Volcano Spiegel International 08/09/2013:

In the name of market imperatives to which there is allegedly no alternative, an increasingly isolated German government is enforcing harsh austerity policies in France and those euro-zone countries gripped by crisis. Contrary to reality, it assumes that all members of the European monetary union can make their own decisions regarding budgetary and economic policy. They are expected to "modernize" their administration and economy, and to enhance their competitiveness on their own -- if necessary with aid loans from the rescue fund.

This fiction of sovereignty is convenient for Germany, because it saves the stronger partner from having to take into account the negative effects that some policies can have on weaker partners. It is a situation that European Central Bank President Mario Draghi warned about a year ago, saying that "it is neither sustainable nor legitimate for countries to pursue national policies that can cause economic harm for others" (Die Zeit, Aug. 30, 2012).

It's worth repeating again and again: The suboptimal conditions under which the European Monetary Union operates today are the result of a design flaw, namely that the political union was never completed. That's why pushing the problems onto the shoulders of the crisis-ridden countries with credit financing isn't the answer. The imposition of austerity policies cannot correct the existing economic imbalances in the euro zone. An assimilation of the different levels in productivity in the mid-term could only be expected from a joint, or at least closely coordinated, fiscal, economic and social policy. And if we then, in the course of countervailing policies, don't wish to completely turn into a technocracy, we must ask the public what they think about a democratic core Europe. [Finance Minister] Wolfgang Schäuble knows this. He says as much in SPIEGEL interviews, which, however, have no consequences for his political behavior.

European policy is in a trap that the political sociologist Claus Offe has sharply illuminated: If we do not want to give up the monetary union, an institutional reform, which takes time, is both necessary and unpopular. This is why politicians who hope to be re-elected are kicking the can down the road. The German government, in particular, is in a double bind, because it has already assumed pan-European responsibility through its actions. It is also the only government that can take a promising initiative for a step forward -- and should pursue France's support for such a process. It isn't a trifling project, after all, but one into which Europe's most prominent politicians have invested their best efforts for more than half a century. [my empghasis]
The entire article is definitely worth reading. Habermas has an excellent grasp of the relationship between the political and financial crises in the EU and the eurozone.

I've used a riding-the-tiger metaphor for Germany's current position in the euro crisis. Habermas uses this one: "Europe is in a state of emergency, and the political power goes to whoever decides on the admission or licensing of topics to be discussed by the public. Germany isn't dancing. It's dozing on a volcano."

But whatever image you pick, this is a mess:

We know Angela Merkel's response: soporific bumbling. Her public persona seems to lack any normative core. Since the Greek crisis erupted in May 2010 and Merkel's Christian Democrats lost the state election in North Rhine-Westphalia, she has subordinated each of her considered steps to the opportunism of staying in power. Since then, the clever chancellor has maneuvered around with a clear mind but without recognizable principles, and, for the second time, is depriving the federal election of any controversial issue, not to mention her carefully isolated European policy. She can shape the agenda, because the opposition, were it to press on the subject of Europe, would be battered with the "debt union" cudgel -- by the same people who could only agree were they to say anything at all.
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