Cultural experiences and funny musings by two twenty-somethings living abroad
I have been living in Germany for about 2 years of my life – yet the whole time I have been here, Europe has been locked into a financial crisis, largely caused by countries like Portugal, Spain, Italy and, especially, Greece. But as I’ve been living here, I’ve come to realise that the way Germany has been treating these countries hasn’t really been to everyone’s benefit.
Yes, the Greek economic crisis is of their own making and they shouldn’t have been in the Eurozone in the first place. The question though really is what to do when this sort of situation actually happens. Do you impose austerity or do you try to grow out of the crisis? The answer has to be both – you need to cut waste and things that are dragging the economy down, but you also need to be able to have some money to invest in the things that will help the economy grow. To this end, Germany and many other European countries have been good at coming to Greece’s aid by bailing out the economy and insisting on imposing austerity measures to bring finances under control, but the Germans have perhaps gone too far in pushing austerity by not giving Greece a chance to grow out of the crisis. After all, you can’t pay off a debt if you’re not making any money.
Understandably, Germany remembers the legacy of financial mismanagement well – the hyperinflation and collapsing economy that Germany suffered in the dying years of the Weimar Republic led to the rise of Hitler, whose Nazi government would go on to commit some of the greatest crimes ever seen in history. Ever since, Germany has been on a path of financial responsibility where it doesn’t spend beyond its means and suffer another round of financial difficulty, which could lead to the rise of another nasty party. This is something the Germans have actively been preaching to their neighbours in southern Europe, which is all well and good, but the countries of southern Europe are already in a financial crisis and telling them what they should have and shouldn’t have done in the first place isn’t exactly going to help in the here and now.
What the Germans don’t seem to remember well is the concept of debt forgiveness. In 1953 – just 8 years after the end of the Second World War where Nazi Germany was engaged in a war of extermination and conquest across Europe, destroying much of the continent in the process – the Allies repackaged the Germans’ war debt so that the level of debt to be repaid was reduced. In turn, that initiated Germany’s economic miracle, making Germany the economic powerhouse it remains to this day. The German economy was only able to grow and prosper when the Allies reduced the level of repayments to be made, yet Angela Merkel’s policy seems to be continually lecturing Greece on what to do and holding back on debt support.
And then to top things off, there are stereotypes circulating around German society that tarnish the Greeks (and other southern Europeans for that matter) as lazy and untrustworthy. What the Germans quite conveniently seem to forget is that the Greeks work the longest hours in Europe whilst the supposedly hard working Germans work the second fewest hours of any country in the industrialised world. And whilst the Spanish, Italians and Portuguese are more mid-table when it comes to the number of hours worked, they still work 300 to 400 more hours per year than the Germans do.
And as for that bit about untrustworthiness, yes there are problems with Greece’s tax system where the state wouldn’t collect all the money owed and the country gained infamy for joining the Euro based on dodgy figures, but this is a problem that should be attributed to the Greek government of the day, not the Greek people now. And besides, if anyone had the opportunity to evade tax and keep more money in their pocket, almost everyone would. Germany only has to look as far as Uli Hoeness to see that tax evasion isn’t something only the Greeks do. Greece does need to tighten up its tax system, but lets not pretend that only the Greeks and other southern Europeans are untrustworthy, because there are also many untrustworthy people in financially responsible, hard-working Germany – whose government also broke budget deficit rules in 2003 and is actually breaking budget surplus rules now, which in turn is making things even tougher for the people of southern Europe. And if anything, the only country that actually stuck to Eurozone rules before the crisis began was Spain, a country which continues to be hit hard by the economic crisis, yet is also tarnished as an “untrustworthy southern European country”
Germany needs to give Greece a chance. Yes, people in richer parts of Europe shouldn’t have to keep bailing out failing economies, but this can only happen if Greece has both austerity and the means to be able to grow out of the crisis. Yes, it may mean my tax money and millions of others’ in Germany will go towards supporting the economies of southern Europe, but life is full of swings and roundabouts. After all, my grandparents’ generation were supporting a fledgling German economy at a time when Britain’s own economy was struggling, largely caused by Germany’s attempt to actively wreck Britain during the war just a few years earlier. If Europe can forgive Germany for the pain and destruction it brought to the people of Europe, Germany should be able to forgive Greece for its carelessness and creating a debt problem – after all, Germany was once in Greece’s boots 60 years ago. Let’s just get southern Europe off its knees and make sure it doesn’t happen again – they have been humiliated long enough.