Throughout the most recent Greek monetary saga (and there’s been a few), the country frequently painted as the aggressor, the scrupulous negotiator and the archetypal bad-guy was not the Hellenic Republic, but Germany. Images of Chancellor Merkel and Finance Minister Schäuble adorned controversial election posters in Athens, and Germany as a nation was commonly the butt of many candid remarks that threatened to tread over some dangerous historical lines.
After grinding their way out of the doldrums and into a fully-fledged economic superpower, Germany is now the biggest and most influential state in the European Union, with a population of over 80.6 million people; this position of unelected authority has seen their reputation questioned however by those who feel the whole essence of the European Union is fundamentally about equality.
Having spent many weeks in Germany over the past 12 months, I have gained a good sense as to why the German people feel so passionately about both this recent Greek debacle, and the overall European project. Instead of dawdling on the past, Germany is in fact a proud nation today, proud of how its people came together – both East and West – to formulate what is now a thriving marketplace and an attractive destination to live.
The inability of Greece to introduce economic reforms has hurt the German people to their core: having pumped in almost €58 billion of taxpayers’ money into the Greek economy over the past 5 years, Germans want to see that the money is being put to good use; instead they are being ridiculed and lambasted for their fair, albeit hard-line stance. For every Greek argument for debt relief and extensions on repayments, the all-too-often German response is simple: if Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus (and indeed Germany following WW2) can face up to hardship and come through it, you can too.
While the economic blame game continues to rumble through the corridors of Brussels, Germany has meanwhile been tackling another pressing set of events: the migrant crisis. Whereas Italy and Malta are bearing the brunt of the humanitarian emergency, other EU nations – Hungary and the UK most notably – have been quick to set out their stall, issuing stark reminders to those wishing to enter their territories that they are simply not welcome.
Germany – looking to alleviate the pressure facing their Mediterranean counterparts – has instead taken a more conciliatory stance and has offered to integrate those who have managed to successfully survive the dangerous journey from Africa and afar. In fact, according to the EU’s Eurostat service, Germany dealt with 41,000 Syrians, 27,000 Serbians and 13,000 Eritreans seeking asylum in 2014 alone.
With Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning squad containing players born to Ghanaian, Turkish, Polish and Tunisian parents, the country is showcasing how multi-denominational and intercultural it has grown to become. Integration into German society of different nationalities has transcended potential issues of tension and has ultimately led to a unified success story, and one which can only develop further in the future.
For all of the criticism and scrutiny she receives, Angela Merkel is a woman who seems to ooze composure and be determined to stick to her main task of keeping the European Union functioning. In answering the dilemma posed in this article’s headline, Germany is a country that knows that exercising its influence for a common cause – no matter how many detractors raise their arguments – is a more noble cause than standing to one side and avoiding public humiliation.
Greeks and indeed millions of other Europeans may throw their insults and their disparaging comments in Germany’s direction, but they must be careful: it is one thing contemplating a Grexit from the EU; it would be a whole other conundrum waking up to a German-exit.