When Will Germany Say Ja

This article was published by the Huffington Post 18 Nov 2013
Why Does Germany Say No to Everything?
Denis MacShane
When will Germany say Yes to something? 30 years ago the fashionable button to sport as an engaged German citizen said “Nuclear. Nein danke.” Now Germans have turned “Just Say Nein” into a political philosophy which is having a profound impact on the rest of Europe.
Munich has just said No to the Winter Olympics in 2022. The Olympics in London, Athens and Barcelona raised morale and boosted Europe’s standing. The Winter Olympics were good for Vancouver and Albertville as well as for Turin and Lillehammer.
Citizens in the Swiss canton of Graubunden home to Davos and St Moritz held a referendum in March to decide if Switzerland should bid for the 2022 games. They said no. A small Swiss canton is one thing but for Bavaria to say No to the biggest winter sport event confirms how Germany now only knows how to say Nein. The word ‘ja’ seems to have been expunged from the German vocabulary.
Germany says No to nuclear power. Germany says No to supporting Nato in Libya. Germany says No to standing up to Vladimir Putin’s burial of democracy and rule of law in Russia. Germany says No to a European defence industry based on the merger of the British and French firms, BAE and EADS, in order to protect smaller German arms firms. Germany says No to post-war liberalism with the expulsion of the FDP from the Bundestag.
Above all, Germany says No to Europe except on exclusively German terms which the rest of Europe cannot hope to meet. Of course every other EU nation, especially the southern EU economies, would love to become export giants with huge balance of trade surpluses. Every other European country wishes it did not have to import BMWs and Mercedes because they would have a vibrant automobile industry of their own.
Citizens in southern Europe wish their politicians just cheated on their doctorates instead of cheating on national accounts. Politicians in southern Europe wish German banks had not offered so much cheap, easy money after the Euro was launched. Instead they wish German bankers had insisted on tougher conditionality to stop housing bubbles and the world of debt and easy credit promoted by the evangelists of pre-2008 deregulated banking.
But asking politicians – or bankers – to be retrospectively virtuous is not grown-up politics. Countries in the south of Europe have sacrificed jobs, growth, income, and up to to 60% of their young citizens now without work as they followed obediently the rules Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaeuble insisted were the only rules that would make Europe healthy.
Radek Sikorski famously said in Berlin that he feared German inaction more than he feared German action. Sikorski now has to contemplate a Germany that seems only to know how to say No.
It is not clear that the new coalition, once in office, will be able to start saying Yes. Mrs Merkel’s CDU want the coalition to say No to gay marriage while the Social Democrats want the German constitution to be changed to allow plebiscites or referendums on any changes in Germany’s relationship with the European Union. In today’s mood that is short-hand for saying No to any new EU Treaty and signals an end to European market and political integration.
Most worrying is Germany saying No to growth as the philosophy takes root that to focus on increasing German GDP is bad for ecology and social harmony. 100 years ago the German politician and stateman, Willy Brandt was born. He said Ja to more market, Ja to Europe and Ja to an alliance with the United States. He upset the German left which liked to live in a comfort zone of saying Nein. But there is no Willy Brandt around today.
Instead Europe needs a Germany that wants to say Yes to new ideas – liberal or left, more market and more jobs, any policies that can deliver Europe from its current prison of no-growth and increasing debt – and above all a realization that bleeding half the Eurozone to a non-life is unworthy of the European Union and its leaders.
Germany has been a Neinsager for too long. It is time for Germany to say Yes.

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