The idea that Europe should be – or even can be – led by a single country is wide of the mark. Germany’s restraint does not just reflect the burden of its history. The truth is that the unique political structure that is Europe does not lend itself to a leader–follower dynamic. Europe signifies the equal coexistence of its member states. At the same time, however, Germany does feel a special responsibility towards the mutually agreed strategy for resolving the crisis in the eurozone.
Schäuble continues, outlining that Europe has a desperate need for sound fiscal policy that helps address the overdue consolidation of public budgets and encourages economic competitiveness across the Eurozone, alongside reforming the welfare state and modernizing the labor markets.
From the very beginning of the crisis we Europeans have pursued a joint strategy. This strategy aims to achieve the overdue consolidation of public budgets. But even more, it aims to overcome economic imbalances by improving the competitiveness of all eurozone countries. This is why the adjustment plans for countries that are receiving financial support call for fundamental structural reforms that aim to put them back on track towards long-term growth and thus secure sustainable prosperity for all. Sound public finances create confidence.
But sound public finances are not enough to ensure sustainable growth. In addition, we need to reform and modernise our labour markets, our welfare state, and our legal and tax systems. We have to make sure that all citizens of Europe enjoy working and living conditions that are not based on artificial growth bubbles.
Schäuble warns that “without these reforms there can be no sustainable growth. Stimulus programmes based on even more government debt will only shift higher burdens on to our children and grandchildren, and will have no lasting benefits.”
Instead of funding debt-piling stimulus programmes, Schäuble suggests that Europe should instead strive to “create conditions that are conducive to successful economic activity, in the context of global competition and demographic trends that pose a challenge for the whole of Europe. None of these things are German ideas. They are the tenets of forward-looking policies.”
Finally, Schäuble stresses that these policies are not simply a German obsession, imposed on unwilling partners. Instead, these programs and reforms are something that the majority of Europeans desire.
We do not want a German Europe. We are not asking others to be like us. This accusation makes no more sense than the national stereotypes that lurk behind such statements. The Germans are joyless capitalists infused with the Protestant work ethic? In fact, some economically successful German regions are traditionally Catholic. The Italians are all about dolce far niente (delicious idleness)? The industrial regions in northern Italy would not be the only ones to bristle at that. All of northern Europe is market-driven? The Nordic welfare states, with their emphasis on social solidarity and income redistribution, certainly do not fit this caricature.
Those who nurture such stereotypes should look at recent surveys that show a clear majority of people – not just in northern Europe, but also in the south – in favour of combating the crisis through reforms, public spending cuts and debt reduction.