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Bullying Germany’s Economic Whip Threatens EU Survival: Books

The English cover of
The English cover of "Sorry! I Am German.'' The author warns that Germans are becoming preachy and bullying to the rest of Europe. Source: Murmann Verlag via Bloomberg

July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Success is making Germany preachy and bullying, and the rest of Europe should take action to prevent Teutonic ideologies from taking over, argues Detlef Guertler, the author of “Sorry! I Am German.”

His slim polemic, published today in seven languages, half-seriously and half-humorously creates an alarming picture of an over-confident Germany zealously foisting its efficient economic model on the rest of Europe. It could all end in a war over air traffic controls in Majorca, he warns outrageously.

National confidence returned with the 2006 soccer World Cup and a steady decline in unemployment, Guertler says. Then the “new normality transformed into the demand for a new superiority.” Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s economic powerhouse has a “newly awakened sense of mission,” he argues.

A German journalist and consultant who divides his time between Germany, Spain and Switzerland, Guertler provokes and hyperbolizes for effect. With glib, amusing allusions to Faust, Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche, he frames his argument as a warning to other Europeans about what they can do to prevent Germany from “destroying the European Union.”

Guertler implausibly calls Merkel “Wilhelmina,” a reincarnation of Kaiser Wilhelm II, for her attempts to put Germany on the world stage with a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and exporting “Social Market Economy” policies and stringent regulation to the rest of Europe.

Productivity Whip

She is wielding a “productivity whip” over the rest of Europe, he argues. Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Guertler maintains, would “like to punish weaklings in the euro concert with thumbscrews and expulsion.”

Germany’s strength, he argues with some self-mockery, is in being sleekly competitive and maintaining a disciplined grip on inflation, wages and public spending. Major reforms are possible “without ending up in fierce strikes and street battles,” he says, citing the cuts in unemployment benefit that took place under Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Are Germans living up to Nietzsche’s vision -- becoming, in Guertler’s words, “as tough as leather, as agile as greyhounds, as hard as the D-Mark?” The trouble starts, says Guertler, when Germany thinks it has the solutions for everyone else as well.

“We don’t have a clue about how to make a Spanish, Greek, Estonian or Irish economy more competitive,” he cautions. “Okay, neither do they know how to do that. Simply adopting German recipes won’t work.”

Siesta Lovers

From the Southern European perspective, Guertler says, it is Germany that is the problem. If it were a bit slacker, the competition divide would be narrower.

“There are those who appreciate the value of a siesta more than that of an extra working hour,” he reminds compatriots.

Thankfully, even the alarmist Guertler doesn’t envisage German jackboots marching into Greece or any other euro-quitting, defaulting European nation any time soon. Yet he does imagine a military scenario farfetched enough to raise a smile.

What, he asks, if air traffic controllers suddenly stopped working on Majorca in the summer? How long before the Bundeswehr would send in planes to bring back tens of thousands of German vacationers?

“Or perhaps even a couple of fighter jets as escorts as well?” he speculates.

Guertler forgets to dwell on one of the best German national characteristics -- even though he demonstrates it himself just by writing his book, with its mix of self-knowledge, self-criticism and outside perspective.

The capacity for self-examination and angst about nationalism -- even a fear of German power -- are as present as they ever have been since World War II.

That fear, and the need to feel cozily cocooned among friendly if frustratingly inefficient, spendthrift neighbors, is why Germany is still shelling out for Greece. And why it will likely continue to do so.

“Sorry! I Am German” is from Murmann Verlag and is published simultaneously in e-format and in pamphlet form in German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, Turkish and Dutch (48 pages, 3.99 euros.)

(Catherine Hickley writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Catherine Hickley in Berlin at chickley@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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