Is Germany Picking a Fight with France?




An astonishing attack on France — possibly heralding a new era of Franco-German tension over the EU’s banker-imposed austerity policies — has been published in the leading German magazine Der Speigel.

Der Speigel article lashes France, a sign of rising tensions over EU austerity?

Headed “Nostalgic and Narcissistic- France’s Obsession with the Past Hinders Reform” the article is by Der Speigel’s Paris bureau chief Mathieu von Rohr and appeared in the online English version of the magazine on August 14.

It thus coincided with the day Chancellor Angela Merkel returned from her summer holidays to face a worsening storm over Germany’s refusal to bow to the demands of the Latin South — France, Italy and Spain — for growth rather than austerity to end the Euroland debt crisis, timing which may or may not have been fortuitous.

Rohr writes: “One of the reasons France is currently such a difficult partner in Europe is that the country (François) Hollande represents is old-fashioned — and hopelessly in love with the idea of being old-fashioned. It lives in the past, and even when it knows that it’s in trouble, it refuses to change.

“France is the world’s fifth-largest economy (…) nevertheless, France also counts as one of Europe’s economically ailing countries. It has become steadily less competitive since the 1990s, unemployment has topped 10 percent, and government debt amounts to 89 percent of Gross Domestic Product.

“Although France is a long way from becoming another Spain or Italy(…) it could very well end up in dire straits like its southern neighbours. That’s why France plays a key role in the rescue of the euro.

“But France’s problem is that it can’t decide whether it wants to be part of the north or the south.”

He goes on: “France’s old-fashionedness is both fascinating and grounds for despair. This country sees no reason to conform to the rest of the world, and it becomes stubborn when the rest of the world wants it to do precisely that (…) It is telling that Hollande never uses the word “reform” when he talks about making the French economy successful once again. Instead, he keeps talking about redressement, which can be translated as “recovery.” This doesn’t invoke the image of effort, but rather of a sick person who just needs the right injection to get better.”

The article then moves onto what the writer suggests is the nub of the matter, ‘the inferiority complex’ of a rival: “Germany remains the fixed point against which France incessantly measures itself. One could say that the French are obsessed with Germany. They have never found it easy to understand their neighbours across the Rhine River, who they see as being so much more serious, direct and rigid than they are. But since the euro crisis linked the countries more closely together than ever before, the French are constantly obsessed with their large neighbour…

“It is impossible to deny that France has an inferiority complex regarding Germany…”

Finally Rohr concludes: “Seen from Paris, Germany looks like an excessively modern country where brutal economic liberalism prevails.

“This, in turn, says a lot about France. It is a nostalgic and narcissistic country which is also — precisely for those reasons — loveable. It is a country that would like to be part of the north but whose heart belongs in the south.

“France doesn’t want to conform to anyone, and so it is waiting again for the day when Europe conforms to France…”

The AFP’s Berlin financial correspondent Aurelia End picked up the report and a similar one in Die Zeit — straplined “The French demand that their government protect the economy. Can the country modernise under François Hollande’s Socialists?” — to note on her Twitter feed:

 

While on his own Twitter feed (@mathieuvonrohr) the author reports on some of the French feedback and notes: “…thanks for your feedback. I would never claim to have fully understood France. who has?”

Der Spiegel’s Paris correspondent Mathieu von Rohr – stirring a hornets’ nest?

The article comes as the European Union, once led by politicians of vision and courage but today flailing in the swamplands of arrogant and untrammelled financial power, flounders under the spectre of meltdown, revolt and upheaval.

Ever since France, 100 days ago, narrowly elected a Socialist president  —  more as a rejection of Sarkoysism than any effusive embracing of the Left —  the crucial Franco-German relationship has been under strain, particularly over how to resolve Euroland’s intractable monetary mess.

Alarm bells are ringing across the Anglo-Saxon world (and precisely because that is where they are ringing hardest are being perversely toned down by the Euro-elite) about where this global crisis is likely headed.

Here for example is Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative MEP in a book just published:

“(…) That’s precisely why I am alarmed at the readiness of eurocrats and europhiles still to sacrifice their peoples’ prosperity in order to keep the euro together.

“The trouble is that the people running the EU refuse to learn anything from the failure of their project. Since the euro crisis began, they have pursued only one policy: bailout-and-borrow. When it doesn’t work, they accelerate it.

“For years, EU leaders have been conditioned to spend public money. The first instinct of a Eurocrat, in a crisis, is to reach for his wallet — or, rather to reach for your wallet, since EU officials themselves are exempt from paying national taxation( …)

“The euro was supposed to promote peace and amity among its participants: A policeman is seen in flames as he tries to escape after a petrol bomb was thrown at him during riots in front of the parliament in Athens

“Even so, there is something perverse about sticking to a policy which is manifestly failing in its stated objectives. Every new bailout is hailed as the end of the crisis. Every one fails, leaving the markets as sceptical as before, but increasing the mountain of outstanding debt.

“Why this mulish determination to stick with a strategy that is impoverishing Europe?

“Some supporters of the project have fallen back on the argument that the cure would be worse than the disease. They no longer try to maintain that the euro has brought benefits but insist that leaving would be impractical.”  (extract from A Doomed Marriage by Daniel Hannan).

Or  Zerohedge  — “41 Years After The Death Of The Gold Standard, A Look At “How We Ended Up In This Economic Purgatory” — which has consistently traced the mechanistic relationship between markets and debt realities in Europe, only to despair at the political misanthropy that marks EU efforts to resolve a soul-killing, society-destroying five-year old recession.

While the politics of the EU appear to be overruling the economics, some perspective can be found in the cold, harsh reality of the figures as Zero Hedge points out in this piece:

“One country after another in Europe is rolling over and Germany, France, the Netherlands and a few other smaller nations only have so much capital to go around. I assert, in fact, that Germany given its sovereign debt, its funding of Target2, which continues to expand, and its obligations to the EU, the ECB and the Stabilization Funds is already in an over extended position that is careening out of control for this $3.5 trillion dollar economy. If Germany is the safest of what is available in Europe then not only is there not a clean shirt in the house but there is not one that is not ripped and torn.

As a distinction I point to the United States with a $14.3 trillion economy that is 125% larger than its major banks. The country, during the American financial crisis, was able to bail-out the financial system. In the case of Europe the bedrock is France and Germany with a combined economy of $6.3 trillion that is trying to support a $15.3 trillion European Union and where the banks are three times the size of the sovereign nations. The flight trajectory is not sustainable in my opinion as more and more debt is added at the national and Federal level so that while recognition has not fully come to the bond markets it will and then increased difficulties will mount and eventually topple the current structure in some yet unknown fashion. The underpinnings cannot support the weight and one day, someplace, the construct will crack because it must.”

Meanwhile the too-big-to-jail bankers, who like giant spiders appear to have captured politicians and institutions in super-glued webs of grotesque skullduggery  and worse — the so-far legally unchallenged charge of Paris-based TV commentator Max Kaiser — press on mercilessly. One of Kaiser’s recent reports — delivered with the unrestrained vigour that is his trademark — suggests Europe faces gang rape by the IMF and bankers in a crisis that is a disturbing echo of 1929 and the depression that followed.


UPDATE
: Is there a pattern? Next Der Speigel criticises the Socialist government’s handling of the Peugeot affair: “Peugeot on the Brink – How Paris Is Killing French Industry”

Story: Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

H/T @Finn_Skovgaard

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