Fascinating interview with Jurgen Habermas in today’s Irish Times. Talking about Merkel and how she has burnt Germany’s reputation for putting its longer term interests as the greatest beneficiary of an effective European Union ahead of short-term, domestic politics, he notes a generational difference:
“Over the past four weeks Angela Merkel has squandered much of the capital of trust accumulated by her predecessors over four decades. … After Helmut Kohl, our political elites underwent a sweeping change in mentalities. With the exception of a too-quickly exhausted Joschka Fisher, since Gerhard Schröder took office a normatively unambitious generation has been in power. It seems to enjoy Germany’s return of Germany to normality as a nation-state – and just wants be “like the others”. Conscious of the diminishing room for political manoeuvre, these people shy away from farsighted goals and constructive political projects, let alone an undertaking like European unification. I detect a certain indifference towards this project. On the other hand, the politicians can no longer deceive themselves concerning the fact that the Federal Republic is the greatest beneficiary of the single currency. Self-interest dictates that they support the preservation of the euro zone.
However, that can only be accomplished if the euro countries build up a common economic government and co-ordinate their fiscal policies. There are extreme economic imbalances among the countries in the euro zone; this is why, at the time the euro was introduced, the medium-term goal was to harmonise the levels of development of those rather heterogeneous national economies. Now it turns out that the stability pact is much too rigid an instrument for achieving this goal. As a result, we now face the alternative of either co-operating more closely or of doing away with the single currency. The pivotal political question from a German perspective is whether the Federal Republic is ready to change its European policy before it is too late, and then whether it is also able to co-operate with France in leading the other EU countries in that direction.”