German contrarian says Merkel must say ‘Nein’ more
BERLIN, July 17 — Angela Merkel may be lampooned in the European media as “Frau Nein” for imposing tough conditions for euro zone bailouts, but Germany's best-selling contrarian, Thilo Sarrazin, reckons the chancellor still has a lot to learn about saying “No”.
The former central banker, whose 2010 book “Germany Does Away With Itself” on the shortcomings of multi-culturalism broke non-fiction records with 1.5 million copies sold, is now on the warpath about the euro crisis.
“Europe Doesn't Need the Euro,” Sarrazin's latest tome, has gone straight to the top of the German sales charts, amid all the controversy that is his hallmark as much as his grey moustache and round, thick-rimmed glasses.
Having enraged Muslims with derogatory remarks about poor education among Turkish immigrants, and Jews with comments about genes that got him sacked from the board of the Bundesbank, the 67-year-old shows no sign of tiring of what his many fans call “breaking taboos” – and his many critics call offending people.
One German reviewer sniped that the book on the euro is “less bad” than the last thanks to Sarrazin's expertise from his posts at the International Monetary Fund, the Bundesbank and his time as finance minister of Berlin's city government.
His new book attempts to demolish arguments that the single currency is the ultimate expression of European unity, helping to guarantee not just price stability and prosperity but also democracy and peace between nations that have often gone to war.
Most controversially, the book argues that German guilt for the crimes of the Nazi period is manipulated to coerce it into financing euro zone bailouts, as the bloc's biggest economy.
“Germany's decades-old enthusiasm for Europe cannot be explained without the moral burden of Nazism,” it reads. “But 67 years after the end of World War Two, this impulse is not a good compass for issues regarding the common currency and cooperation in Europe.”
Such arguments pit Sarrazin head-on against Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, the last representative of a generation of post-war Europhiles led by Helmut Kohl, who often cites the need to build a “federal Europe” to avoid history repeating itself.
Interviewed in a cafe in central Berlin, Sarrazin tackled the intricacies of Europe's sovereign debt crisis with an emphatic lack of diplomatic delicacy, saying Italy would be no loss to the euro zone while Spaniards “are used to being poor”.
Sarrazin said it was not “politically correct” to argue that Germany had already settled its wartime financial obligations, but “PC” rationale was “a danger if it stands in the way of clear thinking and becomes wishful thinking”.
Merkel muddles through
He depicted Merkel as an “extremely pragmatic” leader with none of Schaeuble's ideological baggage and a good chance of winning a third term as chancellor in 2013, because Germans admire “her modesty and complete lack of boastfulness”.
But Sarrazin described the chancellor's response to the euro crisis as “highly intelligent muddling through without strategic perspective”, which involves her constantly testing how far she can stretch German resistance to a “transfer union”, whereby German tax revenues are used to make up fiscal shortcoming in other countries.
Even within her own coalition, Merkel has faced criticism for vowing to resist a push for jointly-issued euro zone bonds at the last EU summit, saying they would not happen “in my lifetime”, and then conceding on direct aid to Spanish banks from the euro zone bailout funds.
“Somewhere there is a line where you say 'this is an unacceptable risk for Germany and the way leading to a transfer union or debt union is too steep and slippery',” said Sarrazin.
“Only if you are prepared as German chancellor to say 'no' in the face of the rulers of France, Italy and Spain, and if you dare to coolly stick to it, then and only then have you made the German point,” he said.
“Merkel continues to shy away from the moment of decision. But it is so easy because we have the money, they don't have the money and they want our money. It only needs the courage to say 'no',” said Sarrazin.
Although he is one of the leading voices of Euroscepticism in Germany, along with economist Hans-Werner Sinn of the research centre the Ifo Institute and some backbenchers from Merkel's coalition, Sarrazin cautions against attempts to build a Eurosceptic party because it would “attract the wrong kind of voter” from the extreme right.
Citing age as another reason for not founding such a party – he belongs to the main opposition Social Democratic Party despite its attempts to remove him – Sarrazin would however be ready to spearhead a campaign if the Constitutional Court signals in September that further German integration in Europe requires a referendum.
“I would certainly do so, because this is a matter that goes across all parties,” Sarrazin said, arguing that his motives are not ideological but come from concern about a threat to Germany's economic future from its shrinking workforce and ageing population.
“We need our current account surpluses to smooth this transition and this is being wasted away to serve the currency union,” said Sarrazin. — Reuters