Tag Archives: Angela Merkel

Strong words from Merkel

It was good to see Angela Merkel today calling on her European counterparts to take serious efforts to cut their national deficits with a stark warning that the biggest threat to the economies of Europe, and specifically those of the crisis-hit eurozone is debt.

In a politically charged statement, Merkel pulled no punches, telling all attending the Davos World Economic Forum that: “Indebtedness is the biggest danger for prosperity on this continent” strong stuff indeed. But nothing compared to the sledge hammer language which she chose to use to cut through the never-ending bullshit with an emphatic statement that there was: “no crisis of the euro as such. This is essentially a debt crisis [which we must now]  overcome” and that “If the euro fails, then Europe fails“. Her comment echoed French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who earlier passionately defended Paris and Berlin saying that they would “never abandon the euro“.

Possibly the strongest words from a European leader yet on the on-going spiral fuelled by an on-going crisis of private banks and markets speculating with public currency on the basis of advice given by almost totally unregulated credit agencies.

Talking about the German economy she said that “sound fiscal policy and growth do not need to be a contradiction in terms“, and it’s a good point; let’s face it Germany’s economy is booming, it’s Europe’s number 1 exporter, even though it’s actively beginning to rebalance it’s trade deficit. It’s got Europe’s most qualified workforce, and unemployment is lower in Germany than Britain even with an additional 15 odd million people more than us.

It’s really is reassuring to see this economic strength emboldening the Germans to push for the reforms of the eurozone that they’ve wanted for some time: Germany will undoubtedly push through reforms which can only be a good thing for the EuroZone – and quite possibly for the UK too – if the coalition is bright enough to engage directly with Berlin now to advocate strong change in Europe to protect the future of the EU.

Addressing the Elephant in the room

It’s been an interesting few weeks politically – no not here, here in the UK it’s been as dull as ditchwater – but over the channel in France & Germany there’s a revolution of language underway which looks set to spark a strongly worded and possibly strongly actioned change in the way these two European giants handle immigration and multiculturalism.

It’s not a new argument admittedly, but it’s unusual in the extreme for centrist politicians to be voicing their concerns about immigration in such strong terms, and in the French case with such strong action.

Immigration has been a political football in the UK and Europe for many years, the general consensus for the last decade has been that it’s a play thing of the right, and the marching drum of the far right –  that there’s always a ‘more sensible’ way of dealing with it than by demanding integration and by toughening inward border controls, and that we’ll all eventually get on under the great banner of multiculturalism.

The truth however has been rather different in practice – and while it’s difficult to agree with many of the broad brush soundbites that certain characters are so fond of, it is time for an adult debate immigration and for concessions from both sides of the argument that the multicultural experiment has perhaps failed in more places than it’s succeeded, and it would seem that the debate will start in Germany.

Since a  string of controversial comments in June from the former Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin, linked to the publication and launch of his latest tome Deutschland schafft sich ab – Wie wir unser Land aufs Spiel setzen, or “Abolishing Germany – How we’re putting our country at jeopardy” debate has been raging: and while politicians from all sides initially condemned Sarrazin’s position the conversation has spread, with polls showing growing public support for a much tougher stance on immigration and integration.

Indeed in early September a poll carried in the Bild tabloid, conducted by the respected pollsters Emnid, revealed that 18% would vote for a party headed by Sarrazin, who only a few weeks earlier had been forced to resign from his powerful Bundesbank position for the media storm that his comments had caused. 18% in a land of coalition government is a figure that will get any politicos’ attention, so it’s perhaps not surprising that there’s been an element of band-wagon-jumping from some politicians; but far from it being the usual suspects on the margins it’s the heavyweight nature of those now jumping into the debate with both feet that’s capturing international attention.

The Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer suggested a ban on immigration for Turks and Arabs because of their “difficulties” with integration, roundly abused at the time, but since then, several conservative politicians have been joining his ranks. It’s a difficult question: how do you have a discussion about multiculturalism failing without upsetting the components of the multicultural society? Regardless – the box is now open: and there is no putting the stuff inside it back. We can only hope that the conversation remains adult, that cheap political point scoring doesn’t become the standard.

Europe has fought over different cultures before, it’s a problem that many perceive as unsolvable, many more believe it’s contentious and essential to solve in one way or another. With the potential of new threats caused by population movement, climate change, economic upheaval and the constant issue of illegal immigration and cross-border crime, EU institutions, national governments and individuals – all of us – are going to have some tough decisions to face in the coming months and years on this particular topic.

Laughing at the Euro?

There’s a lot of rather haughty laughing coming from many sectors of British political society at the moment: not least from a vocal group of little-englanders enjoying the Euro’s current difficulties and praising the hinterland of Sterling for ‘saving’ us from the economic woe caused by a lack of initial control in the Euro and the profligacy of almost all of the southern states.

But wait. Let’s take a look at the facts:

UK Exports – Main sources :

  • European Union 57%
  • United States: 15%
  • Switzerland: 2%
  • China: 2%
  • Japan: 2%
UK imports – Main sources :

  • European Union 55%
  • USA: 9%
  • China: 8%
  • Norway: 5%
  • Japan: 3%

Now, using this as an anchor for our perspective, maybe we could have a little sensible debate: clearly it would be entirely inapproriate for Britain to stump the Euro, even though we’re bound in part by the Lisbon Treaty to do so (and indeed have when Alistair Darling put up £6bn hours after the election result). But we have to be reasonable – we are reliant on trade with our European neighbours, and if they’re in trouble then let’s be under no false pretence, we will be too.

Also, let’s not forget that we’re a veritable speck in the economic ocean compared to the Eurozone, let’s look at the markets, we have a ‘critical’ election that decides how UK government spending is going to change and days of uncertainty as coalitions are forged and it’s barely acknowledged on the international markets. The Eurozone sneezes on the other hand and it’s massive percentage knocks day after day: let there be no question – the Eurozone is taken very seriously, and will continue to be taken so.

Of course, this is a major set-back for the Euro, it’s reputation has been damaged by it’s inability to control the states which make it up, and that’s always been my problem with it: huge economies rubbing shoulders with economies that are barely functioning. Powerhouses of export next to countries that live in the economic past struggling to pay the bills with second-rate tourist attractions. It simply never made sense that Greece, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Malta (to name but a few) were rushed into the Eurozone. The checks and balances that should have been in place were swept away in preference of unchecked growth.

What is needed now is a period of reflection and reform: the Euro needs to be reigned in; countries that are incapable of paying their bills need to get out – and serious questions now need to be asked about the way the Euro is set up: should it be the case that the countries in the Eurozone share a common taxation base, common economic policies, and if so – who will set that up, and will anyone but the major northern european states actually be able to cope with that, both economically and socially?

Athens descended into rioting and flames when it was suggested that people work longer and with less public services: but in Germany and Britain, this has been the acknowledged truth for many years – with interruptions from various unions yes, but generally, we all know that in reality if you’re my age now, then you’re likely to be working until you’re well into your 70s, and after that there won’t be a national pension of any worth to fall back on (if there’s even one at all). Should this cause social panic? Indeed has it? Of course not – yes union’s have screamed and thrown their toys out of their prams, but the bulk of the population simply see it as impetus to provide for one’s own future… a plan which I hasten to add many thought shot to pieces by Brown’s audacious private pension raid.

So where next for the Euro? Well despite Cameron’s position with Chancellor Merkel the other day, I think we’re actually heading for a period where Britain will hold a bit more power in Europe: played right Cameron & Clegg now have a mandate to use our vote in Europe to make real change happen, fiscal responsibility, reform of waste, reform of the CAP and other european problems that (believe it or not) don’t just irritate us here in Britain. We’d have support to demand change, we’d have a platform to place them upon, and we’d have the right timing to make change in Europe happen for the first time since before Maastricht, because if past-precedent is anything to go by, the hardline integrationists will use this as an excuse to push through unified tax and fiscal policy whatever the cost – and a quick fix is not what Europe needs right now.

We need Europe, and Europe needs us – we are still the gateway to the english speaking world for many major corporations. So let’s take this opportunity to stand with our partners in Europe and roll back years and years of profligacy, selfish and excessive regard for individual nation’s interests and the rampant need for expansion at all cost. Let’s put ourselves at the centre of Europe and make it work, not just for it’s own sake, but for ours.

A New Chancellor

I’m immensely glad to see that Germany has a new chancellor in the so called ‘iron frau’ Angela Merkel. It’s superb that they’ve chosen a woman conservative – because it’s exactly what Germany needs. It really does feel like a breath of fresh air, Gerhard Schröder despite his early promise really hasn’t delivered what Germany needed: real reform to industry and industrial relations, a stronger hand in Europe (rather than following the French agenda) and rejuvenating the German spirit as a single country, rather than still seeing itself as divided, even though it’s been over 16 years since the physical divide was removed.

I’ve got high hopes that Bundeskanzlerin Merkel will be a reformer, of Germany tackling these issues and a real leader in Europe that moves the EU forward in a positive structured way.