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CHRISTIANE’S BRIEF: Austerity showdown

May 7th, 2012
06:07 PM ET

Two sides of the same coin

Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s Foreign Minister, appeared on Amanpour Monday, as Europe was still feeling the political aftershocks of Sunday’s elections.

Interviewed Friday, just prior to the elections, he was asked if the falling governments in France and Greece are a repudiation of the fiscal austerity policy championed by Germany.

“I think some of these governments came out of office because they worked too slowly,” said Westerwelle.  “They didn’t do the reforms…Our policy is more than austerity and fiscal discipline.  Our policy is both.  Growth and fiscal discipline.  These are two sides of the same coin.”

Westerwelle responded to the campaign promise of newly elected French President, Francois Hollande – that he would renegotiate the existing pact with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the other member states of the European Union.

“We cannot renegotiate this fiscal compact,” said Westerwelle, “because…this sends a signal, for example, to Italy, Spain, Portugal – they all implemented these reforms.  They know they cannot survive…with always new debts.”

He added, “Our offer to France, to all our friends in the European Union, is to let us implement the fiscal compact because this is necessary to overcome the debt crisis.”

He rejected the idea that a choice must be made between austerity and spending:  “Of course, we can spend more money.  The only result will be more debt.  And then we are once again in the same difficulty, in the same problem.”

Despite its defeat, he praised the Greek government for its attempts at reform:  “I think this was a brave and courageous government,” said Westerwelle, “which brought through the reform.  The problem for Greece is that they have a lack of competitiveness…They need companies – small and medium sized companies – which are the backbone of the economy.”

The best medicine

Westerwelle understood the perceived back-lash against Germany – in Greece, in France and elsewhere in the Euro Zone - the conviction that austerity simply hurts too much.  Yet, Westerwelle did not back down:  “We do not ask any of our partners to do more than we did…We have to face reality.”

“With all modesty,” continued Westerwelle, “we went through this as Germany.  Ten years ago, Germany was the sick man of Europe.  And we understood that the best medicine doesn’t have to taste very well.  The best medicine is what works, what really helps you.”

Westerwelle called that medicine “strategic patience.”   He elaborated: “I mean the idea that we decide fiscal discipline this month, and next month we have what we called in the 1950’s “Wirtschaftswunder” (Germany’s post-war “economic miracle”)…which means that once again, a growing economy and everything is…is an illusion.”

He felt confident that the European Union would remain intact and that Greece would not default:  “I think the European Union will manage this crisis because…it is not a crisis of the euro.  The euro is very stable, very successful.  It’s an excellent currency.  It’s a debt crisis that we have in the European Union.”

The darkest chapter

Westerwelle spoke pointedly of what the European Union meant to Germany:  “It is not only the answer to the darkest chapter in our history.  It is also our life insurance in times of globalization.”

In speaking further of that “dark chapter” in Germany’s history, Westerwelle addressed doctored photographs that have appeared in the Greek press –  of Chancellor Merkel dressed up as a Nazi.  And he became especially eloquent when he took on the rising tide of Neo-Fascism and right-wing nationalism in Europe.

“It is hurtful.  I cannot deny that.  This is hurtful, especially for someone of my generation.  I mean, our whole engagement in Europe as Germans was always to draw the consequences of this darkest chapter in our history.  I think we learned our lesson.  But we also know to prevent extremism; you need social and economic participation of the people, especially the less privileged people.”

CNN’s Juliet Fuisz produced this piece for television.

Filed under:  Christiane's Brief
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Bushdiver

    A major blow in Germany's attempt to conquer Europe for a third time.

    May 7, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Reply
    • warsteiner

      Well Im sure they will succeed so enough we can only hope right. I think its commendable that they took such a stand. That took guts considering that people like you would say such ignorant things like this. Its to bad they were not successful the second time maybe Europe would be European and not African,and Pakistani

      May 9, 2012 at 5:29 am | Reply
    • Jerry

      I again bow low in awe of so much ignorance. GFYS

      May 12, 2012 at 4:44 am | Reply
    • Jerry

      i meant bushdiver

      May 12, 2012 at 4:46 am | Reply
    • Tyler

      If anyone failed something, then it's you who failed High School and common sense.

      May 14, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
    • hugh64

      Don't you think you could just drop these tired, shopworn, inaccurate and insulting references to Germany and its past. It is a bloody sight more liberal and democratic than the USA, or have you forgotten GWB getting in with fewer than his opponent? And how many countries has Germany invaded recently, compared to the USA?

      May 14, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
      • Alabama Liberal

        I travel to Germany fairly regularly. If there is any nation that has learned its lesson and whose people truly regret major aspects of its history, it is Germany.

        May 25, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • dysro

      Nonsense. Germany isn't that foolish to try and conquer a country like Greece which has to be alimented forever.

      May 28, 2012 at 1:49 am | Reply
    • chrischan74

      @ Bushdiver & his comment:
      A major example of the stupidity and ignorance of U.S. citizens.

      July 17, 2012 at 7:13 am | Reply
  2. sally field

    At home I've watched the interview and got furious!) I wouldn't directly say that Westerwelles statements are disasterous. But first Chancellor Merkel helped Sarkozy in his election campaign, which wasn't really diplomatically correct! Instead of creating the atmosphere of open and over-national debates, instead of being 'neutral' and without prejudice, they mingle in affairs like absolute monarchs! If the political leader of a country, is something of a direct national party concern, why don't they arange marrying to safeguard their interests? It would have been better, Merkel gave statements in her own country, instead in France. Now Mr. foreign minister is even worse: an arrogant and narcistic snob, talking about a miracle in German economic history waiting to come! Tätä Tatääää!! How does this look like to other countries, don't talk about democratic election, the people and their voice – never heard of. They are so rigid, they are so egoistic – it's a shame. I'll give my passport to Mr. Schäuble personally! Let's send them to ... moon, but not far enough!
    (Besides, where did he get his diploma in economics from?)

    May 8, 2012 at 2:03 am | Reply
    • Mark abdulla

      You are a pathetic woman who doesnt know what she is saying.where do you actually come from.Hackney perhaps. Germany has been the only country which has been at the forefront of European Economy and its engine. Germans work hard and pay their taxes. Greeks dont. Live a bit in Greece and you will understand. perhaps you also do not pay your taxes due to your country. where does the uk get its taxes?

      May 11, 2012 at 2:08 am | Reply
    • OldCactus

      Where did you get your diploma for economics from? What, you don't have one? It shows.

      May 11, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  3. Stephanos

    I'm so glad CNN is offering its viewers such a "balanced" snapshot of Greek politics and media by zeroing in on a fringe neo-Nazi political party (won only 7% of vote) and showing a photo-shopped picture from a tabloid newspaper. Shame on Amanpour and CNN for such poor journalism and for misrepresenting the newly invigorated and transformed political landscape of Greece as a haven for extremists. Germany and its anti-growth, pro-austerity governmental mindset is the chief extremist in European politics.

    May 8, 2012 at 3:30 am | Reply
    • Neo

      Well what good news your country produce within the last years? In fact the greek people just elected extremists right and left and all pro european partys lost. In fact the greek people still dont understand their position. Its easy to blame germany for your selfcaused problems. But if germany wouldnt be, greece allready would be out of the Euro for years and totaly bankrupt, so better thank them instead of blame them! You cant generate serious growth on more debt, obama just proofed it! Austerity is the main solution for europe and if greece would finaly stop cause steady riots waves on the streets and worldwide markets, and finaly start ray out confidence and start do long overdue reforms (like fire this army of bureaucrats), all would get better for greece and europe and not worse..

      May 9, 2012 at 8:37 am | Reply
    • Maria Bogren

      Stephanos – stick to what you truly excel at, avoiding working and paying taxes and relying on handouts from the rest of Europe. You and people like you are the true extremists of Europe, NOT Germany!

      Germany is absolutelly correct in protecting the austerity measures. For decades we've watched devaluations of the French Franc, Greek Drachma, Spanish Peseta, etc., etc., every 5-10 years, like clockwork. Once those countries adopted the euro they somehow thought they could keep spending money like drunk sailors because the interest rates became so low (thanks to euro). Now they all gotta wake up, "you don't like to save and to pay off debt? Then go back to your previous worthless currencies!"

      I hope Greece gets kicked out of the Euro. Ideally I'd like for Germany to quit euro and go back to a strong D-mark, a currency millions and millions of people would trust and invest in. However, if Germany sticks with the Euro they should at least kick out Greece for now. Let them devalue the "new" drachma by 100% or so and see what poverty really looks like.

      Germany, don't give in to the leftist and anarchist thugs.

      May 9, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
    • OldCactus

      Germany should and probably will withdraw from the European union. If not thay will fall into the quagmire with all the others.

      May 11, 2012 at 11:32 am | Reply
  4. fivizzano

    this guy is purely delusional, there simply is not going to be any common european currency within a year, all the rest of the euro countries are bursting at the seams and the most immediate backlash will be a de facto isolation of germany and – above all – a veritable embargo of germa goods and services. to think that while most european countries are sinking into depression and this would not have an effect on sales of german goods is nuts.

    May 8, 2012 at 4:12 am | Reply
    • Willy

      don't worry, the Euro will be still there when we're all long gone. Progress means unification, and it won't go back, cos it can't go back. If people go to work and the produced wealth is distributed correctly to everyone, there is no crises. But there is crises if governments don't support entrepreneurialship and there is crises if the conservatives think that austerity alone will be a way out. There will be crises, if the produced wealth goes into the pockets of only a small percentage of the population. The Euro is just a tool to make the exchange of products and services easier. It doesn't harm the ecconomies in any way. The opposite is true. Focus on unemployment and support for a liberal and social economy to overcome the crises.

      May 21, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
  5. Jeff

    The Euro, as with any currency, is worthless if there isn't strength supporting it. Watch what the Euro does over the next couple of years. $1.17 US was the old "alarm benchmark". That will be blown out of the water. The Euro will be worth less than a dollar in the not-so-distant future.

    May 8, 2012 at 6:39 am | Reply
  6. PhooBar

    In the land of the bankrupt, the man who can balance his checkbook is king.

    May 9, 2012 at 7:29 am | Reply
  7. Michael Brooks

    History repeats itself. The Rothschild bankers did it to Germany once, and now they are doing it again.
    Not difficult to see that Germany was the birthplace of the Illuminati.
    New World Order goes marching on, and no one to protest.
    God Help Us!

    May 10, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
    • OldCactus

      I doubt god is in much of a mind to do anything for you.

      May 11, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  8. Matt

    You can't spend what you don't have.

    End of.

    May 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
    • Dekes

      @Matt But you can spend what others have!

      May 20, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
      • tomwong

        you spend what others have, and just do not want to work.

        May 23, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  9. Spyros Mylonas

    Germany never carried out such extreme austerity programs. Merkel did say that the program for the Greeks should hurt a lot so nobody else asks for one. She did not realize that people cannot be labrats. The numbers ofcourse do not agree. None of it can work. USA did the fatal mistake not to remind Germany's Merkel that is the TOLERANCE of the free democratic world that allows Germany to be where it is today. We did not choose to let them stay in ruins as we had every right. I should remind you all what Geithner had to hear from Merkels friends at the EU summits. Big mistake of the US administration that allowed such 'freedom' to Germany. Now if Merkel delays to accept the truth of her policy failure, the shockwaves will reach US shores before Novemeber. She will cost Obama his re-election.

    May 12, 2012 at 5:29 am | Reply
    • TechTreeButton

      It's easy to blame others. Greece can take the money and do the painful reforms or they can not take it and see how they get along and become some kind of "banana republic".

      Germany did its reforms years ago. People hate it, but it works okey. No reason to be arrogant though, there is no country that does not need serious reforms, but its important not to put the pain only on the poorer people.

      May 14, 2012 at 5:58 am | Reply
  10. Spyros Mylonas

    Once shoud also see the plain truth the extreme austerity programs do not work. They sink countries deep into recession and unemployment. More importantly these programs are a direct attack to democracy and will lead to extremism and situations Europe have not seen in decades. All because of Merkel's obsession and lies to the german people. Germany is the real enemy. Germany's arrogance poisons the EU and sends shockwaves to the world. But i will remind them that is exactly that arrogance that costed them two wars.

    May 12, 2012 at 5:35 am | Reply
    • dysro

      You'd better stop blaming others and start paying your taxes.

      May 28, 2012 at 2:01 am | Reply
  11. Kostas

    Der Spiegel featured Aphrodite`s middle finger pointed to Greece.I believe that Merkel`s suit is just complement in comparison to German magazines`s front pages

    May 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Reply
    • Largo

      it was Focus NOT Spiegel

      May 13, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  12. Matt

    @Kostas: No, the Spiegel front page featured Aphrodite, representing Greece, showing the middle finger to the EU and The World. Because Greece lied, cooked their books and betrayed the other EU members when joining the Euro.

    May 12, 2012 at 11:27 pm | Reply
    • dysro

      That's the only Greek tradition kept alive for more than 2000 years: They cheated themselves into the EU just like ole Ulysses cheated the Trojan horse into the city of Troya.

      May 13, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  13. Man

    German's never wanted the Euro, or the Union. I'd go as far to say that no European citizen wants a united Europe as we have it. It's all politics.
    Imagine this: your neighbor, who is unemployed and has a lot of expensive toys on credit in his devalued house is going to have his debt thrown into a community pool along with everyone else, including you (who I hope is doing better). Short version- you wind up paying for your neighbors financial folly.
    Would any American see this as fair?
    Do you know what Greece is saying?
    Not one word of thanks.
    I've lived in this socialist (oh, that evil word) country for ten years, and believe it or not, it would work if they wouldn't be so damned capitalist.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  14. arebentisch

    Apparently Germany shows what mature economic politics looks like. It's far too easy to blame other nations instead of getting their own garden in order.

    May 15, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  15. Luke weyland

    We must remember that Ms Merkel is not Germany.
    She represents the past.
    The recent state elections clearly show this.
    After the next national elections, she will be examing the employment advertisements.

    May 15, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  16. mark

    When did everyone start calling living within your means austerity?

    May 18, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  17. Mr. Robert

    I will never understand how world economics works. Or, why they let countries get so hardly indebted. Didn't they see it coming? If Greece was a member of the EU, why would they let it reach such a high level of borrowing or spending before being at the brink of collapse? Now they speak of growth and discipline. Why didn't they rule in favor of that from the beginning?

    May 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  18. Tutuvabene

    Perhaps the EU needs to stop using the term austerity, which carries an extremely negative conotation. Essentially, many of the protesters see austerity as saying "you're going to be screwed and we don't care." A better spin might be "living within the national means." The EU needs to be more in the business of encouraging productivity rather than resorting to crisis driven bailout programs.

    May 24, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply
  19. Voice of Reason

    It it irrefutable that the Greeks lied their way into the Euro and then proceeded to spend wildly, taking advantage of the benefits of being part of the single currency. The Greek economic system is horribly inefficient with some of the lowest productivity in Europe– 'closed professions,' massive graft, a huge and inefficient government sector based on party patronage, 14 months of pay, rampant tax avoidance.
    Until just recently, the Euro has allowed Greece to experience over a decade of dramatic gains in wealth and quality of life– for all Greeks. Not to mention massive transfer payments from Brussels to upgrade 'infrastructure.' Compare where Greeks were before the Euro (avg HHI, GDP/per capita, quality of life, etc.). and look at where they are today. Yes, it's been a heck of a party for the Greek people. The Media completely ignores this part of the story to focus on the 'hard times' the Greek people are now facing.
    Sorry, Greece– your decade-long party is over! Time to get your house in order. Deal with the hangover. The Greeks themselves knows all of this is true. But they foolishly think 2 years of 'austerity' (itself dubious– tax dodging is still rampant and until recently everyone was still getting 14 months of pay) is enough pennance for 15 years of profligate spending, lying, etc. . Cheers to Germany for finally imposing some discipline on these petulant children. Even with all the recent 'pain,' Greek wealth, income and quality of life are far better than before the Euro. I can't bear to read another story about how the poor Greek people are suffering under 'austerity." Time for someone to tell the other side of the story. Christiane, we need you!

    May 25, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Virgil

      Timeo Danaos et dona ferentis.

      May 27, 2012 at 9:55 am | Reply
      • dysro

        Virgil: Shouldn't it read: Don't trust the Greeks even if they ARE GIVEN presents?

        May 28, 2012 at 2:17 am |
  20. Virgil

    It should read: "Don't trust the Greeks especially if Goldman Sachs is helping them with their books." They should not have been given any present in the first case! If one does NOT spend beyond one's means, one does not need others to buy one's presents, one can always buy them oneself!

    June 1, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
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