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.