They’re calling her the devil. Inflammatory words, no doubt, but Europe has every reason to be livid with the German Chancellor. Angela Merkel is causing needless pain and hardship across Europe, its southern states in particular. The austerity measures she insists that nations like Greece and Portugal adopt are strangling their economies, creating huge unemployment and making it impossible for them to pay off their debts – the very reason for introducing these measures in the first place. Worse still, even though the IMF and the US are beseeching her to give Europe a desperately needed boost by opening up Germany’s economy, she refuses to do so: the plan in Germany now is to run a budget surplus. It’s madness. And it’s wrong.
That line is becoming the increasingly orthodox take on the crisis in Europe. But is it fair? Is it true? Isn’t this just another case of scapegoating Germany for being Europe’s largest and best run economy? If Germany now enjoys an unemployment rate of only 5.4% compared to Europe’s average of 12%, that’s because for the past 15 years it kept real wages down and experienced low rates of growth while in the other nations of the eurozone wages soared and their economies boomed. They recklessly disregarded the rules on fiscal discipline to which they’d signed up on joining the euro. They cocked two fingers at Berlin when it warned them what would happen. And now that it has happened is it all Germany’s fault? Angela Merkel isn’t destroying Europe: she’s one of the few elements that is keeping it together.