Germany is letting Europe down
Berlin is already moving to dilute EU sanctions
It’s beginning to dawn on the mainstream media that Angela Merkel didn’t just leave a “mixed” legacy behind her, but a disastrous one.
There’s an excellent feature in The Times yesterday, in which Oliver Moody provides a blow-by-blow account of how the Germans surrendered Europe’s security to the Kremlin. Moody reports that ‘President Zelensky of Ukraine [has] invited Merkel to visit the scenes of Russian atrocities in Bucha and witness for herself what ‘the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in the past 14 years’.’
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I’d be surprised if she takes him up on this offer. Wisely, she’s kept a low profile since leaving office. It’s therefore fallen to other members of the German establishment to issue the mea culpas. For instance, Moody quotes Wolfgang Schäuble, who was, for many years, Merkel’s second-in-command: “I too thought we had to co-operate with Russia. Today I know — I was wrong. We were all wrong.”
Of course, no one does self-serving contrition like the Germans. Consider, for instance, the screeching U-turn on energy policy. Suddenly, Russian pipelines are out and 100% renewables are in. There’s also the EU-wide push to phase-out Russian energy imports. It sounds like a plan, but look at the fine print: though Nord Stream 2 has been suspended, Nord Stream 1 is still very much in business. The 100% renewables target is ambitious, but has been set for the middle of the next decade. As for the EU-wide phase-out of Russian fuels, that is starting with coal, which, compared to oil and gas, is the least important component.
You don’t have to be a British Eurosceptic to see that a fast one is being pulled. For instance, this is what Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian PM and arch-federalist, had to to say in the European Parliament this week:
His rousing speech ended with a call to Germany to show leadership. But instead Berlin has moved to dilute an already inadequate package of measures. For instance, the EU ban on coal has now been pushed back under German pressure.
Of course, an immediate and complete embargo would be painful for the Germans. But I seem to remember that during the Eurozone Crisis, Germany was a big fan of front-loaded austerity. Of course, back then, it was the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) who were made to squeal. The Germans escaped the worst effects, because, as they were quick to point out, they had been careful with their money while other countries had been profligate.
Now, in regard to Russian energy exports, it is Germany’s turn to pay the price of recklessness. Compared to the cost of the austerity imposed on Greece, it is a relatively small price — but nevertheless they are trying to wriggle out of it.
Some of us never had any illusions about German responsibility. But I hope the truth is now plain to all.
It’s absolutely fair that Germany (and also Austria, which is in the same quandary and is, typically, hiding just out of view behind the German juggernaut avoiding the flak) do not want to act on high emotions, especially not on a big question like this with far-reaching consequences. No good decisions are made in the heat of the moment.
However, we can more or less assume now banning Russian coal will not have any effect. Banning Russian gas would be a far greater squeeze on the Russian purse. The incremental increase in sanctions is clearly only serving to buy time.
What Germans and Austrians are getting very wrong currently is that this is not something you can solely see through an economic lens. Looking the other way, however strong the economic arguments are, comes at a massive political, human and historical cost. Both countries risk undoing a large part of the goodwill they have built up since the disasters of the 1930s and 1940s.
Looking through the comments sections of various German and Austrian newspapers and also talking to friends here in Vienna, I am actually quite shocked at the level of unwillingness to suffer any kind of detriment for your quite-near neighbours or for the greater good. “What does my freedom have to do with Ukraine’s freedom?” is a common refrain Alot, I say – freedom is freedom and is the fundamental principle which ties the Western alliance together. Asserting that somehow “German” or “Austrian” freedom are somehow isolated concepts existing in space, unaffected by events going on somewhere else is an unbearably parochial and short-sighted point of view.
There also seems to be a lack of understanding that making sacrifices and making yourself uncomfortable to stand up for a principle also has a value, even if this cannot be expressed as part of GDP. Courage, it must be said, is not a great currency in either country. In Germany, I put it down to classic German angst and addiction to prevarication – having to think everything through right to the last detail before feeling comfortable enough to act. As far as my fellow citizens in Austria are concerned, I am less kind – it is spinelessness, cowardice and selfishness. We’d better hope that we are never attacked – the country is not a NATO member (it’s still neutral). It’s OK to look the other way until you need someone else’s help…
An excellent post.
Having produced Adolph and a disproportionate number of his henchmen it is unlikely that Austria will ever rejoin the human race. Your apposite comments seem to confirm this.
Odd how Adolph boasted of a Thousand Year Reich, only to achieve a mere twelve, yet the ignominy of it all may well exceed a thousand years.
Finally is Austria still persecuting ‘the unvaccinated’? I seem to recall they have a double-first in that subject.
I think the “Austria produced Adolf” refrain is a bit of a cheap stick to beat Austria with to be honest. But having lived here for the best part of 20 years, I can confirm that there are still certain deeply ingrained cultural traits about which fed into and promoted the events of the 30s and 40s. My bugbears are “Mitlaufen” (running with the herd, rampant conformism) and “Wegschauen” (looking the other way). Right now, with the refusal to agree to an embargo on Russian gas, the line between “keeping your head screwed on and thinking things through” and “historically catastrophic cowardice” is really, really fine.
I agree entirely, however I disagree about ‘cheap stick’. You could say that about virtually any irrefutable fact. You do however correctly allude to the fact it wasn’t Adolph & Co alone but “deeply engrained cultural traits “ that were/are the problem.
For arguments sake, could say the Cotswolds ever have produced an Adolph? I think not.
Nor a Beethoven, I suppose. Perhaps Goethe, tho.
Malvern Hills. Might just squeak in, but he’s no B**thoven.
How can there be another Beethoven?
Malverns aren’t the Cotswolds though either…
Jeremy Corbyn (born Chippenham, Wiltshire). Brought up in a ‘Manor House’. Son of an engineer. Bound to be a lefty.
Almaric, Katherine has produced excellent and highly informative comments, and I thank her.
Still, and without, I hope, trolling you, I do think your crack about Hitler was a little off-side. Essentially, you seem to be agreeing with Daniel Goldhagen in his notorious book, “Hitler’s Willing Executioners”, that there was something specific in the German psychology that made them willing to follow genocidal orders.
I think there are national characteristics. For example, the British national characteristics took us through the Brexit period with almost no violence. Civil wars have started for less.
But it’s easy to overstate national characteristics. No Hitler from the Cotswolds, you think? Suppose Britain fought and lost a devastating world war; saw a fledgling democracy born in a Communist uprising and die in the economic catastrophe of the Great Depression… what then? Is a ruthless messiah from Chipping Norton really so unthinkable?
Well we did try once with the blessed Oliver Cromwell, but do seem to have learnt from that experience.
I thought Goldhagen overstated his case, but there had been warning signs in Namibia for example.
As to Adolph, for my generation he will always the source of light hearted banter.
Good reply..I think *national characteristics* are real but very slight really and the inetraction with actual experiences is key. Hence the widespread non-militarism, now that Germany seems to be reluctantly abandoning; Prussian militarism having been seen as a key factor in German national characteristic for decades.
However economic self interest, a characteristic shared by all nations almost to an identical degree (except those run by dictators who seem poor at economics), is to the fore right now to unhealthy degree in Germany , to the potential detriment of what has been notable Western uniity in respect of Putin, up to now.
Thank you Katherine. It is so difficult to understand varied reactions to wartime horror that do not accord with my own. Especially among people of similar cultural heritage.
Well, freedom was clearly not a very high value in Germany, Austria or in other european countries during the last two years, was it?
“feeling comfortable enough to act. As far as my fellow citizens in Austria are concerned, I am less kind – it is spinelessness, cowardice and selfishness. We’d better hope that we are never attacked”
This last remark is right on the money BUT it also suits like a glove to Germany.
German Angst ….be it from inflation, COVID…..and now the lack of gas is what makes Germany what it is :
Very comfy, selfish and in a hell of a pickle because Mutti made peace with the Russian devil to keep warm in winter……and this at any price, be it a corrupted ex Kanzler.
With such, so called, allies, one doesn’t need enemies.
Verhofstadt fumes in the EU Parliament but has no impact on EU sanctions. Just shows how ineffective the elected representatives are in the EU.
All this tells me is that nations in Europe all follow their own self interest with very little leadership to unite those interests. Germany should not have rushed to decommission nuclear power stations but should they have outbid the UK for Norwegian gas supplies? I thought Nord Stream 2 was built so that the Ukraine could not turn the tap off and do not recollect objections at the time. Does anyone have a plan for better leadership in Europe or do they think an insular approach is best?
You mean – a country balancing the needs of their consumers against their foreign policy goals, and worrying about sanctions that might hurt them more than the target? I am shocked. Shocked!
I might disagree with the German position – but this outrage is just Franklin score-settling.
It seems pretty calm to be labelled “outrage”.
Of course, no one does self-serving contrition like the Germans.
I disagree and would award the Victor’s Palm for self flagellation to the UK without reservation or hesitation.
The pipelines to Germany can be destroyed – then perhaps Germany will stop funding the destruction of the Ukraine. Action this day.
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