Feature

Germany: Punishing our neighbors is foolhardy

It’s true that contemporary Europe’s ailing countries brought much of their troubles on themselves, but “schadenfreude should not be the basis for German policy,” said Gabor Steingart in Handelsblatt.

Gabor SteingartHandelsblatt

Germany is being both stingy and stupid, said Gabor Steingart. As a recipient of unprecedented U.S. aid after World War II under the Marshall Plan, Germany, one would think, would be eager to show the same generosity toward its own neighbors in their hour of need. But not the “hard as nails” Chancellor Angela Merkel. She wants to require Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain—all of which face bankruptcy—to commit to unbearably deep spending cuts and debilitating debt payment plans in exchange for a bailout. Those countries collectively owe 1.5 trillion euros to European banks, an amount fully “five times the German state budget.”

To pay it back promptly, they’d have to all but eliminate social services and double their income taxes. That’s a recipe for massive social unrest, if not outright revolution. Which brings me to another historical parallel: the Treaty of Versailles, which closed the books on World War I but imposed an unsustainable debt burden on Germany, laying the groundwork for World War II. It’s true that contemporary Europe’s ailing countries brought much of their troubles on themselves. But “schadenfreude should not be the basis for German policy.” It’s hardly in Germany’s interest for Europe to once again become “a place where the inhabitants loathe one another.”

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