The beautiful Colosseum has stood proudly in the heart of Rome; reminding the whole world of Italy’s History, of the powerful Roman Empire, and of Rome’s struggles for democracy, freedom and justice. Such a struggle has stimulated writers and philosophers the world over to reflect on politics, government, relationships between people, and the essence of human destiny. It was recently revealed that the Italian Government had plans to rent out the Colosseum to host concerts. Yes, pop singers and rappers might soon perform in one of the Roman Empire’s most beautiful monuments. This decision and many others of the same nature are not motivated by some crazy idea of a heretic Italian leader who follows an avant-garde philosophy. The rationale behind such a decision is rooted in the plague of austerity which has been sweeping Europe for years now. The Italian Government is trying to raise funds for the necessary maintenance works needed to preserve Italy’s cultural heritage, amid its efforts to save money on the State’s budget, in order to comply with the European Stability and Growth Pact.
Berlin has been the main driver of austerity across Europe. Leaders such as Matteo Renzi and François Hollande often meet with Angela Merkel and try to convince her to allow them more room in their Governments’ budgets. Her answer is usually a firm “Nein.” But her response is not the main issue. The problem is the power that her country has come to hold across the EU. Hegemony is, in fact, the most accurate term to describe Germany’s relationship to the rest of the eurozone and to the rest of the EU.
In 2014, referring to Italy and France, Ms. Merkel said: “I want to stress this here again: All member states must fully respect the strengthened rules of the Stability and Growth Pact. These rules must be applied to all member states in a credible way.” The Stability and Growth Pact, reportedly referred to by Matteo Renzi as the Stupidity Pact, is the document in which were set the rules for public debt (should not exceed 60 percent of GDP) and budget deficits (a maximum of 3 percent of GDP) for each EU member state.
The German Government’s attitude in Europe is not just that of an unwavering uncompromising partner; it is that of a neocolonial government. Headlines such as the Morning Star’s “Italy’s Renzi seeks austerity reprieve in Berlin talks with Merkel,” and the International Business Times’ “French President François Hollande Wants A Little More Democracy In The Eurogroup” are quite telling in this regard. But as if he wanted things to be clearer, Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s minister of finance, told Bloomberg recently: “I offered my friend Jack Lew [U.S. secretary of the treasury] these days that we could take Puerto Rico into the eurozone if the U.S. were willing to take Greece into the dollar union. He thought that was a joke.”
There is no doubt that Berlin treats other EU member states in the same manner in which the government of an empire treats its colonies. One might think that, in a modern Europe, where everyone has learned the lessons of World War I and World War II, such a government should enjoy very little support from its people. But the German Government is very popular at home. In the Financial Times’ piece “Tough approach to Greece makes Schäuble the toast of Germany”, Jeevan Vasagar, wrote:
“Inside the meeting room [in reference to the recent overnight Eurogroup negotiations relevant to the Greek crisis following last month’s referendum], Germany’s tough tactics alarmed some present. Across the continent, they have prompted concerns about a new, more coercive EU, where Berlin — at Mr Schäuble’s behest — pushes aside the bloc’s longstanding diplomatic conventions to impose its will.
But if he is a bogeyman abroad, the German finance minister’s approach has been stunningly successful, helping him to earn a 70 per cent approval rating and surpassing Ms Merkel as the most popular conservative politician in a poll published this month.”
In short, the Germans want their government to act coercively within the EU. Mr. Schäuble’s popularity in his country should worry the entire EU, especially when put in the context of European History. Long are gone the days when Hitler’s fascist speeches galvanized the Germans. That is true. But, the Germans still seek a dominant place in Europe. And they still approach their relations with other European nations with undeniable coercion. This attitude is much more appropriate for an empire than it would ever be for a union. The difference between the way in which the German minister of finance is seen across Europe and his popularity in Germany is alarming to say the least.
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