Berlin can't fix 'austerity dictator' image alone

Nina Hasse, Deutsche Welle, 25.03.2013

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Europe's biggest economy pays the largest amount in eurozone bailouts, but it's become the symbol of harsh loan requirements. Its bad image highlights the need for further integration of the eurozone, experts believe. […]

"It's an issue of who has the strongest influence in the systems," was how policy analyst Janis Emmanouilidis of the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank, explained Germany's natural leading role. "Everybody looks at Germany because of its size and because Germany has been weathering this crisis better than others. Germany's voice is the strongest and matters most," he told DW in an interview.

Germany's history singles out the country in many ways and makes it an easy target for accusations - not least because of its Nazi past. But the finger-pointing has been going both ways, Emmanouilidis said. Germany wasn't careful enough with its tone in the debate when the crisis first hit Europe. "If you have Chancellor Merkel indicating that Greeks work less - that portrays a certain picture," he said. "I think she would not do that again but she did say it in a speech ahead of regional elections."

'White knight core countries'

The German government has been in a genuine dilemma ever since it first had to communicate its strategy in the crisis, journalist Derek Scally said. "They're really caught between a rock and a hard place," he told DW. "How do you go out and sell your view and how do you make the case for what you wanted without being seen to be a dominating country? They're damned if they do, and they're damned if they don't."

Emmanouilidis said that smaller rich countries were comfortable only with their role of supporting Germany behind the scenes. "It's convenient for some in the Netherlands or in Finland to hide behind the Germans." […]

That's why observers agree that Germany can't solve its image problem on its own. Instead, the pictures with Angela Merkel in a Nazi uniform highlight the systemic flaws of the eurozone, which need to be corrected, Emmanouilidis said. He said he was hopeful that the European Union would now increase the speed at which it is moving towards further integration and towards a banking union. If that had been in place when dealing with the problems in Cyprus, he is convinced, the hurtful blame-game could have been avoided at least in the case of Cyprus. […]

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