Germany's Role in the European Debt Crisis

By George Friedman
‹‹Previous Page |1 | 2 | 3 | Next Page››

Therefore, the Germans have used the institutions and practices of the European Union to maintain demand for their products. Through the currency union, Germany has enabled other eurozone states to access credit at rates their economies didn't merit in their own right. In this sense, Germany encouraged demand for its exports by facilitating irresponsible lending practices across Europe. The degree to which German actions encouraged such imprudent practices -- since German industrial production vastly outstrips its domestic market, making sustained consumption in markets outside Germany critical to German economic prosperity -- is not fully realized.

True austerity within the European Union would have been disastrous for the German economy, since declines in consumption would have come at the expense of German exports. While demand from Greece is only a small portion of these exports, Greece is part of the larger system -- and the proper functioning of that system is very much in Germany's strategic interests. The Germans claim the Greeks deceived their creditors and the European Union. A more comprehensive explanation would include the fact that the Germans willingly turned a blind eye. Though Greece is an extreme case, Germany's overall interest has been to maintain European demand -- and thus avoid prudent austerity -- as long as possible.

Germany certainly was complicit in the lending practices that led to Greece's predicament. It is possible that the Greeks kept the whole truth about the Greek economy from their creditors, but even so, the German demand for suspension of Greek national self-determination is particularly striking.

In a sense, the German proposal merely makes very public what has always been the reality. For Greece to have its debt restructured, it must impose significant austerity measures, which Athens has agreed to. The Germans now want a commissioner appointed to ensure the Greek government fulfills its promise. In the process, the debt crisis will profoundly circumscribe Greek democracy by transferring fundamental elements of Greek sovereignty into the hands of commissioners whose primary interest is the repayment of debt, not Greek national interests.

Receive email alerts

The Judgment of Athens

The Greeks have two choices. First, they can accept responsibility for the debts on the terms negotiated and accede to the constraints on their budget and tax discretion whether imposed by a commissioner or by a less formal structure. Second, they can default on all debts. As we have learned from corporate behavior, bankruptcy has become a respectable strategic option. Therefore, the Greeks must consider the consequences of simply defaulting.

Default might see them frozen out of world financial markets. But even if they don't default, they will be present in those markets only under the most constrained circumstances, and to the primary benefit of creditors at that. Moreover, as many corporations have found, borrowing becomes more attractive after default, as it clears the way to new post-default debt. It is not clear that no one would lend to Greece after a default. In fact, Greece has defaulted on its debt several times and managed to regain access to international lending.

More significantly, defaulting would allow Greece to avoid fueling its internal political crisis by forfeiting its national sovereignty. Much of the political crisis inside of Greece stems from the Greek public's antipathy to austerity. But another part, which would come to the fore under the German proposal, is that the Greeks do not want to lose national sovereignty. In their long history, the Greeks have lost their sovereignty to invaders such as the Romans, the Ottomans and, most recently, the Nazis. The brutal German occupation still lives in Greek memories. The concept of national self-determination is thus not an abstract concept to the Greeks. Its loss plus austerity imposed by foreign powers would create a domestic crisis in which the Greek state would be seen as an economic and political enemy of Greek national interests along with the commissioner or some other mechanism. The political result could be explosive.

‹‹Previous Page |1 | 2 | 3 | Next Page››

This essay originally appeared at Stratfor.com.

Sponsored Links
Related Articles
May 16, 2012
How Hollande Should Handle Merkel - Charles Grant
May 10, 2012
Germany's Choice: Inflation or Defaults - Simon Tilford

George Friedman
Author Archive