FRANKFURT — Whenever Germany thrived, so did the rest of Europe. But that long-held belief is being questioned by its neighbors, which see evidence that the country is taking off without them.
Despite Berlin’s hefty financial support of the euro zone’s more beleaguered members in the last few years, the economic crisis has corroded commercial ties between Germany and the rest of Europe. Countries like Italy and Spain no longer have the purchasing power they once did, and they trade less with Germany because of it.
Greece, the most distressed country in Europe, is now little more than a German rounding error. German exports to Greece plunged 40 percent from 2008, while Germany imported 9 percent less from Greece. Last year, Greece ranked 44th among German trading partners, just behind Vietnam.
Germany's reunification in the early 90's was watched suspiciously by some who still remembered WWI and WWII, but it's been assumed that with the economic ties of the European Union that the fortunes of Europe will rise and fall with Germany's.
However, the Euro crisis has tested that assumption. Now that Germany is recovering leagues and bounds ahead of its neighbors, is there a chance that the days of European harmony are numbered? I'm of German descent, and I love Germany. They seem to abhor war nowadays. But the rise of extremists and nationalists in countries like Greece suggest its less prosperous neighbors will start to despise it, and eventually maybe German sentiments will turn towards contempt for them. Above all else, Germans seem to fear economic instability. Their memory of hyperinflation after WWI still drives their monetary policy today.
An aggressive Germany in the 21st Century seems unthinkable, but William Shirer in the 30th anniversary edition of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich didn't think so. What's the likelihood that tensions in Europe will one day in the near future gravitate back towards the continent's economic center of gravity, Germany?