Monday, May 23, 2005

Germany and France can't deal with the world.

EU: This could be the most coherent, level-headed article ever in the Guardian.

The devastating defeat of Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats in the weekend elections in North Rhine-Westphalia blows the whistle on Germany's attempt to balance economic energy and social cohesion in the old way. This was truly a milestone event - akin in its way to Britain's winter of discontent a quarter of a century ago. A bugle blew in the Ruhr on Sunday, sounding the last post for the postwar German model. Germany seems to me to have fallen victim to something that was captured by its most famous poet in his most celebrated work. In part one of Goethe's Faust, the central character's pact with the devil allows him to have energy, life and youth unless he becomes so entranced by the passing moment that he wishes that things will never change. When Faust stumbles unthinkingly into that wish, his world and his life are forfeit to Mephistopheles. ....There was nothing wrong with the postwar settlement for the Europeans who benefited from it, especially for those who had survived the terrible years of 1914-45. But it was only sustainable as long as the millions who languished under communism were unable to get their share of the prosperity, security and freedom that western Europe enjoyed. Once communism collapsed, the privileges and protections that were essential to the western settlement began to be unsustainable economically and, in an important way, morally too. This is the world we all now inhabit. It is a world in which Britain, because of the premature destruction of its own post-1945 settlement, is better equipped to make the transition to the market-economy-dominated 21st century than the older nations of the European Union. Now it is the turn of Germany, struggling to reform but highly educated and highly skilled - the key assets for any developed economy in this changing global economy - to go through its own version of that painful transition.

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