Europe’s Seven Deadly Sins

Opinion: (from Die Zeit): “The politicians of Europe love to flourish the flag of Community togetherness. But in their day-to-day politicking they give the lie to their supposed virtues. Die Zeit has compiled a cheat-sheet of national egotisms that are harming the Community.

Sloth – Greece

“Angela Merkel is to blame, they say. German hard-heartedness is wrecking Europe, they say. That’s how the Greek tabloids are explaining the crisis, and that’s what populist politicians and demonstrators are shouting too. It’s not their debts that the Greeks are bothered by, but the dunning and crowding and lecturing from the rest of Europe. In blaming others, they’re lying to themselves and to Europe.

“In Athens, what astonishes one is the incredible self-indulgence. Who is actually grappling with the cause of the misery that is the debt-ridden society of Greece itself? Those who always thought there would be money enough in Europe for them. Guilds that cling on to their privileges. State railway workers who pocketed exorbitant salaries during chaotic wage hikes. Families that continued to rake in pensions for their dead relatives. Politicians who hired their voters’ nephews and nieces, and nephews and nieces who let themselves be hired. The Athens media are reporting on this, for sure. But what’s missing is any cathartic Greek anger at their fellow-citizens.

“The Athens populists talk tough about Merkel, but go easy on the guilty in their own country. They prefer raging at a distant bugbear, it turns out, to looking themselves in the eye. This weakness, this lack of talent for self-criticism, is the real Greek crisis.

Dealing in stolen goods – Switzerland

“The sums are huge. It’s enough to make the eyes of Europe’s politicians gape wide with cupidity. In Switzerland alone, foreigners, most of them EU citizens, have 1,560 billion euros tucked away. In Britain, and mainly in the Channel Islands, about 1,400 billion; in Luxembourg, 440 billion, and in Liechtenstein, 78 billion. All these states hold out a helping hand to tax evasion. They sponge up the national wealth of other countries and live off the interest.

Bigotry – Germany

“Can there be a Europe in which one country exports and turns a profit, while others import and rack up debts?

“The Germans are proud of their exporting prowess, as it’s a testament to the efficiency of their domestic economy. But when a country permanently sells more goods to foreign countries than it imports from them, things get rather unpleasant for all involved.

“This year Germany’s export surplus with the other EU countries came to €62 billion. That means nothing less than that Germany goods are traded not for foreign goods, but are practically handed over on credit. To buy German goods, the southern Europeans go into debt to the Germans. In other words, the wealth of the Germans is based on the debts of others. But just who is complaining the loudest about this debt? Exactly. Germany.

“If the Europeans do not want to flood the rest of the world with European goods, which this world will not permit, the balance must be restored within the monetary union. The Italians will have to economise – and the Germans will have to spend more.

Gluttony – Spain

“‘Thou shalt not empty the seas of thy neighbours’ fish’ – Europe could do with that as one its Ten Commandments. Followed by: ‘Thou shalt not hang your farmers up to a subsidy drip.’

“Around 50 billion euros flow from the Brussels cash box into European agriculture every year – most directly to farmers in various EU countries, who thus stay competitive in a field dominated by price-dumping. A significant part of the cheap meat, dairy and vegetable products from Spain, Italy, France and Germany now lands in African markets.

“Good for the poor, say the exporters. Local food production in countries such as Ghana, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, however, is being driven to collapse. And if agricultural commodity prices go up, the poor will no longer be able to afford these imports of milk powder, poultry leftovers and grain from the EU.

“If it comes to a food or hunger crisis, the Europeans will be in a tight spot again. The world’s largest donor of emergency relief, after all, is the EU.

Self-interest – Ireland

“At only 12.5 percent, Ireland’s corporate tax is far and away the European flyweight in the field. The majority of EU countries, such as Germany and France, levy a corporate tax of 30 percent. In an internal market in which everyone should have the same competitive opportunities, how, pray, can there be such a gap?

Arrogance – France

“The brakes that the state puts on developing production facilities in emerging countries is, by the way, an important source of the difficulties the French carmaker finds itself in today. It’s what happens when a state appoints itself the would-be protector of the economy.

“Production costs rise, and the manufactured goods become too expensive. To counteract falling exports, the government raises protectionist barriers. A vicious circle. At best, by doing this the French government rewards unprofitable production. At worst, the Elysée abuses its power over companies as a political weapon.

“French politicians become convinced Europeans if they can’t go any further on their own.

Avarice – Britain

“Did the British not hear the shot that went round the world? As if the financial world hasn’t been in meltdown these past three years, they go on believing that they can make up for the loss of their national industries by speculating on other people’s money – whose losses are their profits.

“Pigheaded and incorrigible, they cling to this so-called logic according to which the markets are invulnerable and to which politics and society will ultimately have to submit.

“In this topsy-turvy world driven by an over-heated concept of ‘freedom’ handed down by John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith, a financial system in the City of London with no meaningful regulation was possible. All highly complex derivatives and asset-backed securities were traded there, which contributed decisively to the great crash of 2008. Billions of euros in savings and pension funds of ordinary bank customers were gambled away, but the London bankers themselves lost nothing.”

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