Is Germany becoming the new sick man of Europe?

The Spectator is a weekly British conservative magazine.  Its principal subject areas are politics and culture. The Spectator publishes the impressions of Sarah Muir, who recently returned to the UK after living in Germany for 14 years. She was short-listed for this year’s Timothy Garton Ash prize.

It’s not going well for Germany at the moment. Their largest bank is on the verge of collapse while their second largest bank is laying-off staff. And Frau Merkel is having to cope with the political fallout of her open-door immigration policy – not least a rise in populist nationalism and a dip in her own popularity. Germans have also been told in recent months to stockpile food, while a leaked document suggested a return to national service, which stopped in 2011, was being considered. But that’s not all: the country’s economy recently slipped in the World Economic Forum’s competitive ranking. All this makes for a grim picture. So having lived for 14 years in Germany with my Venezuelan husband (who knows a thing or two about political instability and national crises), we decided it was time to up sticks and return to the UK.

My German colleagues, non-plussed by the Leave campaign’s victory, wondered why I would want to return to a foggy, rain-sodden island inhabited by inward-looking ‘Insel Affen’ who live on a diet of weak beer and fish and chips (yes, a lot of Germans think it’s still the 1970s in Britain). Indeed, many of my Euro-centric friends and relatives in the UK questioned why I would want to return.

When I moved to Germany in 2002, it was, in many respects way ahead of the UK – a strong, export-driven economy with efficient public services, good (albeit expensive) healthcare and trains that ran on time. But over the last 14 years, we’ve witnessed a steady decline in standards in Europe’s powerhouse.

Let’s start with the economy. Recent reports have shown a sharp decline in exports and Germans are a parsimonious lot, so don’t expect domestic demand to fill the gap. Sanctions against Russia, plus a general drop in global demand, have had an impact on the ‘Mittelstand’, the backbone of Germany’s economy. Meanwhile, public services are feeling the strain of an ageing population coupled with a sharp increase in the number of refugees arriving.

Reading reports that Germany is perceived as less competitive is also not a surprise; one of the reasons we came back to the UK is because, thanks to Germany’s byzantine bureaucracy, starting a new business involves endless red tape and excessive costs.

And as for the trains? Germany’s creaking infrastructure has been cited as one of the reasons for the country’s decline in competitiveness. Deutsche Bahn trains are frequently over-crowded and often late. While here in the UK, a recent trip to London on one of the smart new GWR trains was actually quite pleasant. Yes, even the trains in the UK are (sometimes) better than in Germany.

When asked about the state of their own country, my German colleagues’ responses usually fall into two distinct camps: academics, who enjoy a particularly secure, privileged position in German society, can see no problems. They often support Frau Merkel’s approach and see Germany as leading Europe by example. And they’re at a loss as to why the rest of the continent doesn’t take a leaf out of Germany’s book.

But ask those working in companies and the response can be very different. People there have witnessed firsthand a small but discernible decline in the economy and are acutely aware of the drop in standards in a variety of public services. A spate of botched, over-budget public projects – most notably Berlin’s Brandenburg airport, mention of which will make Germans squirm with embarrassment – haven’t helped with this sense of disquiet.

Of course, Germany’s ability to reinvent itself shouldn’t be underestimated. The fact that it was able to reunite with its former-communist neighbour reasonably successfully indicates that when the country puts its mind to something, it can achieve it.

A lot will depend on how well Germany can adapt to a post-Brexit Europe. Can the country maintain its still-enviable welfare state while integrating large numbers of refugees? And how will Germany handle a previously unthinkable shift to the right in mainstream politics? For now, Frau Merkel is still in the driving seat. But her future is far from certain. And who will take her place remains unclear. To misquote Darwin, the key to survival is not just about being the fittest, but about having the ability to adapt to change. Right now, I have greater faith in the UK’s adaptability than in Germany’s.

4650 views


More World news

Bayterek to be reopened by June 10

Bayterek to be reopened by June 10

The major overhaul of the main symbol of Astana, Bayterek monument, is under completion. The builders plan to complete finishing works before the beginning of Expo 2017, Kazinform reported with reference to the press-service of the Astana …

Russia ready to restore flights to Egypt if security measures met

Russia ready to restore flights to Egypt if security measures met

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated on Monday that the resumption of direct flights between Russia and Egypt would be possible only when Cairo fully implements security agreements reached after a 2015 tragedy …

 Russia#039s Envoy: NATO strengthening in Europe is Cold War relic

Russia's Envoy: NATO strengthening in Europe is Cold War relic

NATO's strengthening in Europe has provoked a qualitative turn for the worse, the situation looks very dangerous, Russia's Permanent Representative to the alliance Alexander Grushko said during a video conference at …

 Kremlin: Europe and US should tackle their relations by themselves

Kremlin: Europe and US should tackle their relations by themselves

The European Union and the United States should sort out bilateral relations on their own, the matter does not bother Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, commenting on German Chancellor Angela …

India and Pakistan to become SCO members in June

India and Pakistan to become SCO members in June

India and Pakistan will become full-fledged members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at its next summit in June, SCO Secretary-General Rashid Alimov said on the sidelines of a conference on bilateral Russia-China …

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister to visit Hungary

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister to visit Hungary

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov will visit Hungary in July this year, Hungary’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan Imre Laszloczki said. During the meetings Mammadyarov will also discuss the …

Putin arrives in France to meet Macron

Putin arrives in France to meet Macron

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in France to hold his first meeting with new French President Emmanuel Macron in the Palace of Versailles. The Russian and French leaders will attend a large …

Kremlin on Putin-Macron talks agenda

Kremlin on Putin-Macron talks agenda

The war on terror will be an important issue on the agenda of today’s talks between Russian and French Presidents Vladimir Putin and Emmanuel Macron, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "The issue of the …

EU extends sanctions against Syria

EU extends sanctions against Syria

The European Union extended the sanctions against Syria's authorities until June 1, 2018, the EU Council said in a statement. "On 29 May 2017, the Council extended EU restrictive measures against the Syrian regime until 1 June …

Huntsman may replace Tefft as US ambassador to Russia

Huntsman may replace Tefft as US ambassador to Russia

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Tefft, whose term expires this autumn, confirmed today that former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman may replace him. "We are waiting for Huntsman," Tefft said on the …

more World news