Saturday 24 March 2018

What the Germans really think of Ireland

Ireland can count on German support in the current crisis that threatens the foundations of Europe, writes German Ambassador Busson von Alvensleben

EUROPE is changing. Globalisation and crises are presenting European Union member states, including Germany and Ireland, with exceptional challenges.

This impacts not only on governments but also on citizens to an extent rarely encountered in the past, leaving nerves somewhat frayed at times. Where is Europe heading, who is at the helm, and are we travelling in the right direction?

Like other European nations, the Germans and the Irish have their own very particular histories that inevitably influence their actions. Following the disastrous experience of both world wars, the key focus for the Germans was the European integration project, the rapprochement between countries that had not long since been enemies, and above all, friendship with the French. A Europe of peace was to be created, excluding future wars.

This idea has turned into a tremendous success story, giving the citizens of the EU not only the longest period of peace in European history, but at the same time a degree of economic development equally unprecedented, a common market, a common currency and open borders.

In 1973, Ireland took the step to join the Community, warmly welcomed by the small number of member states at the time. The Irish had other reasons -- no less weighty than those of the Germans -- for their decision in favour of the European integration project which they have repeatedly reaffirmed.

Ireland's influence in Europe has continually had a helpful and balancing effect, not least (and this the Germans remember with gratitude) when in 1990 it was decided, under the Irish Presidency, that a united Germany should remain a member of the EU.

It was not easy for the Germans to say farewell to the Deutschmark, which had become a symbol of their economic strength. Criteria designed to promote stability and growth in the Union were stipulated in order to dispel any concerns.

Joining the euro area opened up new and immense opportunities for all member states and led to considerable economic improvements, particularly for economies like those of Ireland and Germany with strong export industries.

At the same time, Germany faced a long, painful process of adjustment before it could see its performance bloom again unhindered.

Now the economic and financial crisis of recent years has exposed the inadequacy of the existing set of instruments designed to protect stability and growth in the euro-area countries.

The European Commission, governments and parliaments are all working at full stretch to find solutions aimed at securing a higher level of consistency. Much has already been achieved. For instance, the Stability and Growth Pact guidelines have been tightened; a new monitoring system has been introduced for all economic activity; a long-term stability mechanism has been put in place; and the Euro Plus Pact is increasing the competitiveness of participating countries.

Germany sees itself as having a special responsibility in all this. As the country with the most economic clout in the EU and -- like Ireland -- with nearly two-thirds of its exports going to EU states, Germany has a vital interest in the common currency and the stability of its partners.

Germans are at the same time all too aware of the potential effects should the EU not succeed in overcoming the current crisis. What is at stake is no less than the stability of the euro and the future of Europe, not to mention unforeseeable consequences for the world economy.

A fierce debate is raging, in Germany as well as Ireland, on the best way to get out of the crisis. Staggering figures for national debt are in both countries a taxpayer's worst nightmare.

The German public is extremely worried about the level of responsibility being placed on Germany's shoulders with respect to financial assistance programmes. Whereas once one could safely assume that each country in the euro area bore full responsibility for its financial management and that no other member state would be involved in any bailout, today disenchantment has replaced that confidence. That the crisis has taken on a new dimension Germans understand only too well, seeing the effects on both countries and citizens. For this reason, they consider solidarity to be a prior necessity.

In view of renewed claims on finance to support countries in need which exceed the €211bn already shouldered in guarantees and sureties, the level of concern among citizens is mounting. They also want to know how much the final toll will be that they, after all, will be expected to bear.

The uncertainty fuels the concerns that many people have about the future of their country and for their families. Emotions run high when people compare the standard of living and wage levels in the countries affected.

Germany and Ireland have always been close and still are today. There is a spirit of trust between our governments, and affection between our peoples. We look back on 90 years of diplomatic relations and decades of close co-operation at European level that have taught us over and over again that we can only succeed jointly with our European partners, large or small.

We both know that this is particularly true when it comes to the future of Europe in a globalised world. That is why we both push ahead with decisions in Europe that our citizens expect of us, to advance prosperity and growth by ensuring the stability of the euro.

Experience tells us that the road to success in Europe is often arduous, tortuous and plagued by setbacks. And yet we have come a long way together. We cannot afford to jeopardise all these achievements. Today, Ireland is fighting for its future. Germany knows Ireland's strengths and has faith in both Ireland's determination and capacity to meet this challenge. As in the past, Ireland can count on Germany's understanding and support in the future.

His Excellency Busson von Alvensleben is the German Ambassador to Ireland

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