This morning’s Irish Times reports that German opposition leader, former environment minister, and Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel was in town. And what did he say? Every damn thing.
THE AUSTERITY measures being imposed on Greece are â€œmadâ€, and indicate that Europe learned no lesson from the rise of the Nazi Party, Germanyâ€™s main opposition leader said yesterday. Sigmar Gabriel, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party and potential future chancellor, said the measures were â€œmadâ€ and amounted to an â€œevil circleâ€….At a seminar organised by the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin yesterday, Mr Gabriel cited the example of Weimar Republic chancellor Heinrich BrÃ¼ning, who cut successive budgets during the Great Depression. Germany ended up with six million people unemployed. BrÃ¼ningâ€™s cutbacks contributed to a rise in support for the Nazi Party, which grabbed power in 1933.
He went there. Wham.
Mr Gabriel said it would be â€œimpossibleâ€ for Greece to solve its problems without a policy for growth and unemployment. He accused the European Council of leading the country into a â€œdead-end streetâ€.
Mr Gabriel said countries such as Greece and Italy should have taken advantage of lower interest rates when they joined the euro zone to develop their economies and infrastructure and become more competitive. Instead, they used it for current spending.
That, at least, isn’t controversial. But this is:
He also criticised his own country, which had accumulated about â‚¬1 trillion in savings that could have been invested in the real economy, but instead went into high-risk investments and real estate.
Well, yes. As I said back in May, 2010:
Every Sparbuch is the flipside of a tax break for a mobbed-up developer setting fire to a Greek hillside. Obviously, it would be silly to hold individual German savers responsible â€“ but the Great Banks of Frankfurt, the institutions through which the German trade surplus is recycled?
However virtuous all those savers in Exportland were (if you go with Angela Merkel) or however successful German internal devaluation was (if you go with Kantoos) or however ruthless German politicians and executives were in demanding wage cuts in Germany and a massive trade surplus with the rest of Europe (if you go with me), it seems pretty clear that the European financial sector failed to allocate the capital it collected up north into productive uses. Instead, well, we got golf courses in the semi-desert of Andalusia and ships flagged-out to Liberia.
You might not be surprised to find that Gabriel’s remarks were part of a coordinated push. Here’s the piece the German, Swedish, and UK opposition leaders pushed out later in the day. The key points are that austerity everywhere isn’t helping, that something needs to be done about banks, that the politicians have lost legitimacy and authority, and that we need the surplus states to reflate and enjoy some sunshine, already.
It’s high time there’s an opposition program in Europe. This could be better, but it’s a start.
Meanwhile, of all people, Marine Le Pen is going to Occupy Wall Street. That’s what narrative power sounds like.