Germany is in the stocks again: rotten tomatoes are being thrown left, right and centre at that poor country for its appalling handling of the total disaster that is Greece. At best, the country is accused of being a priggish, unbending Lutheran moralist quite happy to grind down those sinful, fun-loving, feckless southern Catholic (or, in the case of Greece, Orthodox) types. At worst it is portrayed as a callous bully, with not so subtle allusions to its Nazi past.
Others are more generous to Germany, seeing the unfolding catastrophe as an inevitable split along Europe’s ancient ‘olive line’. South of that line, where the olive tree grows, cultures are emotional, impulsive, fun-loving but not particularly diligent or hard-working. To the north, cultures are sober, logical, honest and dour – a result of the need in times past to plan ahead for the barren winter months unknown along the Mediterranean littoral.
Whether agrarian or Reformation, doubtless generalised differences in the European culture are part of the story. However, there are cultural aspects specific to Germany that means that country is uniquely unsuited to lead a united Europe, and that is the German obsession with planning.
Anyone who has the pleasure of working in Germany can attest to its highly risk-averse culture: the German way is to plan ahead in meticulous detail for any and every eventuality. The plan is then executed, and no deviation is allowed from that point onwards. Such an approach is clearly highly successful within Germany itself, as the enduring strength of the German economy attests. However, it is a total disaster when dealing with the more mercurial southern European temperament.
Teutonic sensibilities find the introduction of changes to an agreed scheme very stressful to cope with, and therefore not only incompetent but downright rude, which is why their leadership of the whole Greek imbroglio has been so unbending, ill-tempered and utterly unimaginative.
For Greece today, read the whole of southern Europe tomorrow, as one by one Latin economies are ground down by being trapped in a single currency which suits German exporters at the same time as pricing out their own goods from the market. As their economies weaken, talent is flowing outwards, exacerbating a looming demographic crisis.
In short, Germans are not bullies, but nonetheless lack the cultural flexibility to lead a continent as diverse as Europe. Unwittingly, they are bleeding its southern members dry,and will continue to do so.