The rising Germanophobia in Europe

Corentin Corcelette, translated by Margaux Dumoulin
13 Décembre 2014

“With the crisis, I fear an anti-German mobilization”, said Daniel Cohn-Bendit, former Member of the European Parliament, Germanophile and pro-European. From working class revolts in Southern countries to the political elite’s criticism in France, Germanophobia is gaining ground. Let’s analyze.

Crédit Reuters
Crédit Reuters
The European elections’ results in May 2014 highlighted the rise of Germanophobia in Europe. “140 anti-Europe MEPs join the Assembly” ran Le Parisien as a headline. In Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Spain, Poland, Austria, and Italy the Eurosceptic idea is entering Parliaments. In the United Kingdom, Denmark, Greece and France, anti-European parties are topping the polls. It is hard to deny that the rejection of the harsh policy of Chancellor Angela Merkel is actually underneath the rejection of Europe. The actions that occurred since the beginning of the crisis have only been the indicators of this phenomenon.

Various displays of Germanophobia in Europe

Between Europe and France, just this once, the perception of Germany is different. First, in Europe and mainly in the Southern countries, anti-German reactions are very violent and arise from the people. In that case, the latter can be defined as the whole of citizens who do not feel represented by the institutional body. Thus, in Spain, the well-known newspaper El País – similar to Le Monde in France – wrote “Angela Merkel, like Hitler, declared war on the rest of the continent, this time to make sure of  having an essential economic space”. In Valencia, figurines of the Chancellor, dressed up in a Viking-fashion way with an axe in her hand, are burnt. During the last visit of the “European tyrant” in Madrid in September 2012, slogans appeared in the streets, such as “No to a German Europe” or “Merkel go home”. In Portugal, in November 2012, during the visit of the German Chancellor, “Portugal is not Merkel’s country” was heard in the streets of Lisbon.

However, it is in Greece that the reactions are the most violent. On the 9th October 2012, the climax of Germanophobia was reached with the use of pictures referring to Nazism and German imperialism. The pointed helmet, the swastika and the mixed flags of Germany and Nazism burned in the Athenian streets. The slogans are just as violent; “No to the IV Reich!” shout young people dressed up in SS uniforms, with arms stretched out. Those reactions are especially aggressive in Greece as there are many reasons for it. First of all, the country was the most harshly affected by the crisis, and so it is the first victim of the austerity policy. Before 2012, the “Merkozy” couple could save the appearance with a management of the European crisis. But nowadays, they put the blame on Germany for austerity policies, rightly or wrongly. Moreover, the Greeks have always kept in mind the bloody suppression of the resistance force during the Second World War. The occupation troops starved the Greek people, leading to the death of 500 000 Greeks, while the country only had 7 million inhabitants at that time.

The hatred of Germany in French political statements

In France, we talk about a“democratic clash”. Germanophobia is displayed through political statements essentially from the left-wing elites. The people, however more and more suspicious they are, are still much more moderate than the rest of Europe. That is not the case of the current government and the leaders of the Socialist Party “are declaring war” on Germany. In 2011, during the Socialist elections, Arnaud Montebourg had already compared Merkel to the “Iron Chancellor” Bismarck. He explained indeed that “Bismarck chose a policy of uniting the German principalities by subjugating the European countries, France especially. In a similar way, the Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to solve the domestic issues through imposing the economic and financial order of the German Conservatives in Europe”. Jean-Luc Mélanchon – leader of the leftist party who is making Germanophobia into one of its main topics – says quite naturally that, “no one wants to be German”.

Some think of these people as political agitators, but they are not the only ones criticizing Germany. François Hollande himself is talking about “friendly disagreement” and Claude Bartolone – President of the French National Assembly – added : “François Hollande calls it “friendly disagreement”. I would rather call it disagreement only and confrontation if needed”. And lastly, the Labour Party writes : “The community project – of Europe – is hurt by the selfish inflexibility of Chancellor Merkel who only thinks about the savings of the German depositors, the trade balance recorded by Berlin and its electoral future”. The right condemns this excess of nationalism, but isn’t the UMP (the right party in France) suffering from memory loss?

In 2007, in the middle of the Presidential campaign, Nicolas Sarkozy said, “France never yielded to the totalitarian temptation. She never massacred any people. She did not invent the final solution; she never committed a crime against humanity, nor genocide”. It is hard to criticize the Germanophobia of the French left parties.

The explanations of rising anti-German sentiment

Georges Valence brings a few answers in his book “Petite histoire de la germanophobie” (Little story of Germanophobia). The fear of the hereditary enemy is still in the minds of the people. Konrad Adenauer had already warned us at the end of his life, saying: “As soon as Berlin is a capital again – and with the reunification of Germany at the fall of the Berlin wall – people abroad will be suspicious again”. Germany has indeed regained its whole power and the balance has changed. The demographic and industrial powers of the country are crushing France. And because of that supremacy, a frustrated France is losing influence over the European scene.

After that historical argument, a second factor, with a major role, seems to be at the heart of Germanophobia. It is the brutal crisis management of Angela Merkel. That management is seen as self-centered and harsh on the countries with a heavy debt burden. This feeling of superiority shown sometimes by the German political body is irritating Europeans, who do not fail to laugh in front of the few German setbacks. We are actually in a war of everybody against everybody. 

So of course the Chancellor can impose her point of view because Berlin only has the financial means to help States on the verge of bankruptcy. But her arrogance coupled with her father-like way of speaking irritates as much as her way of always telling people what to do.

The intellectual Jean-Louis Boulanges, former MEP, explains that Merkel reminds us  that men are born to suffer. If the Greeks have to pay high financial interest on their debt and deprive themselves, it is because they have sinned. Germany must be careful because the excess of moralism in international relations is always dangerous. This time, it nearly brought down the euro and Europe. Some Germans share that point of view. That is the case of the sociologist Ulrick Beck, who sees in Germany’s tendency to impose its economic management model, the only one, as a form of nationalism. He says: “This new identity could be defined in this one sentence: we are no masters of Europe but we are mentors. That we-are-important-again-and-we-know-what-needs-to-be-done nationalism has established itself into what one could call “the German universalism””.

Emmanuel Todd’s conspiracy theory

Emmanuel Todd, historian, demographer and political specialist, regularly invited to TV shows, has wondered about the true intentions of Germany. He even thinks of Germany as our number one enemy and argues: “The rise in economic power of Germany is something unwanted, accidental – a side effect of an economic history”. He condemns a hierarchical system with the Southern scorned outcasts, the brilliant second France and Germany as the leading central power outstanding the other countries. He says that we have not understood that Germany is leading a national strategy of taking of control of Europe and isolating France.

He uses Mali as an example, saying that while France is trying to do something in its own natural influential area – the Mediterranean and Africa - Germany is trying to throw a spanner in the works. In Mali, inducing negative attitudes, surely by preventing other countries to come and help. It is a typical case of isolation attempt of France from Germany. Because there is a German attempt to isolate France from its European space.

In his reflection, he then wonders: even though Germany controls Europe, why is it imposing restrictive policies, while its own interest is to see its neighboring countries consume more since Germany is the second worldwide importing country? It is either a completely irrational logic, a type of masochism, a self-discipline and self-punishment thinking, or it is aiming at suppressing European competitors. Because if Germany wanted to dominate Europe that is what it would do. The French industry is indeed much more affected by this decrease of consumption because it export a lot less, for example; and thus in a few years, the great French, Italian, Spanish… industries will disappear and the field will be opened for the German ones. Once again, one can see the isolation process of France from Germany.

The future of Franco-German relations

The future looks dark for the Franco-German relationship. Across the Rhine, France is indeed seen as a declining country, part of the sick and unmoving countries list, concerned about hiding its weaknesses as written in Der Spiegel’s German journal. Frankfurter Rundschau refers to France as “the great quite small nation”, a hint to the contrast between the will to play with the big countries and an economic state showing the weakening of the country. Furthermore, German media are more and more irritated by the French positions on certain matters. “The leading Socialist party discovered something incredible in France: Germany is guilty for everything” the daily economic newspaper Handelsblatt mocked. The risk of a break-up is high! And so today only 18% of Germans consider France as a “privileged collaborator”, while they were 41% in 2005. In Germany, they do not talk about a Franco-German relationship. Even worse, Peter Sloterdijk evokes a “mutual loss of fascination”, stating that there is a rising cultural and societal indifference between the two people.

In order to pacify the animosity, various conditions are required. A strong political will is needed, the same as De Gaulle and Adenauer once had. Moreover, France must find again its position into the European Union. And lastly, Germany must not ride alone, at risk of gathering hatred. Pascal Perrineau noticed that “stereotypes are only asleep, they can awaken in a context where Germany is accused of moving alone in Europe, of being inflexible, when we suspect it to have imperialistic views… just like during the three wars against France!”. However, as it has been shown, the two countries do not seem to be able to come to a mutual economic policy. Yet today the relations between the two countries are linked to the economy. The European project is in danger and no one seems to have the possibility of doing anything. Without speaking of hatred, the breaking-up between the two countries seems unavoidable but  it seems to be a necessary condition for the return of growth in France.