Assignment: Euro Crisis and EU
Germany has been the bulwark for European unity and integration since the early 1950s, but bailing out EU governments teetering on the verge of bankruptcy was never part of the plan. Germany under Merkel and the Christian Democrats reluctantly agreed to go along with big (critics say not big enough) rescue plans for Greece and Ireland in the face of considerable domestic opposition.
To the chagrin of Keynesian economists, who favor strong state action and deficit spending to create jobs and boost consumer demand, Merkel has pushed for painful and unpopular austerity (spending cuts and tax increases). Critics abroad upbraided her for fiddling while Europe burned; the German public and her own party urged her not to bail out the prodigal Mediterranean member-states that caused the problem.
Merkel reluctantly backed two key measures to bolster the euro—a euro zone fiscal compact to impose a standard set of budget rules on member-states and a European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to provide emergency rescue funds. Some economists also argued for a third one—namely, creation of euro bonds and mutualization of euro debt (a transfer of debt obligations from debtor to creditor nations within the EU).
Germany is one of the world’s largest exporters (behind only China and the United States in 2011) and benefits more than any other country from having free access to a single market of five hundred million consumers. Even in the 2012 slowdown, German exports were “buoyant.” As reported in the Economist in 2012, “The German trade surplus is so huge—nearly €100 billion ($123 billion) in the first half of the year—that it has drawn flak from the OECD club of rich counties, and from the European Commission.”
Climate Change and Energy Policy
Germany has been actively pursuing an ambitious policy of energy transformation (Energiewende) since the year 2000. This policy was accelerated after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011 when Merkel order an immediate shutdown of seven reactors and reaffirmed Germany’s clean-energy goals—to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 40% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 and to do so without nuclear power. That means Germany will have to make a major push to develop wind energy and solar power. Will it succeed? Nobody knows, but with German engineering prowess, it would not be surprising if Germany one-day soon emerges as a leading exporter of alternative energy technologies and systems.
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