By Ulrich Beck
Polity Press – £16.99
I had the utmost pleasure of living in the fantastic city of Berlin for a number of years (and let’s make no bones about, Berlin really is a fantastic city of the finest order). I/we only left, due to our financial situation, as there is simply no work there. And (almost) everyone in the city will tell you that.
Whether it’s because of its close proximity to Poland, the huge Turkish population or the ever increasing influx of immigrants; paid work, is on the whole, extremely hard to find. I say paid work, as there are countless jobs to be had, where one is expected to work for nada.
Oh yes; but nada doesn’t pay for health insurance – which to my mind, is extortionate in Germany to say the least. Nor does working for free pay for anything else. So, when in the chapter ‘Europe’s New Power Coordinates’ of this compelling, considered and exceedingly well constructed book German Europe, its author, Ulrich Beck writes: ‘’Many of our European neighbours do in fact contemplate the ‘German jobs miracle’ of full employment with astonishment, admiration and even envy.,’’ I have to say, I don’t completely agree.
He does however, in the very next paragraph, admittedly go some way in explaining the (real) essence behind that of Germany’s spurious ‘’full employment’.’’
In direct relation to the implementation of Gerhard Shroder’s ‘Agenda 2010,’ this Professor of Sociology in Munich, London and Paris goes on to write: ‘’The slogan it proclaimed at the time was ‘Demand and Support,’ but its aim was to increase the pressure on the unemployed to accept job offers below their qualifications, at lower wages and on inferior terms. Employers’ costs were significantly decreased by reductions in employer contributions to pension and medical insurance […]. Roughly half the new jobs which were created are precarious. They are made up of around 1 million agency jobs, 7.4 million so-called mini-jobs (paying four hundred euros per month), and 3 million temporary positions etc. This has led to deeper social divisiveness and a rapid increase in the earnings gap between the rich and the poor.’’
Much of the writing herein might be viewed as politically provocative:
‘’When extended to apply to European politics […] universalism reveals that Germany’s today is Europe’s tomorrow,’’ ‘’The phrase ‘a German Europe’ is contaminated by history and breaks a highly sensitive taboo because it articulates the new power relations,’’ ‘’Her (Angela Merkel) siren call is: better a German euro than no euro at all.’’
Moreover, as previously mentioned, German Europe is nothing, if not overtly well considered from that of all sides of the political spectrum.
Such is clearly brought to bear already on page two of Beck’s analysis, where in the book’s Introduction, he sympathetically writes: ‘’How are we to go about resolving disagreements between national democracies? Which democracy should prevail? By what right? With what democratic legitimation? Or is the coercive might of the economy to play the key role? Should the withholding of credit be the ultimate decisive factor? Or should Greece, the original home of democracy, be shorn of its right to democratic self-determination because of its debt burden? What sort of country, what sort of world, what sort of crisis are we living in, if we can stand by and watch one democracy emasculated by another without its provoking any feeling of outrage.’’
I found this book a more than stimulating and inspiring read, which, given a subject matter that many might find a little too esoteric if not horribly dry, really is no mean feat.
The author’s assimilation between Merkel and Machiavelli – a term Beck calls ‘’the Merkiavelli model – was of particular interest. The following of which is a mere, yet rather suave snippet: ‘’[…] this is the Merkiavellian point, Merkel links German willingness to provide credit with the willingness of the debtor nations to satisfy the conditions of German stability policies. This is Merkiavelli’s first principle: on the subject of German money to assist the debtor nations, her position is neither a clear Yes nor a clear No, but a clear Yes and No.’’
Food for thought? Thought for the future?
If you’re remotely interested in the continuing European debt crisis,
Germany’s place within Europe, or rather, Europe’s place within Germany, then read this book. You won’t be disappointed.