German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück has left ministers in London aghast with his undiplomatically forthright comments about the British stimulus package. Many British newspaper editors, however, are citing German prudence with approval.
Speaking to Newsweek, Steinbrück described Gordon Brown’s bid to borrow his way out of recession as ‘crass Keynesianism’. Mockingly, he pointed out that the cut in value added tax from 17.5 to 15 percent would leave a DVD player 80 pence cheaper – hardly enough to entice people to hit the malls.
Steinbrück’s comments were a blow for Brown and his chancellor (finance minister) Alistair Darling, providing as they did a pointed reminder of how much better prepared Germany is than Britain for the tough times ahead. Germany’s budget surplus contrasts with Britain’s large deficit; the high levels of personal debt in the UK contrast with low debt and high levels of savings in Germany.
Needless to say, today’s UK papers have been poring over the entrails of the Newsweek interview – before picking them up and slinging them at the British government.
The tabloid Sun newspaper, never a great friend of understatement, was quick to paraphrase the finance minister; ‘Germans: Gord is a total failure’, it shrieked.
Over at the centrist Independent, Jeremy Warner wondered whether the Steinbrück might like to take over his column: ‘In two words, he’s managed to articulate what many of us have been struggling to say ever since the [British] Government announced a £20bn VAT giveaway in the pre-Budget report – namely that trying to spend your way out of recession after years of preaching fiscal rectitude is not only a U-turn of quite astonishing proportions, but also that in the manner proposed it probably won’t do any good either.’
The right-wing populist Daily Mail agreed. It found itself in the unusual position of summoning the ghost of uptight sitcom hotelier Basil Fawlty to side with a German Social Democrat. In an article headlined ‘Don’t Mention the Fiscal Stimulus’, the paper admitted it wouldn’t usually take advice from Steinbrück, a man ‘known to frown on Anglo-Saxon free markets who earlier this year starred in a rap video wearing an Afro wig.’ But, it said, this time he was right:
All around the world, governments are rushing to spend and borrow their way out of the recession, despite no country in history ever managing to do this.
The Financial Times cautioned that the German finance minister may have spoken too soon. Reminding readers that Steinbrück is ‘not known for keeping his thoughts to himself,’ it describes his anger with Britain as ‘understandable, but misplaced’. Understandable, because Steinbrück has spent the past few years diligently bringing the German public finances back into the black. Misplaced because the economic downturn elsewhere is having a massive impact on German exporters. The time will come for Germany to lecture the rest of Europe on prudence, the paper says. For now, though, ‘Germany must start spending. The consequences otherwise will be dire.’
Other columnists were warning that it would be more correct to apply the ‘crass’ label to German policy. The economics editor of the Daily Telegraph, Edmund Conway, argued that German ‘inaction and restraint’ could have much worse consequences than the hyperactivity of the British.
During the 1930s it was the resistance of the world’s surplus nations to large-scale rescue packages that caused the economic misery to spread so virulently around the world.
Right or wrong, Steinbrück’s comments have done little to improve German-British relations. Still less have they sold German economic prudence to British ministers and their supporters in the press. But they have certainly given ammunition to Gordon Brown’s detractors.
Berlin, we are led to believe, is spellbound by the arrival of Hollywood glamour in the form of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. The couple are enjoying an extended stay in the capital while Pitt films a new Quentin Tarantino movie, Inglorious Bastards, which is set in the Second World War.
If you’re desperate to get a glimpse of movie royalty, the International Herald Tribune has put together a little guide to the Pitts’ new ‘hood, Wannsee. Apparently, the couple’s new 30,000-square-foot home has 20 rooms, but there’s much more to do there than just gawping at celebrity homes. Read the article here.
E-commerce was supposed to break down borders, but try buying something from a website overseas and you’ll frequently find that there’s some lawyer who says you can’t.
A tune might be available on iTunes in the UK or France, but if your iTunes account is in Germany or Sweden you will often find yourself barred from buying it. Sometimes, the European Single Market is little more than an illusion – and for expats in particular, it can be frustrating.
The European Commission is now trying to bang a few heads together. Competition commissioner Nellie Kroes has brought together Apple’s Steve Jobs, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and the CEO of eBay to try to work out what can be done.
Still, isn’t it odd that Eurocrats should be needed to persuade companies to sell their products to consumers who want to buy them? Surely good capitalists should want to find a way to make this happen?
International: September 16th, 2008 by JS
The bodies of many American GIs who died in the Second World War have never been found. Now the US Department of Defense is stepping up efforts to locate the remains of troops who died in Germany. The search is currently centred on the Huertgen Forest, the scene of a bloody battle in 1944. But as Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports, few of the estimated 2,000 bodies are expected to be found.
Read the whole story here:
Germany’s Jewish community is being seen as a growing threat – not by Germans, but by Israelis, according to a report by Harry de Quetteville in the Daily Telegraph.
In 2005, more Jewish people moved to Germany than to Israel. Indeed, many of the Jews moving to Germany were actually born in Israel. For some Israelis, this threatens the very foundations of the Jewish state.
With a Jewish renaissance, even in places where it was nearly erased by the Holocaust, they say Zionism’s raison d’etre is being challenged.
“Israel is in a really difficult position with immigration now, because people ask ‘what is the role of Zionism today?’,” said Rabbi Homolka, principal of the Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin.
“The Jewish community in Berlin makes the argument that it is valid to stay here, in Germany.”
The Telegraph reports that Gordon Brown may repeal the 1701 Act of Settlement, which banned Catholics from taking the British throne, because it has recently been criticized by church leaders and mainly Scottish MPs for being discriminatory against the religion.
But a repeal would mean that the 74-year-old Duke of Bavaria would become the the new King of England and Scotland. He is a blood descendant of Charles I in the Stuart line. But his representatives say that Franz Herzog von Bayern, who lives a quiet life at the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich, is indifferent to the possibility.
Baron Marcus Bechtolsheim, the president of the administration of the Duke of Bavaria, said: “The Duke generally does not comment on this issue because he sees it as an entirely British question which does not concern him. And he regards it as a purely hypothetical issue.
“Even if this change in Britain happens, it won’t change his attitude. All this interest in his opinion makes him smile because, really, he is very happy and satisfied with being the Duke of Bavaria.”
Maybe the Duke is indifferent because it’s no longer appropriate for Germans to get excited about British domination, or maybe it’s because he lives here:
Pope Benedict XVI is often referred to in the English-speaking world as the ‘German Pope’, but as this article points out, he is first and foremost a Bavarian.
The article goes on to talk about how Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was frequently dubbed ‘God’s Rottweiler,’ is actually a bit of a softie at heart. Indeed, one journalist quoted in the article describes him as “among the most kindhearted, understanding, cordial, even timid men that I have known.”
Benedict’s image as rule-bound and severe might have more than a little to do with perceptions of Germans in general. But the article points out that Bavarians view themselves as rather more fun than their northern counterparts. For his part the Pope has put up a strong defence of his countrymen as a whole: “Germans aren’t just reserved, punctual and disciplined,” he has said, “they are also spontaneous, happy and hospitable.” Quite right too.
International: February 28th, 2008 by PR
Shame for Barack Obama that Germans aren’t voting in the US Primaries. According to the New York Times politics blog, The Caucus, Germany has fallen in love with him.
The country’s sudden crush is bound up with near-constant comparisons here between the young senator from Illinois and President John F. Kennedy Jr. – still admired in Germany and particularly in Berlin.
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