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MILITARY

Germany’s humble strength

Germany was once a strong yet evil country. Then it was weak but good. Today it's both strong and good, making the innate caution of its leaders more important than ever, argues Malte Lehming from Der Tagesspiegel.

Germany’s humble strength
Photo: DPA

Compared to the United States – a strong but often unscrupulous country – Germany in the past was long seen as weak but overly moralistic. America waged war around the world, toppled dictators, made billions of dollars worth of tax cuts, while Germany appealed to the world’s only superpower to protect the climate and give terrorists a fair trial.

But now that relationship has changed. The United States has become weaker, but is still fairly ruthless. Germany is stronger, but still extremely prone to high-minded moralizing – even while considering the sale of hundreds of tanks to Saudi Arabia. Can this new balance hold?

Germany’s position has also shifted within Europe. There’s an unspoken but clearly discernible belief in Germany politics now: “We’re a major player, and we’re good!”

To name one example, hardly any other country has dealt with the recent financial and economic crisis as well as Germany. The economy is booming, unemployment is sinking, and tax revenue is filling government coffers. Germany was proved right not to bow to American pressure for more stimulus packages, and the governments in Washington, London, Paris and Madrid now look to Berlin with a mixture of envy and admiration.

Or take the example of Iraq: even US neo-conservative hardliners, along with their European allies in Britain and Poland, now consider the invasion a mistake. The mood is also tipping against the NATO-led operation in Libya, and everyone wants out of Afghanistan too.

As a result, many Germans see their concerns about those military missions confirmed. War has been proven to be neither a successful way of curbing terrorism, nor has it accelerated the development of democracy.

And what about nuclear power? While other countries carry on pumping billions into this hazardous form of energy production, we are shutting down reactors and investing in green technologies.

The cost will be worth it – the leading industry transformation of the 21st century promises massive profits through energy efficiency. Germany is already the market leader in a number of green sectors, with a share of the global market totalling between 15 and 20 percent.

Strong and evil – that was Germany’s image in its dark past. Weak and good – that is the Germany the world has known for the past 40 years. But strong and good – that is the new Germany that many neighbours and allies still have to get used to. Power and moral superiority – that can be an extremely annoying combination.

That’s why it might not be a bad twist of fate that the country is currently being led by unpretentious, almost completely anaemic politicians. President Christian Wulff, Bundestag speaker Norbert Lammert and Chancellor Angela Merkel: no-one could seriously accuse any of these people of arrogance and finger-wagging.

What could be seen as a flaw – weak leadership – has become, from a global perspective, an advantage. Because one thing we know: the teacher’s pet may be forgiven many things – except being a braggart. The stronger and more moralistic Germans feel, the more humble they should present themselves on the international stage.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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ECONOMY

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

Russia's war in Ukraine is slowing down the economy and accelerating inflation in Germany, the Ifo Institute has claimed.

German consumer prices set to rise steeply amid war in Ukraine

According to the Munich-based economics institute, inflation is expected to rise from 5.1 to 6.1 percent in March. This would be the steepest rise in consumer prices since 1982.

Over the past few months, consumers in Germany have already had to battle with huge hikes in energy costs, fuel prices and increases in the price of other everyday commodities.

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With Russia and Ukraine representing major suppliers of wheat and grain, further price rises in the food market are also expected, putting an additional strain on tight incomes. 

At the same time, the ongoing conflict is set to put a dampener on the country’s annual growth forecasts. 

“We only expect growth of between 2.2 and 3.1 percent this year,” Ifo’s head of economic research Timo Wollmershäuser said on Wednesday. 

Due to the increase in the cost of living, consumers in Germany could lose around €6 billion in purchasing power by the end of March alone.

With public life in Germany returning to normal and manufacturers’ order books filling up, a significant rebound in the economy was expected this year. 

But the war “is dampening the economy through significantly higher commodity prices, sanctions, increasing supply bottlenecks for raw materials and intermediate products as well as increased economic uncertainty”, Wollmershäuser said.

Because of the current uncertainly, the Ifo Institute calculated two separate forecasts for the upcoming year.

In the optimistic scenario, the price of oil falls gradually from the current €101 per barrel to €82 by the end of the year, and the price of natural gas falls in parallel.

In the pessimistic scenario, the oil price rises to €140 per barrel by May and only then falls to €122 by the end of the year.

Energy costs have a particularly strong impact on private consumer spending.

They could rise between 3.7 and 5 percent, depending on the developments in Ukraine, sanctions on Russia and the German government’s ability to source its energy. 

On Wednesday, German media reported that the government was in the process of thrashing out an additional set of measures designed to support consumers with their rising energy costs.

The hotly debated measures are expected to be finalised on Wednesday evening and could include increased subsidies, a mobility allowance, a fuel rebate and a child bonus for families. 

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s proposals for future energy price relief

In one piece of positive news, the number of unemployed people in Germany should fall to below 2.3 million, according to the Ifo Institute.

However, short-time work, known as Kurzarbeit in German, is likely to increase significantly in the pessimistic scenario.

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