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Monday, March 22, 2004

The Sour, Scapegoating Mood in Germany and Much of the Rest of the EU

To John --- a US professional who spent years in German-speaking countries, studying and serving a long stint as an intern in the German parliament, the Bundestag --- we owe these first-hand observations about German anti-Americanism that he gathered after a recent visit to that country.

Prof Bug:

I just returned from a brief trip to Germany last week. Regarding journalism, I couldn't believe what I was reading in the mainstream (less high-brow) German press about the US and Bush in particular. It was pure anti-US propaganda (not to mention shabby reporting), making outrageous assertions about the Bush Administration's motivations without any factual support and, even more disturbingly, hinting in at least two journalistic reports at a Jewish cabal directing US foreign policy.

One article in the weekly magazine Stern, for example, reported that a dissenter to US policy in Iraq inside the State Department was visited by some shady-sounding government agents and pointedly told that there would be consequences to her if she were to make any criticism of Israel. It was completely off the subject of the article. Simply outrageous.

Those kind of suggestions can only be to try to corroborate the dangerous and false anti-Semitic beliefs held by too many people in Europe.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the mainstream German media I read through, there's much fretting going on about Schroeder's pension and labor reforms and the stagnant German economy which, as a regular visitor to Germany, I can say was palpable this time. I've generally sensed an enormous amount of uncertainty and anxiety in Germany (in the press and talking to people) each time I've visited there in the past few years. On this visit, it seemed even more intense.

There are other causes of their general anxiety. Arguably, Germans are lashing out at the Americans for two overlapping reasons: we're blamed for pressuring them to spend money in the war on terrorism they don't have --- or more precisely think they don't have --- and by the same token, we're resented for pressuring them to take risks that would leave them even more anxious and insecure than they now feel. There's a related point too. On both counts, German nationalist ambitions --- which you refer to in your article --- have taken a series of bruising blow to the body and head. The more assertive and demanding American foreign policy seems to be, the more German impotence is held up to view.



Thank you for your comments, full of first-hand observations. As with Joel's comments posted in the recent mini-series on the EU media, public opinion, and attitudes toward the United States, it's always helpful to get solid, hard-headed information . . . in your case, knowledgeable impressions. Your references to anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism and the rattled-nerved intensity of scapegoating Jews, Israel, and America --- or globalizing forces controlled by them --- in the German media seem accurate and fully in line with Eurobarometer surveys of public opinion and all the buggy articles on the subject, not to mention Josef Joffe's . . . discussed in the previous buggy article and linked to again in just a moment.

So too is your conjecture about the nature of the sour, anxiety-blasted mood of the German people, something even Der Spiegel --- that fount of silly shallow pc-pieties about the world, not to mention rancorous, sky-high prejudices against the US: a kind of weekly bible for the half-tutored, unenlightened intellectual classes in that country --- admitted in a recent cover story, Germany the Laughing Stock, where nothing seems done these days except in a largely mediocre manner.

Small wonder. For decades, the German work-ethos has been eroded by an overblown welfare state, declining educational standards --- German reading scores were among the very worst in the industrial world, way below the US average (itself in need of improvement) --- and endless increases in vacation and sick-leave (with the latter slightly pruned back recently). Then too, aggravating all these trends --- maybe a prime cause --- there's the squandered sense of taking personal responsibility and initiative for yourself, replaced by a high-throbbing dependence on an overwrought Nanny-State. Small wonder, too, given this plunge in initiative, what a British-US academic study in 1999 found out: whereas 1 out of 11 Americans created a small business each year, the equivalent figure in Germany was 1 out of 50 (Italy and Britain came in around 1 out of 30). Nor is that all. Technological innovation seems almost totally absent in the country; or come to that, innovation in the arts, science, cinema, philosophy, music, or literature in ways that matter.

As Spiegel's "Laughing Stock" article noted, it's hard if not impossible to find any area of life --- save perhaps vacation-time --- where the Germans are pace-setters. Mediocrity and a soaring sense of entitlements seem to be the norm almost everywhere.


But Note Quickly:

The Spiegel article is itself also a symptom of the problems. In particular, it said nothing about how this anxiety and the related collapse of German self-illusions, years and decades in the making, have been redirected toward even more sour-puss anger and constant scapegoating of the US, not to mention the the continued hints in the German media at a Jewish cabal in charge of American policies . . . both deplorable gutter-trash trends, recall, that were set out and discussed at length in The Demons of Europe, by Joffe, the Harvard Ph.D. who is the editor of the far sounder Die Zeit out of Hamburg. For a recent New York Times story about the Spiegel article and the related German mood of churning disillusion and gloom, see this link, "Oh What A Sorry State We're In". As the Times report noted,

"Germans are gloomy because there is a general realization that the formulas that have worked so well for this country in the decades after World War II are not working anymore, and nobody knows exactly what to do."

So again, John, thank you. And keep in mind, by way of buggy replies, that . . .  


1. Things Will Very Likely Get Worse in both Germany and the EU

Yes, in the years to come --- worse, not better. The multiple causes?

  • Slow or stagnant economic growth, a worrying trend the last several years, will very likely continue the next decade or so, the US having registered higher GDP growth now than the EU for 9 of the last 10 years, and with EU per capita income in purchasing power terms about 70% of the US's . . . about where it was in the mid-1960s.

Germany's economic record is the worst: hardly better than Japan's 10-year long stagnation. France and Italy have barely done better. Spain did improve noticeably under Aznar, thanks to his reforms of that over-regulated economy; and so have a small handful of tiny Scandinavian countries and Ireland, which have made impressive progress in overhauling and modernizing their economies. Britain too --- like the rest of the English-speaking world save Canada, freeing itself of excessive regulation, high taxes, and runaway welfare-spending for years now --- has compiled a noticeably better-than-average EU performance.

That said, the EU Commission itself granted in January 2004 --- when it issued its review of the EU Commitment made in 2000 to transform the EU economies into the most productive and innovative economy of the world --- that instead of closing the gap with the US in the four year interval, the gap was growing.

Here, by the way, are some concrete stats: EU and US per capita income in 2001, including a breakdown for individual EU countries. Note that in 2002 and 2003 US GDP growth was much faster than the EU average, in which case the gap would be about three or four cent higher today. [See the OECD's breakdown of growth since then.] The table is taken from the EU Competitiveness Report 2002, p. 20.

Just in passing, here are a few worrying stats by way of illustration. Last fall, the EU Commission predicted that number of active workers in the current 15 member-countries will fall by some 40 million between 2000 and 2050 --- or from 243 million to 203 million. Oppositely, the number of people aged over will likely increase by 60 per cent: a total of 103 million. Since only in Britain are there many private pensions, it follows that either taxes will have to increase sharply on an ever smaller working population to support the surging number of retirees or benefits will have to be reduced considerably in the years to come.

  • Swift, unsettling flux in European identities --- national and EU --- is causing various kinds of worry and anxiety on a large scale . The main source of this flux? The endless, high-pulsating challenge to European secularism and traditional national cultures posed by large, rapidly growing Islamic communities: increasingly alienated, and more and more inclined toward Islamist fundamentalism.

It's largely for this reason that large-scale immigration --- which would help augment the shrinking EU working population in the decades to come --- will not likely occur. Most of it would come from North Africa or the Middle East. Already, though, some EU countries have moved vigorously to stop such immigration --- Denmark, Holland, and Germany among them --- and even send illegals back home.

An alternative source of immigration might be the new EU members in East Europe; but it's more likely that European, Japanese, and American companies in the EU --- instead of encouraging immigrant workers to move westward --- will redirect their investment capital and production toward those new member-countries, where wages are much lower, regulations and other red-tape much less intrusive, and education levels are generally good already or noticeably improving. A strong work-ethos appears to exist in East Europe too, unlike in Germany or much of the rest of the EU. For all these reasons, as the EU expands eastward, it's likely that existing jobs in West Europe will be moved in that direction too, rather than East Europeans being invited to move westward and --- at least for the time being --- compete with West Europeans for the very slow-growing stock of existing jobs.

The latter observation, by the way, isn't just speculative. Even though the cultural gulf between West and East Europe isn't as great as it is with the Middle East and North Africa, the existing EU peoples or governments are far from being enthusiastic about immigration from the new eastern member-states on whatever ground. Just the opposite. Germany's government in particular has tried to find ways to limit the free movement of labor from those countries when they join the EU, many this year, some in the years to come.

  • As backlashes to all this, you have to expect growing social conflicts and strife: more strikes, more protest marches, more violent demonstrations. They will be worse in Germany and Greece and the Latin countries than in Scandinavia, Holland, or Ireland, with Britain presumably in between . . . depending on how volatile and angered the left happens to be there.


2. Violent Crime and Personal Insecurity: A Huge European Worry

Then too, fueling a big backlash already in voting patterns for the new populist right --- including extremist racist parties like Le Pen's National Front or part of Haider's Freedom Party in Austria or the Volksblaam in Belgium --- are more and more worries about violent crime and personal insecurity all over the EU. Until the last three years or so, mainstream parties hardly bothered with the crime. A set of taboos, reinforced by politically correct pieties that refused to face the growing sources of this violent upsurge --- among the main ones, increasingly alienated young Muslim men --- threw a pall over any frank public discussion. It took the big breakthroughs of the new populist right --- in Austria, Italy, France, Holland, Denmark, and even Norway (not in the EU) --- to bring the subject to the forefront of the political agenda.


Not that the EU populations don't have a justifiable reason to be worried about violent crime.

Contrary to the media's reportage, violent crime --- assault, muggings, armed burglary, armed robbery, rapes, and homicide --- is much worse in most of West Europe: you are six times more likely to be mugged on the streets of London than in New York. All this is brought out in several buggy articles, based on the UN-sponsored studies, carried out every four years, by a Dutch university team of crime victims --- a more accurate indicator than official police stats. The same studies show that not only is the US the only industrial country to experience a steady decline in violent crime; Americans are also found to be the least fearful of over 20 such peoples to go out in public spaces, and to have the most confidence in our police. [For the link to the Dutch University UN studies, go here. For an extensive discussion, see gordon-newspost, May 2002. ]

At a minimum, the more personal insecurity increases in West Europe, the more we have to expect the populist right --- whether of the moderate sort as in Holland or Denmark or the more extreme racist sort like Le Pen's National Front or Volksblaam in Belgium or the Haider-wing of the Freedom party in Austria --- to exploit and benefit from people's genuine worries that mainstream parties and governments can't or won't effectively deal with. [For a very astute set of first-hand observations about the shocking growth of violent crime in Europe --- in this case, France --- see this article by a British psychiatrist: Barbarians at the Gate in gordon-newspost.


3. What about Islamo-extremist Terrorism, Not Mentioned Yet?

Well, all these kinetically charged conflicts will likely occur and intensify in several directions quite apart from such terrorism.

Add in such terrorism --- and even more potent as a connective link of sorts, the rapidly growing EU Muslim communities: increasingly alienated, increasingly among young men the source of much violent crime in Europe, and supportive of Islamo-fundamentalist terrorism abroad, it seems (and to an extent, however speculatively, no doubt at home) ---- and West Europe's social and political future. Note the adverb in italics. There are no hard data of a survey sort to rely on here --- extraordinary as that may be. It's another one of these taboo subjects in the EU, probing publicly the Muslim immigrant communities' attitudes toward extremist fundamentalism, terrorism abroad, and terrorism at home. The French and most EU countries won't even publish, given their volatility, an ethnic breakdown of violent criminals found guilty and imprisoned.


France: Some Evidence

We do know, thanks to a program on French TV (the deuxieme chaine, about a year ago), that over half of those in French prisons are now drawn from the Muslim immigrant community.

How that figure was arrived at isn't clear --- probably someone at the Ministry of Interior slipped it to a journalist, weary of all the politically correct shibboleths that have, essentially, let the discussion of violent crime be dominated by right-wing spokesmen. Only fair to add that, recently, there are a few encouraging exceptions in mainstream parties . . . yes, even in France; there, a tough Minister of the Interior has made himself the most popular politician in the country combatting crime and violence with serious purpose. (We're referring to Nicolas Sarkozy, a well-known rival of Jacques Chirac and his protege, Alain Juppe --- the latter now appealing a recent court decision finding him guilty of corruption.) The same TV program, note in passing, also indicated that the French government has appointed more and more Muslim chaplains to deal with their imprisoned population. Most of them, unfortunately, according to the TV report, appeared to be markedly fundamentalist in sentiment.

Unfortunately, despite Sarkozy's tougher policies, violent crime in France has continued to surge. Not that you would have guessed this from the original government hand-outs, served up without criticism by the dutiful administrative heads and reporters at the deuxieme chaine . . . or all the other government-owned TV stations, which means all of them in France. Last fall, with lots of hoopla, the annoucement came forth that crime was done in France for the year. Only in January was a distinction made for violent crime, which seemed to be up by about 8% since the start of 2003.


Still, Is There Hard Evidence for Gauging Fundamentalist Islam's Appeal in the EU?

Well, not much. There are a few other proxies, like the 45% of fundamentalist votes that the recent French-sponsored Muslim Council gathered; little else. How and why the EU media and pollsters are so negligent on these critical matters isn't clear, though one thing for sure: it doesn't do any of them intellectual credit. Thanks to these gaps, we're left in the dark when it comes to knowing

1) How many illegitimate Muslim immigrants there actually are in the EU;

2) What the actual strength of pro-extremist and fundamentalist sentiments are, and by age and country;

3) What the actual crime rates in those Muslim communities are, compared to the rest of the national publics;

4) And what their views are toward Al Qaeda and other Islamo-extremist terrorisms abroad and at home.


4. The Gloom in EU Public Opinion Doesn't Help

Meanwhile, recall from several earlier buggy articles, that the latest Eurobarometer study last fall showed that the dominant West European mood is filled with pessimism and gloom about the immediate future, along with growing alienation from national and EU institutions . . . more, interestingly, the former than the latter. Not that there is all that much confidence in the EU itself. Less than half the EU populations even thought that it was, on balance, a good development.

More specifically, as that buggy article noted --- it was part of a wider series on EU trends compared to the US that was published in December --- the growing gloom and pessimism in the EU were captured in recent surveys carried out by Eurobarometer twice a year. In its preliminary report published in November 2003, Eurobarometer 60: Public Opinion in the European Union --- the final finished version with charts and so on not out yet --- it notes forthrightly in its first paragraph that:

. . . public opinion in Europe is evolving in a gloomy climate, marked by a lack of confidence regarding institutions [both EU and national].


That's in the short preface. In the very first section, we read:

Citizens' expectations for the year 2004

Citizens' expectations are going down a path that is marked by pessimism which increases rather than decreases with time Confidence indicators for the year 2004 continue to decline in a marked fashion in the public domain but in a more moderate way in the private sphere.

The number of people who believe that the new year will be worse in terms of employment in their country continue to grow. 42% of them shared this view in autumn 2001, 44% in autumn 2002, and now 47% of them think so. The countries where this lack of confidence as regards employment prospects manifests itself most strongly are: Denmark (+24), Belgium (+20), and Sweden (+12). The new German Lšnder belong to this same group, with an increase of 13 points for pessimistic predictions. As far as the proportion of optimists goes, this remains stable (16%, =), and the proportion of persons for whom 2004 will not bring any change in the employment market has gone down by three points (29%).

The same scenario holds true concerning the economic situation in different countries. From autumn 2001 to autumn 2003 the citizens who predict a decline have increased from 39% to 46% of the total while the number of those who expect things to stay the same has fallen by 5 points (36% to 31%) The optimists remain limited to 16%. Expectations for a deterioration in the national economic situation have grown most strongly in Belgium (+16), then in France (+11) and in Germany1 (+8).

As in the past, pessimistic predictions seem to affect the private sphere less. The most marked reduction can be seen in the area of family finances. In fact, one-fifth of opinions foresee a deterioration in this area (+4 compared with 2002, +9 compared with 2001), 53% no change (-2, -6), and 23% an improvement (-1, -2). German and Dutch predictions are the most affected by the general gloom (+12, 'worse').

As far as the professional situation of those questioned goes, 9% think that things are going to get worse (+1, +3), 60% that their situation will remain exactly the same (-1, -2), and 21% that it is going to improve (-2, -2).

For those who prefer charts, much of the same information shows up in that format:

source: Eurobarometer 60, p. 5.

As for institutions, less than 50% of the EU populations now believe that the EU is itself a good thing --- the results varying markedly across countries. More to the point, the declining confidence of the EU citizenry in their political institutions and economic prospects --- which are connected, as we've argued, with the search for scapegoats onto which these and personal troubles can be externalized --- are brought out in this section of the Eurobarometer report:

source: Eurobarometer 60, p.5.


5. AMONG THE UPSHOTS? Anti-American and Anti-Jewish Scapegoating

Given these trends, it's hardly risky to predict that Anti-American scapegoating and racism against Jews will also certainly increase as well.

They will, it's important to stress, vary across countries: worse in Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Austria, and Belgium than in Italy, Britain, or Scandinavia. As for the EU expansion, it will bring in more pro-American countries --- a plus. Still, whatever governments are willing to do in calculating their interests and pursuing concrete policies, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are most likely ---- as they grow --- to continue putting a limit on the ability of the governments to identify closely with US policies, especially if that requires military action.


A Possibility Though

The exception that could offset all this: continued series of Islamo-extremist terrorism. It can't be discounted. The portents so far of a change in heart aren't clear.

On the one side is the dismaying the appeasement of the Spanish electorate last week --- a rejection caused by the bloodied massacres there, which led to the defeat of a government that had gone a long way toward improving the performance of the Spanish economy the last few years: much lower unemployment, a solid growth performance, a switch from government deficits to a small surplus, and so on.

Oppositely, though, the EU foreign ministers have just held a
summit meeting where they finally talked tough and, more to the point, did so toward Iran and Syria, two brutal dictatorships that have sponsored terrorism and engaged in WMD for years or decades now . . . which, until the Madrid bombings last week, the EU was engaged in wishy-washy "engagement". Read: lots of industrial contracts and occasional finger-wagging for the electorates back in Europe. They now demand, the Foreign Ministers, that Iran and Syria show hard evidence that they will end their illegal WMD programs and stop terrorism. What the EU governments will do if this hard evidence, clearly monitored, isn't forthcoming is another matter. (Interestingly, the French and British intelligence services are reported to be wary of sharing their info with other EU governments, fearful of leaks.)

It appears, alas, that there will have to be more Islamo-fascist terrorist incidents --- a near certainty in the EU these days --- before the EU media and populations get the full wake-up call that they need to start fighting the war on terrorism with all their capabilities . . . including in close alliance with the US.

Replies: 1 Comment

Thanks for your response. I agree that it will only get worse, which for me is very, very sad. Over the years I've watched it happen. Of course anti-Americanism has always been there in the elite German press, including without fail the leftist Der Spiegel, although I can't recall having seen such thinly-veiled anti-Semitism before). And I've never seen anti-Americanism to the degree I've recently seen it in the more main-stream press, whose coverage of the United States I had generally viewed to be cast in a more neutral light (although often poking fun at some of the more outrageous ideas coming out of the US). But for family and friends, it's hard for me to want to spend any time there in the future, especially when the sentiment on the street is so hostile (even to this American who speaks fluent German-- the mood change when it's discovered I'm American is most unwelcoming).

Posted by John @ 03/22/2004 09:57 PM PST