Cormac Ó hEadhra interviews EU Ambassadors about the euro crisis, member states' relationship with the EU and relations between Ireland and the country they represent
In the week the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens was met with violent demonstrations, the burning of the German flag and the brandishing of the swastika, Dr Eckhard Lübkemeier reflects on anti-German sentiment in member states suffering financial difficulty.
He says burning the flag and waving the swastika is ‘unjustified’, pointing out he represents a democratic country in a democratic union.
“We are being made the scapegoat for problems that are actually home-made. When you are confronted with a very difficult situation which is basically of your own making, it is quite tempting to look for scapegoats," German Ambassador Dr Eckhard Lübkemeier.
The ambassador is quick to hold Germany up as an example of how austerity can work.
“Germany had become uncompetitive, we had to go through a similar process (Agenda 2010)… it did work.” he said.
Although, he doesn’t use the word “austerity”, he uses “fiscal responsibility”.
When challenged on whether the financial and economic problems in bailed-out countries were completely home-made and if large German banks had a part in supplying cheap funding which exacerbated the problem, Dr Lübkemeier isn’t amenable: “I know this argument. I have come across this argument many times. What I would like to see actually at one point in time are exact figures...at the moment it is a criticism levelled at German banks.”
His view is that expansionary policies by Central Banks and under-regulation were also part of the problem. He also reminds us some German banks did have to be rescued by the German taxpayer.
German solidarity is conditional
Since the start of the euro crisis, a debate has raged about the implementation of austerity in debt-ridden countries like Ireland as a means of solving the crisis.
Economically powerful member-states, like Germany, have also been wary of taking on too much of other member-states’ debt, via the Union’s institutions or bodies. The ambassador also spoke about this quid pro quo.
“What Germans request, demand in return for our solidarity being extended to others, is that they keep their end of the bargain.
"Everyone of us has to do his own homework to tackle home-made problems.
"This has to be done by everybody in order for us to assist them.”
When asked if German solidarity with the rest of Europe is conditional, the response is emphatic: “Of course it’s conditional, what would you do if you were in our situation?
"Of course, you would demand a quid pro quo - solidarity is not a one way street. You do your homework... and together we will prosper."
His argument is that an economically strong Germany is good for the EU.
Weakening it by forcing more debt upon the German state would weaken the union as a whole.
When one points to the difficulty in this country in implementing a cost-saving programme when there are thousands unemployed, in mortgage arrears or overly in debt, Dr Lübkemeier says: “Ireland would have to do this reform process, this adjustment process, this consolidation process anyhow, irrespective of the euro.”
Irish debt deal
On a deal on Ireland’s debt, specifically the IBRC promissory notes, he says Germany “recognises the Irish public debt burden is very very high and that something has already been done and we will continue to try to do something about relieving this debt burden.”
However, he also says his country stands by the declaration made by the German Finance Minister – along with his counter-parts in Finland and the Netherlands – which precluded the bailout fund being used for legacy debt.
But was the Finance Ministers’ statement just a bargaining position?
“Whether it was or not, is something for ongoing negotiation to show,” he said.
Rebuilding Ireland’s reputation
The ambassador said the Irish Government is doing a good job in “rebuilding Ireland’s reputation”.
Visitors from Germany, politicians, business delegations and others – invariably think highly of Ireland because it is meeting its commitments.
When asked specifically about the possibility of demonstrations or strikes in the lead up to or after the budget, he’s cautious.
“Every people has a right to demonstrate, to protest. I should like to put this in a more positive way - what has helped Ireland recover its reputation.
“There is a perception in Germany and other states in EU that this country is determined and has capacity and is able to do what is necessary for it to recover and to do its bit to help us stabilise the currency union and help us get out of this together. So this kind of perception is a real asset to Ireland.”
The series continues next Friday with the French Ambassador.