Merkel and the tabloids like Bild are telling the Germans that everybody wants their money. Firstly, this is wrong. And secondly, there’s a lot more at stake. If the Germans turn their backs on Europe, democracy itself will be at risk.

A woman takes a wrong turn and drives up the wrong lane into oncoming traffic. The radio traffic updates broadcast a warning of a “wrong-way driver”. “Just one?” thinks the woman tuning in. “There are hundreds of them!” Angela Merkel is this woman, and Germany under Merkel's leadership is this wrong-way driver. We are going against the tide of economic and political sense, and we’re proud of it. We talk ourselves into believing that the whole world wants “our money”. This is, first of all, wrong, and secondly, much more is at stake than our money.

Angela Merkel is at work on a dangerous project: she is loosening the Germans’ commitment to Europe. She would have us believe that Europe is something that the Germans can “do” or leave, depending on whether they benefit from it directly or not. Europe will become a res publica amissa, a neglected affair of state. We went through this once before, and we all know what happened then. Europe is Weimar. And when the Germans turned away from Weimar, it was the end of democracy.

No panicking, please

The talk about “our money”, which everyone supposedly wants, is a bad argument. The Chancellor does not herself say it in so many words: she can leave that to her imperial attendants at the Bild-Zeitung. Both care too little about Europe. They think and feel “Atlantic”. But America has become weak and an unreliable partner. Bild and Merkel would be making a big mistake if they were to undermine the sense of post-war Germany within Europe that, outside our common destiny, Germany has no future as a middle power.

They pretend that we could choose between a European and a German path. But there is no German path. What will Merkel do if the euro collapses, or the Schengen area, or perhaps the entire acquis communautaire – everything that has been built up in 60 years of European integration? Shift focus to China?

After Hitler took power, Sebastian Haffner, looking back, wrote that “one cannot call it anything other than a very widespread feeling of liberation and salvation from democracy.” What feeling would spread if the euro collapses – and with it, Europe? One of redemption, perhaps? The Germans should finally begin to size up the crisis by just such benchmarks. Maybe the country can save itself from its self-injurious selfishness.

But no panicking, please: No one seriously wants Germany to pay the debts of Europe. The days of the gold standard ended when the payments between the central banks were cleared in Fort Knox, and the gold bars were shifted from one vault to another. A banking union and euro-bonds should integrate Germany into a system of mutual security. Without such a system, Europe will break down.

Merkel the Tentative

It is a historical shame that during this crisis we have a chancellor for whom Europe is not an affair of the heart. In such moments, moments that one can in good conscience call historic, it is important to recognise the political realities – but only in order to change them.

So it’s worth thinking about what might have been under different circumstances. Nietzsche wrote: “The question ‘What would happen if this and not that occurred’ is almost unanimously rejected, and yet it is precisely the cardinal question.” We like to put the march of history down to impersonal forces. But at the turning points of history there always stands an individual. Had the “99-day Emperor” Frederick III not died of throat cancer, and had Bismarck stayed longer by his side, would the Great War perhaps have been prevented?

One can assume that an SPD [German Social Democrat Party] Chancellor would have behaved differently at the start of the crisis than Merkel the Tentative. And one can hope that a new chancellor – or a new woman chancellor – will behave differently after the next election. Small note: Hannelore Kraft has replaced Angela Merkel as the most popular politician in the country. Europe just needs to hold out till then.