As the seemingly never-ending drama about the Greek debt crisis has shown, German politicians have gained what seems to be an extraordinary amount of direct and indirect power over shaping the Euro currency, the European Union and Europe.
As a German but mostly as a European, I have issues with that development. While there are many great features about Germany and the German way of thinking and of doing things, I don’t think these strengths apply too much when dealing with Europe’s challenges ahead.
In my opinion, Europe and the European Union need change. In various ways. Experiments. Innovation, not only in the typical areas of engineering. Social and cultural innovation. Europe needs a shift of mindset. And it particularly needs to embrace the (digital) future on a large scale and rather quickly.
Germans hate change (as a cultural group – there are of course individuals and certain groups who are different). They prefer security and safety over everything. They do not want experiments. They want the things to remain the way they are. They way things always have been. Sure, a new machine here and there is great. But overall, in Germany people are not rewarded for thinking out of the box. They are rewarded if they think inside the box. Intelligent thoughts often, but still inside they given framework. Don’t mess with the traditional structures and norms. That’s why the German political and intellectual elite does not like the possibilities of the digital world, either. Digital is messing with the existing structures.
The more German politicians are able to exercise power over Europe, the more they will inevitably push this mindset and “way of living” on Europe and base policies, regulations and law-making on it. Merkel, Schäuble or Gabriel can’t help it. You cannot teach old dogs new tricks (as they say, at least). Now, what I am describing here is not exclusive to the German culture. But after having moved to Scandinavia in 2006, having traveled extensively and having met many Europeans I know that it is not like that everywhere. And that these cultural characteristics are especially typical for Germany.
Europe requires thinkers and leading politicians who successfully combine leveraging the learnings of the past with the possibilities of the future – and who are willing to leave some dogmas behind. The leading German politicians are completely incompatible with that. Angela Merkel still thinks that marriage should only happen between man and woman. This is a symbol for the German conservatism and rule-obedience. “Don’t change the things because they always have been done in this certain way”. It would be tragic if German conservatism turns into European conservatism.
Germany of course needs to and should play a big role in shaping Europe’s future. But despite its current economical boom, Germany itself is not ready for the future (just one indicator: Germany ranked only #17 on the ICT Development Index 2013). It would be wrong to let it influence too much of where Europe is heading.