Sloth – Greece

Angela Merkel is to blame, they say. German hard-heartedness is wrecking Europe, they say. That’s how the Greek tabloids are explaining the crisis, and that’s what populist politicians and demonstrators are shouting too. It’s not their debts that the Greeks are bothered by, but the dunning and crowding and lecturing from the rest of Europe. In blaming others, they’re lying to themselves and to Europe.

In Athens, what astonishes one is the incredible self-indulgence. Who is actually grappling with the cause of the misery that is the debt-ridden society of Greece itself? Those who always thought there would be money enough in Europe for them. Guilds that cling on to their privileges. State railway workers who pocketed exorbitant salaries during chaotic wage hikes. Families that continued to rake in pensions for their dead relatives. Politicians who hired their voters’ nephews and nieces, and nephews and nieces who let themselves be hired. The Athens media are reporting on this, for sure. But what’s missing is any cathartic Greek anger at their fellow-citizens.

The Athens populists talk tough about Merkel, but go easy on the guilty in their own country. They prefer raging at a distant bugbear, it turns out, to looking themselves in the eye. This weakness, this lack of talent for self-criticism, is the real Greek crisis.

Michael Thumann

Dealing in stolen goods – Switzerland

The sums are huge. It’s enough to make the eyes of Europe’s politicians gape wide with cupidity. In Switzerland alone, foreigners, most of them EU citizens, have 1,560 billion euros tucked away. In Britain, and mainly in the Channel Islands, about 1,400 billion; in Luxembourg, 440 billion, and in Liechtenstein, 78 billion. All these states hold out a helping hand to tax evasion. They sponge up the national wealth of other countries and live off the interest.

And what does Europe do? Instead of joining together in outrage, the capital cities treat the scandal as a venerable tradition, as an affaire diplomatique. Some individual countries, Germany among them, are pursuing a double-taxation agreement with Switzerland and Liechtenstein that would see some part of the tax debt paid back to the depositors’ countries through a “withholding tax”. This pursuit, though, undermines the request of the EU Commission for an automatic exchange of information to get a lead on tax evaders – a request that Luxembourg has also turned down. This same Luxembourg that otherwise so eagerly preaches European solidarity.

Peer Teuwsen

Bigotry – Germany

Can there be a Europe in which one country exports and turns a profit, while others import and rack up debts?

The Germans are proud of their exporting prowess, as it’s a testament to the efficiency of their domestic economy. But when a country permanently sells more goods to foreign countries than it imports from them, things get rather unpleasant for all involved.

This year Germany’s export surplus with the other EU countries came to €62 billion. That means nothing less than that Germany goods are traded not for foreign goods, but are practically handed over on credit. To buy German goods, the southern Europeans go into debt to the Germans. In other words, the wealth of the Germans is based on the debts of others. But just who is complaining the loudest about this debt? Exactly. Germany.

At some point the debtors will be threatened with bankruptcy and the creditors with claims that have lost value. In recent years, the Germans have built up foreign assets of almost € 1trillion. If the South can no longer pay, however, a large part of that money will vanish.

That is why the Chancellor is saying now that everyone should be like the Germans: export more than they import, lower wages and cut back on consumption. Easier said than done. If everyone just wants to sell goods, after all, there will no longer be anyone to buy them, and the economy will grind to a standstill.

If the Europeans do not want to flood the rest of the world with European goods, which this world will not permit, the balance must be restored within the monetary union. The Italians will have to economise – and the Germans will have to spend more.

Mark Schiertz

Gluttony – Spain

“Thou shalt not empty the seas of thy neighbours’ fish” – Europe could do with that as one its Ten Commandments. Followed by: “Thou shalt not hang your farmers up to a subsidy drip.”

More than one billion euros have been allocated by Brussels to the Spanish fishing industry for the period between 2007 and 2013 – far more than for any other EU country. Since European waters are largely overfished, Spain sends its highly modern fleets to lower their nets off the coasts of Senegal and Mauritania. The trawlers leave little behind for the local fishermen, and they exceed the agreed fishing quotas to boot.

Legal action against the companies concerned would be required, as well as new fisheries agreements between the EU and African countries. So far, Spain’s government has resisted both, as they have also resisted further reform of EU agricultural subsidies.

Around 50 billion euros flow from the Brussels cash box into European agriculture every year – most directly to farmers in various EU countries, who thus stay competitive in a field dominated by price-dumping. A significant part of the cheap meat, dairy and vegetable products from Spain, Italy, France and Germany now lands in African markets.

Good for the poor, say the exporters. Local food production in countries such as Ghana, Cameroon and the Ivory Coast, however, is being driven to collapse. And if agricultural commodity prices go up, the poor will no longer be able to afford these imports of milk powder, poultry leftovers and grain from the EU.

If it comes to a food or hunger crisis, the Europeans will be in a tight spot again. The world’s largest donor of emergency relief, after all, is the EU.

Andrea Böhm