Capital Jewish Forum meets with German Ambassador

November 29, 2012 by J-Wire Staff
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The Capital Jewish Forum recently held a meeting in Melbourne with German ambassador Christoph Muller.

Avee and Sandy Waislitz, Christoph Muller and Manny Waks

The Ambassador began with a comprehensive analysis of the progression of post-war Germany, from the rebuilding after the disastrous aftermath of the Second World War (WW2) until the current issues regarding the Eurozone crisis. The Ambassador did not shy away from matters regarding Germany’s culpability in the tragedy of WW2, but he emphasised the actions and policies that have seen his country progress to a liberal democracy that has integrated the former East Germany and taken a leadership role in the European Union (EU), both politically and as an economic powerhouse.

The Ambassador spoke of the moral void that followed WW2, and the shame felt by the post-war generation. He described the formation of the EU as a landmark event precipitated by the desire to avoid future European conflict, and to create a co-operative framework between former antagonists. He noted in particular the remarkable reconciliation that has taken place between Germany and France, finally putting aside centuries-old territorial disputes, and transcending the traditional “zero-sum-game mentality” of intra-European struggles.

Much on the Ambassador’s mind was what he described as the relative “shrinking” of the EU; even though maintaining or even increasing size and performance of their economies, the EU’s share of global Gross Domestic Product has been falling due to the newly industrialised economies catching up. Thus Germany must learn to manage affairs from less strength in the Union in the future. This was a peripheral reference to the current crisis, which was the subject of the first exchange with the group in attendance.

Should Germany be responsible for broken EU economies? The Ambassador first addressed the reasons that Germany had avoided the current crisis that has engulfed in particular the Southern European members of the Eurozone. Germany was first to initiate structural adjustments in the 1990’s, since the loss of competitiveness after the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification forced it to do so. Therefore it has been in a better economic position than its neighbours when the Global Financial Crisis hit.  Greece is only just starting to reform now. In other words, Germany was forced by circumstance and then responded astutely to the difficult structural issues that some other EU members did not address early on. They began putting their fiscal house in order, understood the founding principles of the EU that required a functional responsibility to other members by ensuring economic stability, and accepted the hard political decisions in the face of reunification (i.e. the imperative of reconstruction and modernisation).

One audience member asked about the apparent massive unfunded pension liability of Germany, and how this would be funded. The Ambassador agreed that there were dangers, but also explained the steps that are being taken to look at the structural issues – raising the retirement age, encouraging immigration of trained persons, changing the consciousness of the population to expect less from the State and become more self-reliant in retirement.

The Ambassador was asked about the fact that Germany is not a permanent member of the Unite Nations Security Council (UNSC), and replied that it had proved to be extremely difficult to further increase the European presence amongst the permanent members, especially in light of recent shifts regarding the distribution of global economic power. He personally feels that in the longer term a trend towards joint European representation might evolve, given the anachronistic composition of the UNSC, which still largely reflects the 1940s. He agrees that Western powers on the UNSC are only to some extent able to shape the global agenda according to their values, and that is largely hamstrung because of the veto. The Ambassador suggested that newer international groupings, particularly the G20, may take a larger role in world affairs, and noted the trend to settle disputes within regionally relevant groups, for instance the South East Asia Summit, which brings together regional players.

Regarding Germany’s stance on Israel, and its position as a stalwart friend of Israel, he took issue with the notion that this was based on (as the questioner raised) the aspect of “guilt”. The Ambassador pointed out that his generation, born post WW2 – and even more so the younger generations – do not so much think in terms of “guilt” about the past, but rather in terms of a deeply felt “shame” that his country feels for the excesses of WW2 and the Holocaust. More to the point, the Ambassador believes that the solid relationship with Israel is based on common values and the incontrovertible fact that Israel is a sovereign state, which has not only the right to exist but to live in peace. He also spoke of the tragedy in Syria, and that Germany will look to the post-Assad era when it will be called upon to assist with re-development of that country.

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