Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why was Merkel at the Greece match?

The Germany Greece match seemed to be a foregone conclusion before the match itself had even begun. Greece, most agreed, were lucky to be where they were. Having mustered up a previously unseen mixture of spirit and skill against Russia, they managed, against all odds, to make it out of the qualifying stages of the European Championship. Next up was a quarter final meeting with Germany, a wholly confident, competent and, dare I say it, thoroughly efficient young side hungry to win a major tournament. 

It seemed like a foregone conclusion. And it was. An early goal by Greece could not stop the German machine, which went on to score four goals and completely out class their opposition. A late goal from a penalty for Greece could be seen as a small consolation. Only just.

Were it that the events on the pitch existed in a vacuum, not related to anything else that was happening in the wider world. But what can claim to be in such a position? The football being played on the pitch happened against a backdrop of Greece’s financial turmoil, its strife, its fragmentation. It goes without saying, but as Europe’s largest economy, it is Germany that is calling all the shots, and it is German money that has been pumped into Greece to avoid utter disaster and collapse, something which might still happen, as the whole of Europe lurches forward into the future in the hope that an answer to its problems will somehow be found or divined.

Greece is the country closest to collapse. It is Germany’s agenda, for better or worse, that is being peddled throughout Europe. The debate seems to have become one of two sides: austerity (identified quite justifiably as the German agenda) and growth (pretty much everyone else). The EU as a fiscal union made up of many different and disparate political elements (we call these “countries”) has proved to be a kind of poisoned chalice. When times were good, this seemed to be a grand way of organising things within Europe. But the Recession has laid bare the weaknesses of a fiscal union backed by a half-hearted political union, one which really amounts to many different countries of huge variety and separate interests.

That Germany dominates in the oppressive way that it does is born out of this disparity. Where will it all lead? Will frustration lead to fragmentation, and a final breakup that will be costly and disastrous to everyone involved, to varying degrees? One thing is certain: it is countries like Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and, yes, Ireland, that will feel it the most.

In the stand at the Germany Greece match was the German chancellor Angela Merkel, cheering on her home side. Was this an innocent act, simply a German citizen going to watch her team play another team in a major tournament? Perhaps. But that didn’t stop the Irish Times putting a picture of Merkel cheering on one of the German goals on the front page. They say that a picture says a thousand words. There was no need for explanation, only a simple caption stating the obvious. But there she was, cheering on a goal against a team whose country was on the brink. 

That many within Greece blame Germany, blame Merkel, for the present state of events is simply a fact, right or wrong, for better or worse. Germany stands in that position, a position of power to at least call some of the shots. They would always be the blame figure on an instinctive level. For better or worse, right or wrong.

So what was Merkel doing at that match? What was she thinking? Even if it was completely innocent - perhaps it was - could she not foresee the headlines the next morning? Did she not realise what would be going on in people’s minds?

Then a sad fact dawned upon me, a possibility that she did not comprehend the position of power that she actually held. For all intents and purposes, she is the head of the union. But what a disparate fragmented union it is that its leader cannot comprehend her own position. This is the political disparity of which I speak. In her head, she is still simply the leader of Germany, and that is where her title ends. This is why she could cheer on her country during the match. 

But this isn’t enough. She should not have been there. She should comprehend her part in a wider union, beyond Germany, and realise that her presence was simply bad PR. They say a picture says a thousand words. Within that picture on the front of the Irish Times is the reason why Europe isn’t working like we desperately need it to.

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