Debate: Our true European community
28 August 2012
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
Fiscal union in order to complete the single currency is the only way out of the crisis, says German writer Martin Walser. But it is important to remember that the true Europe has always been a community of learning, which respects the various cultures that make it up.
Every night we are diverted by a battery of points of view on the crisis. For me, this produces the following effect: I listen to each expert to see if he still wants Europe or if, on the contrary, he wants us to return to an array of national currencies, without the euro.
Only those that hope that the European Union will also be a monetary union get my vote. The euro is here. It is more than a currency. Today, for a country to return to the age of national currencies, to become, once again, the plaything of every speculator, is a nightmare scenario.
Years ago, Swiss conservative Christoph Blocher said of Switzerland, that a monetary union could not function without budgetary union. Something we have all, in the meantime, come to experience, at the financial level. Fortunately, we dared to create a single currency without budgetary union. It must be created today, in retrospect. If this union is possible on a practical level, it will not be the result of a vision, but of legislation built step-by-step. And here is a grandiloquent expert asking if the single currency must force Europeans to "smooth their cultural differences"!
A common currency coupled with a coordinated accounting system will not level cultural and mental differences any more than do dominant foreign languages. Unlike any other continent, Europe has behind it a long tradition of cross-border learning and cross-border comprehension.
If there is one item on which the economists need not worry, it is cultural differences. These are so ancient, so unshakable, that the economy can be regulated in peace. Making states responsible for the common management of the economy, such is the goal. Today, everybody is calling for the regulation of financial markets. With a European Central Bank playing the role of a central authority capable of adapting to each situation. That is sufficient.
Economists and solidarity
We have behind us several centuries during which common ideas developed. I am not impressed by people trying to convince me that we cannot permit this union for this reason or for that. Then, there is also pure economic theory. When one sees that some find fault with the Financial Equalisation System [between poor and rich German states], one realises that economists understand nothing about the meaning of the word solidarity.
I am no more impressed by people who demand from us "systemic" reforms in order to share the debt cropping up here and there.
We, the spectators, can only approve these pontificating experts or reject what they offer. I confess that my confidence rests – it is no great surprise – with [Finance Minister] Wolfgang Schäuble. But, because it is Europe, I promise to examine the current and past positions of people of letters, of which I am one.
Literature has always been European
A 1799 letter by Friedrich Hölderlin reads: "But the best of the Germans continue to think that everything would be for the best if only this world were neatly symmetrical. Oh Greece, with your geniality and your piety, where to have you come?" If I quote this passage, it is not because Greece is today manhandled within the eurozone, but because it shows how much a poet from Nürtingen [southern Germany], aged 24 at the time, felt close to other European countries, to the point that this foreign place was his homeland; to the point that it was part of his conscience; of his identity. In other words, literature has always been European. Europe is our literary homeland.
Nietzsche's Greek soul
As for Nietzsche, he ends The Birth of Tragedy From the Spirit of Music, a wild and precocious work in which he described the never-ending struggle between followers of Apollo and those of Dionysus, – a book on Greece, no more no less – in the following way: "How much these people must have suffered in order to be able to become so beautiful!"
I recall that this Greek benediction is meant to show that poets have always been European. And of all German-language writers, Nietzsche, is in my opinion, the most European to have ever existed.
France, England, Italy, Spain and so many others are, nonetheless, no less important in the eyes of the German poets.
Wherever you look, it is when it is European that German literature is the most lively. It is German only after having been unfaithful to Germany. In the emotional vein, who has not read in Madame Bovary an enticement to have emotions? Strindberg showed us to what point suffering can be violent. Proust taught us that talking of childhood can be spellbinding. And so on and so forth.
A few highlights
In this struggle that occupies us all, referring to the "right" Europe, I am always impressed by experts who react on a case-by-case basis, but always in favour of Europe and not against it. It is when I realise that a proposal is dictated by political manipulations that I am the least receptive. To my eyes, the spoilsports must not impose their views.
Yet, one notes that, among the experts hostile to the German government's current roadmap, there are few who do not predict a catastrophe if their vision is not followed.
That is why I've allowed myself these few highlights on the advantages of a literature turned towards Europe. It is in Greece, Provence, England and elsewhere that the German language learned to move, to walk, to dance, to prance.
Europe is a community of learning
Why would the people in question today not be successful, with our support, in initiating a recovery that would take us all out of the crisis?
We must guard against that, under cover of practical considerations, cold feet become the rule. All backtracking would send Europe to the dustbin of history for many years. For a while, it would no longer be "feasible". Yet, it must remain "feasible"!
The "right" Europe is neither an elite club nor a federation governed by a European super-authority. The "right" Europe is a community of learning based on self-determination and on work done voluntarily.
That is what Europe has to offer the world.