5 Reasons Why the Americans Are More Worried About Europe Than the Europeans

By Shawn Wolff

NEW YORK (Minyanville) - Being a long-time resident of Germany, I get a lot of questions about how the German people perceive the EU crisis. How do they feel about the sometimes-quite-nasty pressure from all sides to take on the debt of their less productive and less fiscally responsible neighbors? Are they outraged? Are they resentful?

It's interesting because I'm usually reading the news in German while most of my friends in the west are still sleeping. I hear about the day's events and latest developments, and come away thinking that this is a very complicated problem that will take a lot of time, discussion, and compromises to get through, but it will all work out.

It's really only when I turn on the US news that I start to panic about the EU. My impression is that the Americans are more worried about what is going on over here than the people over here. And I have to ask myself: Why is that? Why aren't the Germans freaking out?

Clearly, it's the German taxpayers who will be footing the bill while their neighbors keep piling on debt, spending more money, and asking for bailouts to prop up their systems and keep up their standards of living, despite the fact that they really aren't producing much.

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In the midst of this crisis, France recently lowered their retirement age to 60, while the hard-working and thrifty Germans increased theirs to 67. Why aren't I hearing more complaints? Why is there no sense of urgency or panic here?

After giving it a lot of thought, here are the five reasons I came up with:

1. A Resignation That Bailouts Are Better in the Long Run

The German people do have a sense of what the costs would be if the euro falls apart. I have seen estimations of the costs of bailouts vs. the costs of going back to the D-Mark several times in German newspapers. They always tally the bailouts as the cheaper option by far, and most German people seem to accept that as the lesser of two evils.

They also have an understanding that by attaching themselves to the weaker countries, it brings the value of the euro down below where a Deutsche Mark alone would stand. As the second largest export nation in the world, they are benefitting greatly from a weaker euro, and they know it. So saving the euro is generally perceived as being in their best interest.

2. The Media

There's a big difference in the way the media works here. News in the US is a product, which is meant to sell advertising. There's a financial investment in making it exciting enough to draw in viewers, and there's a lot of competition for those consumers. We also have an information overload in our modern society, and people are overwhelmed. To make the product more enticing and easier to digest, the US media seems to have gotten away from just reporting the information, and gotten more into interpreting and opining about the information.

The way that news is presented in Germany is much different. On private broadcasting stations, the news is very short, and interspersed with a few entertainment stories. There are no political campaign commercials. Almost all political or economic discussion and talk shows, and most of the news, comes from public broadcasting channels. Each household here is required by law to pay 54 euros every three months to public broadcasting. So those stations, who are reporting the bulk of the news, have a guaranteed income, no commercials, and no financial interest in selling anything.

As a result, the news is really dry and objective, and political and economic discussions are balanced because the shows invite a variety of people from both sides. There is no financial interest in creating controversy or hysteria. You just get the facts. It's terribly boring. So there's no one really fanning the flames of discontentment.

3. Inherited Shame

Generations of Germans have grown up with a cloud of shame hanging over their heads since World War II and the Holocaust. Even though it was decades ago, and had nothing to do with the current generation, they have grown up very sensitive to that, with a weight of responsibility. They have a deep need to prove themselves to be anti-violent, tolerant, and helpful to their neighbors.

They also do not feel that they have the right to be at all nationalistic. When the World Cup was hosted here a few years ago, it was the first time I had ever seen Germans raise flags or dare to display any sense of open national pride. And their pride was more about showing the world that they could be good hosts. They do not sing the national anthem at every soccer game here, nor do they have flags up in their schools that they pledge allegiance to. This naturally extends to their politics. While becoming an economic giant, they have tried to remain neutral and inconspicuous in the political arena - up until now, when their economic strength has forced them into a leadership role. They are not entirely comfortable in that role, though, and it makes them far more loyal to the EU.

4. Slow Bureaucracy

Angela Merkel is getting a lot of attention lately, and she's even been hailed as the unofficial prime minister of Europe. She has a calm, methodical demeanor and a doctorate in quantum chemistry, so one might assume that's the reason she seems to do the bare minimum to correct things in a painfully slow, careful manner. But this slow, methodical, cautious, bureaucratic way of doing things is not just an Angela Merkel thing; it's a German thing.

There's a joke that you need a license to get a license to blow your nose over here. Nothing happens fast. The German people save their money, buy quality, don't like credit, pay in cash most of the time, and are very thrifty, very conservative, and hard-working. They are a bit dry and serious, and do things carefully. And they love rules. Some clichés really do hold true.

Angela Merkel's actions are really very typically German and she is part of a coalition government that does things slowly, forced into cooperation through a lot of discussion. Even if she loses power in the next election, the two remaining largest parties, SPD and Greens, while leaning a bit further left, have very similar basic mentalities. They both agree with her about austerity measures; they simply want growth plans added to be funded by a European financial transaction tax. Nothing much would change because that is the German mentality.

The US and financial markets seem to see this as a crisis of confidence that can be fixed with a wave of Angela's wand, but that is not the way the German mind works. They believe in small careful steps. They believe that quality will always win out in the end, and that it is worth the sacrifice of a lot of hard work and frugality. They just conquered the task of reuniting two countries while overcoming enormous obstacles, so this EU crisis doesn't seem insurmountable to them.

5. No Immediate Crisis Here

Last but certainly not least, the German people are not yet freaking out because everything is still ok here. Unemployment is low, exports are high, and there is still no pressing problem here for most German people. The crisis hasn't become part of our everyday existence -- and as long as something is not affecting you personally, it seems very far away. The point when that will surely change is when the issues start to hit the German people in the pocketbook, and by then, it might be too late. I don't know when that will happen, but I will certainly keep you posted.

--Written by Shawn Wolff of Minyanville.

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