Germany’s Hesitation

March 26, 2012

By Tim Belter ’13

International business professor William Toel discussed Germany’s hesitation to take a leadership role in resolving Europe’s current economic crisis at a recent Harvard University conference.

Toel lived in Berlin much of the past three years, researching the European economic crisis and studying Germany’s capabilities and response. He was invited to present his research to members of the European Parliament, current and former German government officials and other European political and economic leaders at the conference, titled “The German Angst of Leadership.”

 “It is a nice honor to be invited to a conference like this,” Toel said. “It gives Bradley exposure to a new group of people.”

Discussing his research, Toel said European integration seemed like a resounding success for globalization, but with the current economic crisis, its very survival is threatened. Germany has been thrust into a position of leadership, but has been hesitant to take up the mantle. Much of the nation’s reluctance stems from European suspicion of Germany going back to World War II.

“Germany is in a position, for the first time since World War II, where they have the strength and need to take leadership, but they won’t do it,” Toel said.

Tensions and fears with roots in that devastating world conflict continue to impact the political situation today. Germany has been criticized for a perceived failure to live up to its obligations as a strong European economy, but its citizens are wary of being viewed as a powerful nation once more.

“They have a pathological fear of being held responsible, of being criticized and of being accused of being just like 1940s Germany,” Toel said. “However, if Europe is going to survive, and if the Euro is going to survive, then Germany must lead.”

The German economy has remained strong based on its manufacturing and exports. High-quality German products command a premium price throughout the world.

“Germany is much stronger than they are willing to admit. Everyone knows they are an export powerhouse,” said Toel. “It is astonishing to witness a mature, intelligent and disciplined people continue to suffer under a complex that leaves them uncertain about accepting the natural responsibilities consistent with their strength.”