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Monday, 12 February 2018

The Greco-German Affair in the Euro Crisis: Mutual Recognition Lost?

On 7 February 2018, the fourth SEESOX Core Seminar in the Hilary Term was a presentation of The Greco-German Affair in the Euro Crisis: Mutual Recognition Lost?, by the authors, Claudia Sternberg (UCL), Kira Gartzou-Katsouyanni (LSE), and Kalypso Nicolaidis (St Antony’s). Discussants, all from St Antony’s, were Mehmet Karli, Adis Merdzanovic and Manolis Pratsinakis. The session was chaired by Jonathan Scheele.

Sternberg explained that their approach was to look at how we Europeans live together within the EU, through the lens of one of the most highly charged bilateral relationships of the crisis - between Greeks and Germans - and focusing on the war of images and stories, of mutual representations in the media. The book looked at how each side imagined and represented the other during the course of the crisis, how in that process they also re-imagined themselves, and how this transformed the picture of Europe as a whole. And what all this did to mutual recognition – a foundation of demoi-cracy. For the authors, the crisis cast a merciless light on the tensions between aspiration for, and denials of, mutual recognition. Their conclusion was however one of hope – behind all the problems, both sides were deeply engaged with each other and this engagement fed back into a reshaping of their images of the other and of themselves, leading to the re-emergence of a common collective.

Gartzou expanded on the empirical chapters of the book, highlighting the variety of narratives that were used in both countries – going well beyond the hurtful images and the usual stereotypes. Themes looked at were: Greek squanderers and German misers, where there was also widespread sympathy in Germany for the sufferings of ordinary Greeks and biting self-criticism by Greeks of their pre-crisis habits; moral discourses on rule of law and solidarity; depictions of the Other as a projection of one’s own fears; the role of appeals to history; and the topic of power and resistance. The book also looked at how this affects each side’s perceptions of the EU: its promise of prosperity; “re-nationalisation” of policy in the crisis: and the EU as a locus of competent governance.

Pratsinakis had personally experienced, during his time in the Netherlands, some of the same reactions towards Greeks that were seen in Germany. For him, the book had evidenced a move from tolerance of inertia to something more active and engaged; he saw this as a necessary process that could lead to mutual recognition. But the EU had failed to support this goal by convincing people of the benefits that it brought beyond economic gains; in the absence of prosperity, the EU had not made an adequate case for its existence.

Merdzanovic wondered how far the Greco-German affair was, rather than a general paradigm, the consequence of very specific circumstances. He also noted that the concept of “mutual recognition” used in the book was dual: both as a political science concept for analysis – where did it stop? - and as an empirical concept based on a normative principle for behaviour short of harmonisation. Finally, he wondered how far the elite discussions in the media had actually trickled down to public opinion in general.

Karli saw the book as demonstrating very intensive trans-national societal engagement, alongside an immense diversity of opinions within both communities – greater than was perceived from outside. The crisis had led to a recognition of the risks of a “community of failure” – “we fail together” in the absence of a common resolution. While this recognition, and the level of trans-national engagement, were welcome, they had only been brought about by crisis; this was not encouraging for future positive developments. Finally, he wondered whether mutual recognition within the EU could be sustained within a framework that ceased to promote prosperity and generated growing inequalities.

Nicolaidis responded that the final chapter was intended mainly to provide food for thought for readers, not only academics but, more broadly, citizens who are committed to exploring the challenges of recognition. There was no doubt that history had weighed on the relationship during the crisis; the challenge was to determine how far trans-national alliances could transcend national perceptions. As regards trickle down, the book had looked at the media, which served as a mirror as well as a public opinion shaper; other researchers have examined this question. She saw mutual recognition as one of the founding principles of the EU, but one that a supranational technocratic concept failed adequately to address. Formal integration must be grounded on Informal integration, such as Erasmus, that constitutes the first step towards deeper mutual recognition. But how could the EU better support open dialogue between its demoi?

The subsequent wide-ranging discussion covered a range of issues, including:
  • The extent of the public debate on the issues in both Greece and Germany;
  • The gradual shift over time from a bilateral blame game towards blaming the Euro itself, and then the EU more generally;
  • The nature of trans-national engagement and its relationship with debates at the national level;
  • How far mutual recognition, as a “basic human need” at the level of the individual, could be upscaled to that of peoples;
  • Whether the EU, in order to succeed, needed to give greater place to bilateralism alongside its supranational, multilateral approach.

    Jonathan Scheele (St Antony's College, Oxford)

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