Timothy Geithner, already out on a limb, told The Wall Street Journal CEO Council today that Europe’s response to the debt crisis is “obviously not fast enough.” But he hasn’t been listening. Europe is responding fast, or at least Germany is. In the opposite direction. Last week, it seemed like a trial balloon, but now it has become a clear message:
“We need a common market, not one currency,” said Anton Börner during an interview with the BBC yesterday. He is the president of the BGA, an industry federation that represents 120,000 small and medium-size exporters in Germany. One of its primary functions is to lobby the government of Germany and the government of the European Union. So, his voice doesn’t go unnoticed in the circles of power.
While Chancellor Angela Merkel was out there claiming that “everything must be done” to keep the Eurozone intact—even if it means kicking Greece out—the hitherto unthinkable happened. German companies, in particular those that directly or indirectly depend on exports, have been a massive cornerstone of support for the euro. And that cornerstone just cracked.
“The German taxpayer is not going to pay anymore,” Börner said. Geithner must have tuned him out. People think that “Germans should put more money on the table, and everything will be okay,” Börner said. “But that’s not the truth, and nothing will be okay.”
Nevertheless, Germany’s GDP grew 0.5% in the third quarter from the second quarter, the Federal Statistics Office announced today. And last week, Germany’s exports for September hit a record high of €91.3 billion ($112 billion), up 0.9% from August. So Börner got to do a bit of gloating.
“The real economy is very robust,” he said today in response to the GDP figures. Then: “The problems in the Southern European countries are also our problems. But Germany cannot carry the burden alone. Countries like Italy must now deliver.”
The bad news for Germany is further up the pipeline: orders for industrial goods fell 4.3% in September from August, as orders from the Eurozone plunged 12.1%. Already in August, orders had fallen 1.4%. So, the export-dependent German economy will soon have to pay a price.
Back to the BBC interview where Börner was outright brutal—or perhaps just Teutonic—in his straightforwardness.
“It’s not Germany that has to tackle the crisis, but Italy…. The problem is an Italian problem. It’s a problem of their domestic society. And they have to change their attitudes on how to do business in the world markets.”
He could have been a little more diplomatic:
“We have to force,” he said, though “force” should never be used by a German in regards to other countries, “the southern European countries to do their jobs themselves and not wait for money from abroad. If they get money from other countries, they won’t change their society, and a few years from now, we have the same problem.”
And then he almost backpedaled: “The euro is the best thing we have for our economy, and we’ll fight very hard to keep the euro, but not at any price.”
Would Germany thrive without the euro? “Look at the UK, Poland, the Czech Republic, etc. There are many currencies in Europe. What we need is a European market, one market, one set of legislation, free trade, no barriers, etc. This has nothing to do with a common currency.”
He then reactivated the idea of a mini-Eurozone with Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, and Denmark—after rumors to that effect had been energetically denied by Merkel herself last week. “If people in some countries don’t want to understand the language of the markets, then we have to live in different worlds,” he said. And to keep the new currency from rising to uncompetitive levels, he suggested that it could be managed responsibly—the way the Swiss National Bank is currently managing the Swiss franc.