Germany’s Neighborhood Watch

Ultimately, there can be no strong Germany without a stable eurozone; no stable eurozone without a strong Germany; and no global economic stability without both. Germans might not like their choices, but refusing the responsibility of leadership is one option that Germany does not have.

FRANKFURT – On a recent trip to Germany, I was struck by two distinct narratives. One narrative features a robust German economy with low unemployment, strong finances, and the right competitive position to exploit the most dynamic segments of global demand. The other narrative describes an economy that is encumbered by never-ending European debt crises whose perpetrators seek to shift their responsibility – and their financing needs – onto Germany’s pristine balance sheet.

Both narratives are understandable. But they cannot co-exist forever. After all, it is difficult to be a good house in a deteriorating neighborhood. Either the neighborhood improves, or the value of the house declines. And it matters a great deal which narrative prevails – for Germany, for Europe, and for the global economy.

Germany today is reaping the benefits of many years of responsible domestic economic management. In addition to maintaining sound public finances, German leaders implemented difficult structural reforms aimed at improving international competitiveness, including painful labor-market reforms. As a result, Germany is one of the few advanced economies today that has created many jobs and maintained financial stability. In other words, it is the AAA of AAAs.

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