A German Spring: Optimism Spreads Across Europe's Biggest Economy

Germany's economy has not quite come "roaring" back. Slowly but surely, however, Europe’s biggest economy is growing, adding jobs and prompting observers to expect even better days ahead.

Ruhr, Germany (Marc Veraart)
Ruhr, Germany (Marc Veraart)
Carsten Dierig and Tobias Kaiser

HANNOVER – While other parts of Europe grapple with high unemployment, spiraling debt and simmering popular frustration, Germany's economic locomotive has managed to chug along thanks in large part to good old fashioned industry. And voices of optimism are spreading.

"Things are going to pick up, we're betting on recovery in the second half," said Hans-Peter Keitel, president of the federation of German Industries (BDI), speaking this week at the world's biggest technology trade show, the Hannover Messe.

Why the optimism? The domestic market remains strong, construction is increasing and overall investments by companies are on the rise. The jobs market, which hasn't been in such good shape for 20 years, also contributed to the rosy prognosis. "Industry is presently creating 500 new jobs a day," said Keitel.

The Cologne-based German Institute for the German Economy (IW) is similarly optimistic, predicting overall economic growth of 1.25% this year in Germany, with 2% for 2013. Leading economic research institutes, in a joint prognosis earlier this year for the federal government, had slightly more modest expectations. They predicted just .9% growth this year.

"The concerns we had in the fall of 2011 didn't manifest," said IW director Michael Hüther. That autumn the economy took what Hüther now describes as a "breather," contracting slightly. But it was hardly an economic collapse. "For most companies exports have remained a sure thing," the IW director said.

High hopes for trade with China

German companies continue to count mainly on robust activity with developing markets, particularly China, which this year was a partner country of the Hannover Messe. It should be noted however that growth in China has slowed a bit of late.

BDI boss Keitel does not believe the slowdown will impact German sales negatively, however, and indeed both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao are gunning for stronger cooperation between the two countries. By 2015 the trade volume of both countries is expected to double to $280 billion.

Wen has promised more robust and effective protection of the intellectual property rights of foreign companies. Germany's machine sector complained recently of violations of property rights. The sector loses 8 billion euros in turnover from product piracy, mostly made-in-China copies, says a recent study produced by the German Engineering Federation (VDMA). Independent of that, the mood in the sector is strong right now after a slight downturn during the past few months.

"In the present friendly climate we should be showing growth again by the middle of the year at the latest," said VDMA head Hannes Hesse. He describes the situation of the past few months as "a moderate cyclic slowdown that did not persist."

Economy is slow, but on "solid ground"

The picture is similar for the German steel industry. According to Hans Jürgen Kerkhoff, the president of the German Steel Federation, demand has stabilized again after a decline in the last quarter of 2011. January to March 2012 saw a rise of 7% compared to the previous quarter. For the year, crude steel production is expected to hover around last year's level of 44 million tons.

The electronics industry is also expecting significant growth. A poll conducted by the sector's ZVEI association says that 93% of companies in the sector believe sales will increase in 2012. Total turnover is expected to rise by about 5% to 185 billion euros, which would top the best years so far -- 2007 and 2008 – when turnover was about 182 billion euros.

"Present economic data, developments in the business environment, assessment of the current situation and expected export figures make us very optimistic," said ZVEI president Friedhelm Loh.

The German National Bank is somewhat less optimistic than industrial associations and companies about the present situation – at least for the time being. "While it's on solid ground, the economy lacks momentum right now," says the Bank's most recent monthly report.

German industry has yet to match the high level it reached in the summer of 2011. "Nevertheless, companies overwhelmingly see their situation as good or at least satisfactory, and to a considerable degree are hiring additional staff," says the report.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Marc Veraart

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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