MUNICH — We Germans have always struggled with the euro crisis. We talk about it a lot, muse about what would happen if the euro zone split up, bitch about those nasty countries frittering our money away. But there’s one thing we don’t do: suffer from the economic crisis. On the contrary. Even if everything isn’t absolutely perfect in Germany, there’s enough money, work — and vacations — to go around.
That’s not the case in other euro zone countries. There the crisis has hit many people hard. Countless companies have gone bankrupt, jobs have been wiped out and lives destroyed. In those countries the crisis is palpable, every day. It’s like a never-ending nightmare.
That may be changing now, at least a little, as the most recent figures offer hope. For the first time since the fall of 2011, economic conditions are improving. In the second quarter, which is to say April through June 2013, the economy in the euro zone grew 0.3% over the previous quarter. The economies of all 28 EU countries also grew at the same rate. This could mean that the longest recession in the still-young history of the euro zone finally has been vanquished.
Things don’t look quite so rosy, of course, when comparing the second quarter of 2013 with the second quarter of 2012. During that period, the economy declined by 0.7%.
Nevertheless, it’s important that there are some signs of economic movement in Europe. To be sure, the upswing is mainly thanks to strong growth in Germany and France, and — if the situation in Greece is still disastrous — at least in Spain and Italy things are also getting appreciably better. Growth figures for both of those countries are showing minus signs, but just barely. And Portugal has emerged with a bang: GDP there grew 1.1%, which means it now has the highest growth rate in Europe.
When economies are at stake, such signals usually count more than actual figures. They set in motion new ways of thinking that can strengthen positive development. That means that companies and investors can increasingly invest money in the crisis countries to profit early from the growth ahead.
The euro crisis can by no stretch of the imagination be considered over. But more clearly now than in the past few months, we are seeing something of the upswing in Europe that the financial markets have been anticipating euphorically since last fall.
The news is good for Germans too whose creditworthiness is helping Europe emerge from the crisis. But things could change within the foreseeable future. All the money that anxious investors sent the Federal Republic’s way during the crisis because it was “safe” could soon be flowing to regions where growth rates are higher, and hence more lucrative.
That’s when those who think Germany’s boom is going to go on forever may be in for a big surprise. Chances are that’s when they’ll really have something to talk about.