1. The European public is totally confused.
Catastrophe, humiliation, mental waterboarding, dictates, division, revenge. These are the kinds of words used in Europe to describe Greece’s bailout agreement. Sociologist Jürgen Habermas told The Guardian newspaper, in all Germanic seriousness, that in a few weeks, the federal government had squandered the political goodwill built up by others over decades.
If that’s how you evaluate a less than ideal agreement, then what on earth would the assessment have been had this historic night in Brussels ended in "Grexit?"
But it’s not just this kind of rhetoric that shows how autoaggressive the European debate has become. The acclaim given Alexis Tsipras by euro skeptics on the radical left and right is also proof that fine political margins count for little now. Blunt instruments are the order of the day in Europe.
And the fact that left-leaning economists articulate the same criticisms as lobbyists of Wall Street and London has not provoked questions about this apparent solidarity of Keynesians and stock market players. Doesn’t all this merit heavy doses of skepticism and caution?
The irrationality of the debate shows that diametrically opposed arguments don’t cancel each other out, but tend to reinforce each other.
So there is talk, on one hand, of Germans riding roughshod over others – and, on the other, that they were effectively thwarted by the French. All this is supposedly proof of a divided Europe. Angela Merkel is depicted as an avenging angel without feelings. And the same Anglo-Saxons, who otherwise deride Germany for the excesses of its welfare state, now accuse the federal government of the most excessive forms of neo-liberalism.
So it’s hardly surprising that the European public is confused these days. The question remains: Why?
2. Europe is strong, but also strongly overburdened.
There’s too much going on at the same time. Especially in Eastern Europe, fears of a new Cold War abound in light of the conflict in Ukraine. These fears, not entirely unjustified, are also amplified by the fact that the United States is visibly withdrawing from Europe's neighboring conflicts.
Furthermore, the Americans are obviously no longer willing or able to maintain the balance of power in Europe from the outside. For the first time since 1945, Europe’s leadership is in question. That is why the Greek crisis, always about Greece on the surface, is in fact about Germany.
After the U.S. withdrawal and France’s weakening, how can the strongest nation in Europe lead and moderate? Germany does not know yet, and neither do the others.
And the European Union has even become unsure of the direction it is taking. More integration is unrealistic for the time being. The people don’t really want it, and new external threats make it difficult to concentrate on domestic reforms right now.
The Russians are coming, the Americans are going, the Germans are leading, and the E.U. is teetering. That explains much of the shouting in the debate surrounding Greece.
But the question remains: What has actually happened behind the hysteria and what might be the next thing to do?
3. Greece was not humiliated.
Anyone who seriously believes that the Federal Republic of Germany ever intended to humiliate or punish the Greeks does not know Angela Merkel, Sigmar Gabriel or Wolfgang Schäuble.
The false impression of humiliation arose for a simple reason: Three weeks ago, Mr. Tsipras wanted to renew his negotiating mandate by plebiscite. He had Bonapartistic ambitions of personifying the wishes of the Greek people. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, he could only achieve this with a "no" to the creditors’ reform plans. A week later, he had to single-handedly turn that "no" into a "yes." Is that humiliating? Or rather conflicted, foolhardy and tragic?
4. The Greek crisis is not an economic one.
At the turn of the century, Germany was at a critical point. In the 10 years after reunification, the country had become accustomed to a good economic climate, albeit one based on debt and plundering social funds. The German economy and society threatened to stagnate in deficit-fuelled complacency and risked being left behind by globalization.
This was the moment the government at the time decided on a reform package (Agenda 2010). The content was at best halfway sensible, but it sent a very sensible message to the population: "Try harder, reinvent yourselves – it cannot go on like this."
If everything runs relatively smoothly, then the reform program agreed upon in Brussels, likewise only halfway sensible, could have a similar effect. Whether it will succeed is not a question of economic policy, which is why all those economists, with or without Nobel Prizes, have little to contribute to the issue.
Greece’s future depends much more on the population’s morale and willingness to change. If, in their millions, Greeks make different decisions than in previous years – if they cut back their inefficient state and if better qualifications count more than good contacts – then it will succeed.
This is supported by the fact that the Greeks have run out of excuses. They have tried everything: Pasok and Nea Dimokratia and most recently Syriza – fabricated figures and broken promises, desperate protests and a national referendum. Now they are back to their own devices, the subject of their own story – and nobody can write it for them.