Look south, Germans, and behold a country that knows how to do crisis properly. The Italians since 1946 have had, well, how many governments exactly? It’s hard to keep track. They also have the tact to have genuine economic problems at the same time – excessive debt, low employment, and so forth. Right now, they have populists (both right and left) in power. And those are hell-bent on foisting a full-blown crisis on the whole eurozone. Mamma mia.
Compare this to Germany, as it awaits with bated breath a regional election in Hesse on Sunday. No sober interlocutor can name an actual problem in Hesse. (The closest thing is apparently the possibility that a few roads might occasionally get closed to diesel traffic.) And yet, all sorts of Very Serious People are predicting that much, if not everything, is at stake on Sunday: the future of Angela Merkel as chancellor, of her sclerotic coalition in Berlin, of the nation, indeed the continent, possibly the world.
Didn’t we already hear that two weeks ago? That was before the election in Bavaria, another place that lacks identifiable problems. That election was also supposed to clarify whether Merkel could serve out her full term. Except that Bavaria clarified nothing. Nor will Hesse. Will the Hessians “send a signal” to Berlin? Who knows? After Monday, nobody will care.
Italians: Look north and behold a country that just doesn’t know how to do crisis. First, the Germans don’t even have economic problems (yet). Migration, despite what you might have heard, is under control. Employment and tax receipts are setting records. Instead of deficits, surpluses! Second, the Germans don’t have real political problems either. Unless you count having a chancellor who is so adroit that she can hang on to power for 13 years while managing international crises, at the cost of seeming, by now, a bit over-the-hill. You Italians have Berlusconis and Salvinis; the Germans have at most a Seehofer.
The real German problem is more subtle. Remember Emmanuel Macron last year, just after he parried a (genuine) crisis by the name of Marine Le Pen? He immediately looked for help from Germany in fixing Europe. Wait till the German election, he was told. No, wait till they form a “Jamaica” coalition. And so on. Right now, he’s being told, you guessed it, to wait for the outcome in Hesse.
But waiting for Germany is today like waiting for Godot. Nothing will get fixed: neither the eurozone, nor climate, nor migration. Comfy but angst-ridden, Germans will keep having fake domestic crises, while the rest of Europe tries to keep a lid on real ones. Eventually, those real ones will erupt. And then a continent could accidentally get lost. At that point, Germans will finally get a proper crisis. Maybe it’s just as well that they kept rehearsing now.