Greece versus Germany in the Euro Cup Quarterfinals: More Than a Match
June 21, 2012
German and Greek soccer players take the field on Friday evening in Poland in the quarterfinals of the Euro 2012 soccer championship. It will be Europe’s largest economy and creditor versus the continent’s weakest economy and most indebted nation. Yes, it is a European analyst’s dream matchup.
This game symbolizes why the European Monetary Union and therefore the global economy presently teeter on the precipice. Let’s take a look at the field. Germany, as the most populous nation in the European Union with 81.7 million citizens, has enjoyed strong economic growth and prosperity: historically low unemployment of 5.6 percent, 3 percent or greater GDP growth over the past two years, a trade surplus that has increased from $16.99 billion in 2010 to $18.19 billion in 2011, and competitive labor costs.
Greece’s 11 million citizens, on the other hand, are experiencing their fifth year of recession with an astounding unemployment rate of 22.6 percent and youth unemployment at 52.7 percent. GDP has dropped a staggering 11 percent from 2009 to 2011. Greece posted a trade deficit in 2010 and 2011 of $3.51 billion and $2.31 billion respectively. Prior to austerity measures, Greek labor costs were on the upswing, peaking at approximately $32.3 billion in 2009.
How did two such diverse economies find themselves with the same currency and, prior to the crisis, with approximately the same sovereign credit rating? A red card clearly would be warranted for this decision.
This isn’t just an economic mismatch; this game is also about national character and culture. It is also an opportunity that will test and stretch the concept of national pride and history for both countries amidst a consuming economic crisis.
How each respective team has played throughout the Euro Cup tournament reflects the reflexes and instincts of the countries themselves. The Greek team is inclined to absorb pressure, sitting back in a defensive position and letting opponents (to their great frustration) attack them first. But, at critical moments, the team capitalizes on an opportunity, finds a brief moment of unity and discipline, and defies the odds, as its opening round opponents, Poland and Russia, discovered.
The German team is the exact opposite: proactive, aggressive, and on the offensive. The team has a clear vision and purpose, and it has consistently demonstrated unity and discipline throughout the tournament. The Germans are heavily favored to win.
The politics surrounding this match will be important to watch. Greek newspapers are relishing the opportunity to eliminate Germany from the Euro Cup competition, publishing emotional headlines such as “Bring Us Merkel”—referring, of course, to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
When asked if Merkel’s advice for the future Greek government—to adhere to its austerity plan—would psychologically impact his players, Greek soccer coach Fernando Santos replied, “The Greek people have great pride for their history and should be respected by all. Civilization, democracy, and the modern sciences all began in Greece. It’s difficult for others to give us lessons.” Game on.
Even before the possibility of German elimination, Greek public hostility toward Germany was intensifying. Outraged by Germany’s unrelenting position on austerity measures, Greek newspapers have depicted Chancellor Merkel as Hitler. A recent Pew Survey reported that 86 percent of Greeks give Merkel a big thumbs-down on her leadership.
For Germany, this match is more difficult to address emotionally and historically. The increasing anti-German sentiment in Europe has reawakened German fears about its own history of domination. The 40-year-old foreign policy editor of Die Welt, Clemens Wergin, recently wrote in the New York Times that he hoped Germany would not win the Euro Cup, to allay growing European fears of Germany becoming a regional hegemon. (Indeed, some British commentators have taken to using the term “Fourth Reich.”) In Germany, there is growing anti-Greek sentiment, with suggestions that southern Europeans are “lazy” and don’t work as hard as northern Europeans. Why should hard-earned German funds bail out other European countries?
German head soccer coach Joachim Löw has tried to keep euro zone politics out of the match by explaining, “it is just a normal quarterfinal game against Greece and nothing else.” But with Chancellor Merkel’s decision to attend Friday’s game, and uncertainty over the attendance of newly elected Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of Greece, it will be difficult to call this match “normal.”
So, will Friday’s match predict the outcome of the euro zone crisis?
If Germany wins the quarterfinal and goes on to win the Euro Cup, commentators may suggest that German hard work, discipline, and unity give it a unique edge to succeed in economics, politics, and sport. Germans should rightly take pride in all their economic achievements and accomplishments and display national pride. Win or lose, it is not a question of “if” Germany will lead Europe but how it chooses to lead that will define Europe’s future.
If Greece wins, its citizens will be given a welcome respite from two national elections in six weeks and from austerity, fear, and uncertainty. Perhaps a victory also will serve as an inspirational example to Greek politicians that unity and discipline can overcome great odds and survive the economic crisis.
Heather A. Conley is a senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Matthew Melino is a research assistant with the CSIS Europe Program.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.