It belongs to the quality of any good manager to be able to see things with the right perspective. To see the big picture and avoid getting confused by irrelevant details. And to take the right decision – however painful that decision might be in the short-term.
Take Greece. There is a lot of rubbish written by journalists about Greece these days. There is no denying that the Greek population is currently under great distress – and the medium-term future of Greece does not look particularly rosy.
But for the future of the Euro, for the overall European economy, for the European and world stock markets: the truth is that whatever happens in Greece, the impact on the world will be negligible. Whatever the outcome of the crisis is – a bankrupt Greece in default and potentially without the Euro, or a Greece assisted by its neighbours in a less painful transition phase – the impact on the rest of Europe will be small. So don’t worry, things will be all right in the end.
Bluntly speaking, Greece does not matter because Greece is a small country population wise, and its economy only represents about 1.5% of the total European GDP of €14 trillion per annum. So does 1.5% more or less GDP in Europe matter much? At the level of Greece, it does. But not at the level of Europe.
The two key powers in Europe pushing for a resolution of the crisis – namely France and Germany – are proposing different solutions. Mr Sarkosy of France is pushing for a bail out of Greece, where Mrs. Merkel of Germany, even if she says otherwise, would really like the Greek to solve their problems on their own without the German tax payers footing the bill.
If this sounds generous from the former, and selfish from the latter, don’t forget that any country involved in this discussion mostly follows its self-interests. With French banks more engaged in Greece than German banks, France also has more to lose.
In Germany, 20 years after the reunification, transfer money worth more than €100bn per annum is still sent from the West to the East. Every year. Cumulated over more than 20 years, the total sum involved has been more than €2 trillion. Historically and humanly, the German reunification has been a success – a tough pill to swallow, but viewed in the long term, the right and only right decision.
Now, Greece is a smaller country than the former East Germany. And the issue facing Greece and Europe in the near term is whether the Europeans are ready to sign a check for €100bn. All European countries together contributing to a sum that is broadly what the West Germans sent to East Germany every year. How big is that a problem?
Another way to look at it: take €100bn divided by 400m Europeans. So we are really talking about 250 Euro per inhabitant. Does the problem still seem insurmountable? If you were German and had a choice to send you 250 Euro annually to East Germany (sorry, the ‘former East Germany’) or Greece, wouldn’t you agree that the Greeks currently need that money more than the Eastern Germans?
The true question that we are facing with the Greek crisis is which kind of Europe we want. The EU has been created by its founding fathers after the end of World War II to try to put an end to more than 500 years of wars in Europe. Today, faced with the rise of giants like China and India, the European integration has to be pushed further. Economic integration and a single currency is good, but the ultimate goal is a deeper political integration. This will take time, but Europe cannot stand still. So the resolution of the crisis in Greece will tell us which kind of Europe our current head of states want in the future.
The European integration process might be slow, painful and frustrating, but it has put an end to centuries of war and chaos. If there is a price to pay for that, there is no question that the price is worth paying. Seen from this angle, the German stance on the Greek problem demonstrates a lack of maturity in German politics, and absence of vision for Europe and its destiny.
Think about the next 100 years – Europeans will have to be a lot more united in order to face the bigger challenges that will undoubtedly arise. The Greek problem is a drop in the ocean in comparison.
So let us hope that our politicians will come to the right conclusion quickly, including a long-term solution the Greece challenges (a Marshall plan for Greece?). And then let us move on to build a stronger Europe, speaking with a united voice to address the big issues that will really matter in the 21st century.