A year of two halves
It's that time again. Time for me to link two of my favourite topics: economics and football. And the news from both areas is that Germany is not as strong as many people like to think.
Now, I know the usual comment that comes at this point. What does someone from England — which hasn't won the World Cup (or anything else) since 1966, and whose economy has hardly been the brightest star in the European sky for the past 50 years — have to teach Germany, with its Wirtschaftswunder and four World Cup titles?
My answer is simple: I'm not trying to teach you anything, just pointing out the facts.
One of football's most common clichés in English — along with "we're taking each game as it comes" — is that "it was a game of two halves". And 2014 has been a year of two halves for Germany, if you'll allow me to include 13 July in the first half of the year.
On the footballing front, one can hardly argue with a World Cup win. Even as an Englishman, I had to admit that Germany were deserved winners. But I never bought into the euphoria that this was a great team. (Rather, there was a distinct lack of great teams in this year's tournament.)
The weakness of the German squad has been cruelly exposed in the qualifiying games for Euro 2016 (so far: one defeat, one draw, one fortunate win). As soon as it experienced a few retirements and injuries, the team lost its way. In truth, it was always too dependent on a few stars. Even goalkeeper Neuer, the best player in the World Cup in my eyes, suddenly looks ordinary.
Germany's economy also has a problem of over-dependence — on exports. Usually seen as its strength, German exports are being hit by stagnation in the eurozone, a slowing of growth in the emerging markets, geo-political uncertainty in Ukraine/Russia and the Middle East, worries about the impact of Ebola and so on.
As Wolfgang Münchau wrote in the Financial Times last week: "As an exporting powerhouse, Germany is highly sensitive to small changes in foreign demand". No wonder, then, that Germany's growth forecasts have been slashed to little more than one per cent for 2014 and 2015.
A significant investment boom is needed in Germany — financed by borrowing at the currently very low interest rates — not the current "no more debts" fetish/ideology/idiocy (take your pick).
To be clear: I am not saying that either Germany's football team or its economy are about to become serious losers. Germany will still (probably) qualify for Euro 2016 — along with England, which has won its first three qualifying games. And Germany's economy will remain a stable, if underperforming, influence in the eurozone.
But in both cases, the message is clear: before it is too late, Germany needs to pull its (football) socks up.
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