Stephen M. Walt

My contribution to solving the Euro crisis

Everyone I read seems to agree that a big part of the solution to the Euro crisis would be the creation of more robust and well-funded European financial institutions. One of the barriers to moving ahead, however, is Germany’s reluctance to bail out so-called profligate countries like Greece. Even though a Eurozone collapse would do ...

ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

Everyone I read seems to agree that a big part of the solution to the Euro crisis would be the creation of more robust and well-funded European financial institutions. One of the barriers to moving ahead, however, is Germany’s reluctance to bail out so-called profligate countries like Greece. Even though a Eurozone collapse would do great harm to Germany itself, a sense of moral outrage among ordinary Germans ("why should I have to pay for somebody else’s irresponsible behavior?") is a potent political obstacle that German leaders will have to overcome if this is going to work out well.

I got a small but revealing personal glimpse into this issue today, when the reimbursement form for my recent trip to Berlin arrived by email. The conference I attended was partly supported by Germany’s Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften (National Academy of Sciences), which means that travel expenses must conform to the Bundesreisekostengesetz ("German Federal Travel Expenses Act"). The best part of the reimbursement process is the special form for taxi fare, which states ""Costs for taxi rides are only reimbursable under exceptional circumstances such as urgent official activities or compelling private reasons." Specifically, travelers will be reimbursed for taxi fare only if: 1) "necessary official and personal baggage weighs more than 25 kg"; 2) there is no public means of transport and the destination is beyond walking distance (defined as 2 kilometers); 3) the wait time for public transport exceeds one hour; 4) health reasons; or 5) they are traveling between 11 PM and 6 AM.  Note: the form also reminds you that "bad weather" or "lack of knowledge of a place" are not considered "exceptional circumstances."

I don’t find this scrupulousness objectionable — heck, forcing healthy people to walk a couple of kilometers might even be good for them, although making them do it in the rain or snow seems a bit heartless. But if this is how sensitive Germans are about taxi fare, you can see why they might be reluctant to bail out the billions of dollars of extra salaries and other indulgences that some of their Eurozone partners rang up over the past decade or more.

As it happens, I took only one taxi ride on my trip (from Logan Airport to my house), and I’m not going to ask for the money back. Call it my contribution to helping Europe get back on its feet. Not quite the Marshall Plan, perhaps, but one does what one can.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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