Europe is at a turning point.
Three years ago, the world was agonizing about the end of the euro and possibly the unraveling of the European Union.
In an act of courage and tenacity, European leaders spent a vast amount of political capital to quickly adopt reforms that were unthinkable before the start of the Great Recession. New institutions were built, fresh coordination mechanisms were created, and the European Union sent a clear message that almost 70 years of prosperity and peace were worth preserving.
Yet, such an endeavor came with a toll.
Despite the headlines, I can think of so many examples of German and Greek companies working well together.
The adoption of rules and difficult policies to restore the credibility of Europe vis-à-vis financial markets has led to the denting of trust between European citizens. A confrontational approach that pits nations against each other had become the norm; south versus north, core versus peripheral countries, creditors versus debtors.
If not tamed, these narratives could undermine not only the achievements of the last few years, but the essence of the E.U. itself: the unity of European peoples in their diversity.
It is also quite easy for financial headlines to mask the severe social suffering ongoing in many parts of southern Europe, which means we pay less attention to it. It's financial news on a page, but millions of young kids without a job stand behind that news.
We should thus not solely assess the crisis through a financial lens, but also a geopolitical lens. A social lens. A lens of a youth with better memories of yesterday than hopes for tomorrow.
Now, the current standoff between Germany and Greece is just the latest example of how these bitter dynamics can undermine what has been historically a mutually beneficial and enriching relationship.
As a business leader of Greek heritage I must say my very first business experience in Germany was overwhelmingly positive; even life-changing. It was 1996 and a German bank advanced the funds from a loan to our company without having the loan agreement physically signed.
This would of course never happen today. But it was neither foolhardy or naïve. It was the way business often got done in the past. Human trust, the old-school business way. Debt was not just monetary, it was moral. And that relationship has blossomed into one of our best and most trusted banking partnerships encompassing many industries and countries.
It’s time to rebuild bridges. Time for Europe to go back to its fundamentals: a partnership based on trust, mutual respect and solidarity. Despite what naysayers would have you believe, the foundations of that trust are firmly in place. I am living proof.
Europe should not be governed solely by what is possible, but also by what is right. After all, when the crisis is behind us we will all be left with the legacy of our behavior during it.
Athens and Berlin need to embrace this challenge. Despite the headlines, I can think of so many examples of German and Greek companies working well together, many including our Group but also many outside of it. The key is mutual respect and integrated cultural links. The cooperation between the Greek maritime industry and German financial sector is only one example that speaks volumes to this.
Crises can destroy relationships and burn bridges. Or they can create relationships and build bridges. Audacity is needed to restore the trust that once underpinned the Greek-German relationship and the wider E.U. Let’s build not burn.
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