Culture War: Muslim Brotherhood v Cairo Opera House

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/31/2013 02:46:00 PM
 The scoreline reads: Muslim Brotherhood 1, Giuseppe Verdi 0.
It is no big secret that Egypt's currently ascendant Muslim Brotherhood has shown a knack for shooting itself in the foot with its fundamentalist proclivities. Without any real, organized opposition to it--least of all the ineffectual Twitter cyber-mobs--the Brothers have not exactly been reluctant about imposing control on the rest of society:
The row [over the Cairo Opera House] has opened a new front in the politically divided country, with performing artists joining a chorus of others who say they are fighting attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi to impose their control. Other battles have raged in the judiciary, the education ministry, the agriculture ministry, and the media. Protests have erupted over fears that the Brotherhood has also tried to control the police and the Sunni world's pre-eminent seat of learning, Al-Azhar in Cairo.
How do you reconcile Islamic fundamentalism with (a) secularist voices in Egyptian society and (b) the economic necessity of tourism and foreign direct investment from foreigners? Unsurprisingly, the Brothers have failed to do either. After decades of being politically marginalized, it is no surprise that they are reacting to their ascendancy with gusto. That said, as an energy-poor Arab nation, they do not have inbuilt sources of foreign exchange to rely on which enable them to tell Westerners to shove it. Previously I wrote about an up-and-coming generation of leaders who recognize the need to cotton up to tourists by welcoming beer and bikinis. Unfortunately, it seems these progressive folks are few and far in between in the leadership ranks. Witness today's example of Alaa Abdel-Aziz, a censor [!] recently named Egypt's minister of culture who is currently rankling the obviously Westernized denizens of the Cairo Opera House:
In the case of the Opera House, those fears were fueled by comments by an ultraconservative lawmaker in parliament this week. Nour Party member Gamal Hamid called for the abolition of ballet performances in Egypt — which are usually held at the opera house — describing it as "immoral" and "nude art". So far, the culture minister, a professor in film editing who was appointed in a cabinet reshuffle three weeks ago, has not made any attempts to impose any overtly Islamist restrictions on the arts. But his opponents in the ministry fear his shakeup of staff aims to eventually do so.
Meanwhile, the show is not going on as the new culture minister's, well, ministrations have not met with favour among the opera house staff:
The Cairo Opera House has become a new battleground between supporters and opponents of Egypt's Islamist president, this time fighting over the direction of the Middle East's oldest music institution. The new culture minister fired the head of the opera house, part of a shakeup he said is aimed at injecting "new blood" across art and culture programs he says were stagnant and corrupt.

But staffers are refusing any other boss to replace Enas Abdel-Dayem. Tuesday night, they protested outside her office, accusing the minister of bending to pressure from Islamists, and some held a sit in overnight to prevent any replacement from entering. Staffers have also closed the curtain on all performances. For the first time in the opera house's history, the opera Aida — composed by Giuseppe Verdi and debuted to the world in 1871 in Cairo— was cancelled in protest. Singers instead held up posters on stage that said, "No to Brotherhoodization."
It's not clear whether the culture minister finds subject matter of the opera "corrupt"--as you would expect fundamentalists of any stripe to be--or just the management. Either way, don't hold your breath waiting for performances of Tasso's La Gerusalemme Liberata lauding the exploits of the first crusade to "liberate" Jerusalem from, well, you can figure the rest out.
Meanwhile, add this as another example to discourage foreign-exchange bringing tourists as the culture police make their presence felt. Avast with ye foreign affectations! Opera...such Western decadence!

Econo-Champions League: All Germany, No Spain

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 5/26/2013 11:23:00 AM
Yesterday evening the de facto Queen of Europe, Angela Merkel, sat in the VIP section of London's Wembley Stadium as two German teams--perennial European giants Bayern Munich and upstarts Borussia Dortmund--contested the Champions League final. That Bayern Munich finally succeeded in its third attempt at winning the biggest prize in club football in four years was no doubt a relief to their fans after losing the final to Inter Milan in 2010 and Chelsea last year. However, for the rest of Europe, a German champions League lockout is symbolically quite worrisome. As the European debt crisis has firmly revealed who wears the pants in the EU (Mrs. Merkel and company), is it not overwhelming that the Germans dominate sports as well? Just as Bayern Munich annihilated Barcelona FC to reach the final, Borussia Dortmund humiliated the world's largest football club, Real Madrid.

Nobody doubts that Bayern Munich were deserved winners this year given their supreme domination. After two years of losing out on the Bundesliga title to Borussia Dortmund, their offseason rebuilding in the wake of losing the Champions League final at home last year was fruitful. How dominant were Bayern Munich? They had an astounding goal differential of 80, having scored 98 goals to 18 conceded. In ratio form, they scored a scarcely believable 5.44 goals for every one conceded. Truly, it's a team for the ages. Borussia Dortmund aren't slouches, either, and back-to-back titles before this year bear witness to their ability to reconstruct themselves despite high-profile defectors leaving for greener pastures (or so they think). Just as Bayern Munich learned the hard way that winning this European title is no walk in the park, their German counterparts are likely to rebuild and come back stronger enough to win in the near future.

Anyway, back to the worrisome symbolism of all-German domination. It bears remembering that despite hammering Barcelona FC an aggregate 7-0 during the semifinals, the Spanish national team which it largely draws from won the 2010 World Cup as well as Euro 2008 and 2012. Over this entire period, the German system has been as much lauded as the Spanish system--especially in identifying and developing young talent. Having just yesterday (partially) shed the "choker" tag of advancing in tournaments but not winning them, the Bayern-stocked national team must now prove itself on the even bigger stage of World Cup 2014. So, there is a long way for Germany to go before it can be said to dominate football in the same way the Spaniards have in club and international competition in recent crisis-laden years. Worries of Bayern Munich domination to come are likely exaggerated [1, 2].

There is the lack of "consolation prizes" to economic losers to contemplate for Italy (winners of the 2006 World Cup and 2010 Champions League c/o Inter Milan) and Spain (the aforementioned international silverware in addition to Barcelona winning the Champions League in 2006, 2009 and 2011). While Europe seems to have become thoroughly secular in recent years, you can argue that one of today's balms for crisis-hit nations remains sport. Witness F1 driver Fernando Alonso of Ferrari (a Spaniard driving for an Italian team; how appropriate!) constantly referring to his race wins as his consolation for a crisis-hit nation. Have these famous sporting victories not consoled the Italian and Spanish? Having pondered what the psychic boost to economic performance these represent, their unending woes--from towering youth unemployment to an inability to nurture world-class industries as opposed to world-class footballers--the answer is evident to me at least:

None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Getting spanked hard by Germans--heck, I (foolishly) believed Juventus had a chance against Bayern Munich--is not the most edifying spectacle in 21st century, crisis-hit Europe. Given their already unassailable economic dominance, must the Germans lord it over in every other aspect as well? Still, you cannot say that the economic virtues of Germany are not reflected in its teams, too. Despite earning and spending big, Bayern Munich does not throw away money. Meanwhile, Borussia Dortmund is the "Moneyball" team of the football (soccer) world in rarely splurging on outside purchases but focusing on player development since their resources are comparatively limited compared to those of European giants (albeit still substantial).

As the final proved, Borussia Dortmund is the only team that could reasonably stand up to the Bayern Munich bully boys circa 2013. Instead of lamenting German domination in sports as well as European political economy, perhaps it's time the others also learned from the German example. Heaven knows, it was not so long ago that the Germans had an inferiority complex in football that they have now surmounted to a certain extent. Persistence, hard work, strength in depth, prudent expenditure...gee, footballing virtues sound an awful lot like German economic ones, don't they?

Language Games: Should French Unis Teach in English?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/22/2013 03:25:00 PM
I have long been fascinated with the France's Academie Francaise, a body intended to guard the French language from the barbarisms of other, uncouth languages. The erstwhile linguistic barbarians have changed over the centuries: whereas the Academic Francaise was developed as a bulwark to Spanish, nowadays it's English, of course, that needs to be guarded. Recently, French higher education minister Genevieve Fioraso caused an uproar by suggesting that more courses need to be offered in English to attract international students. To this the traditionalists were of course up in arms. However, this reaction neglects the fact that several elite institutions alike the Sciences Po already provide instruction in English:
Elite French business schools, and Grandes Ecoles such as the Institute of Political Studies also known as Sciences-Po, have been teaching in English for the last 15 years. Why, she asks, shouldn't other less prestigious universities follow suit?
The crux of the counterargument goes like this: if part of the attraction of studying in France is learning French, why dilute this by offering second-rate English-language instruction? Another is the ever-popular idea that speaking French lends the speaker a different worldview from that of English speakers, making (surprise!) French education incommensurate with English education:
Teaching English is very different, they argue, from teaching in English. They support the teaching of foreign languages, and suggest starting it even earlier - in nursery schools - but they oppose the teaching of subjects such as mathematics, history and literature in any language but French.
Antoine Compagnon, a distinguished French scholar who taught at Columbia University and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, maintained in a public letter that it would be better to teach foreign students French than tolerate "Globish" (the primitive English of non-English-speakers) and the dumbing down of teaching that would inevitably follow.

Foreign students who choose France over Britain, Compagnon says, are not only choosing the French lifestyle but also its culture and language. Teaching them Proust in English, in France, would be a travesty.
French MP Pouria Amirshahi, who represents French expats in North and West Africa, backed him up. "The signal given out to those everywhere who learn French abroad and in francophone countries throughout the world is not reassuring," told The Daily Telegraph.

It looks as though, in France, if you want to teach students in English, you have to do it quietly like the elite universities which never asked permission but never boasted about it either.
I believe that some market research is truly in order to enlighten this debate:
  1. Do international students come to France purposely to study in French?
  2. How many more international students can France realistically hope to attract if it had more course offerings at the university level in English?
Both questions are certainly worth investigating.if France is serious about addressing the needs and wants of international students.Either way, it's better to proceed from a position of knowledge than from one of ignorace in addressing these language games.

Geopolitics of Eurovision: Echoes of Yugoslavia

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/19/2013 10:37:00 AM
Formerly known as the Cold War Studies programme, LSE IDEAS has always been focused on post-1989 events in that part of Europe. As out founders keep saying, understanding the Cold War is key to understanding the current era of globalization. I need not remind anyone that the wars there were especially long and awful after the collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Although Western commentators tend to uniformly portray Soviet-era strongmen in a negative light, I have always had a more sanguine view of Josep Broz Tito. Say what you will about his methods, but centuries-long ethnic hatreds that were again to erupt after the Iron Curtain's demise were mitigated to a significant extent during his reign. It was not uncommon, for instance, for Serbs and Croats to train side by side for international sporting competition and regard it as unexceptional. But then came the deluge.

Fortunately, there remain commonalities amongst these erstwhile rivals that gives you hope in humanity. For, in recent times, former Yugoslavs have stuck by each other in voting for the Eurovision Song Contest. The 2013 event held yesterday night in Malmo, Sweden was like always--small-"n" European nationalisms thrown together with talent and no small amount of cheesiness, It's perhaps not such a big deal in the rest of the world, but Europeans have always loved the competition's mixture of good-natured fun and Euro-kitsch. In more jovial surroundings, it turns out that the former Yugoslavs have no small amount of love for their neighbours despite everything (and Ukrainians and Georgians for Russians elsewhere, etc.):
In addition to media analyses, serious academic studies have been conducted on Eurovision Song Contest (phone in) voting patterns. While geographic proximity alone may not decide how Europeans vote--studies suggest talent plays a part, too--it does help a contestant to do better when they both come from a prominent "voting bloc" and show some real skill. Even this year the former Yugoslavs were active this year despite being depleted of contestants in the later rounds:
We all know that this bloc has been particularly one of the most predictive blocs voting-wise. Hypothetically speaking, if one former Yugoslavian country qualified, the Scandinavian and ex-Soviet blocs would not be affected because that lone former Yugoslavian qualifier would maximize its monopoly from its bloc as much as possible.
Perhaps a better demonstration of their affection for one another came last year when Serbia finished third:
Serbia came third with a very good ballad sung by a very good international performer, his voice was strong and powerful. Four countries gave Serbia 12 votes [the number of points given to a song receiving the most votes in a particular country], all are geographical neighbours. Ten countries gave Serbia 10 or 8 votes - only two of those countries are anywhere near Serbia.
The Swedish hosts understand the appeal of Eurovision along these lines in IR terms:
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who watched the competition in Malmo Saturday, called it a unique event that unites Europe. "We see the old Yugoslavia, now independent states, after a decade of war they always vote for each other in Eurovision, " Bildt told The Associated Press. "That I think is fun."
Indeed, the voting table from 2012 says it all: eventual third-place finisher Željko Joksimović of Serbia received maximum points from Bulgaria, Croatia, Monenegro and Slovenia. Amidst the rubble of even the worst of conflicts, there is always hope that old enmities can be transcended by the better part of human nature. As my previous intuition suggested, let Eurovision show us the way forward for European Union. Where most EU initiatives fail to create a sense of "Europeanness," Eurovision succeeds--at least in part. In this day and age when the whole integration project is in question, studying successful examples should help.

Liberation Theology, Leonardo Boff & 'Fixing' Catholicism

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/13/2013 09:58:00 AM
What is the difference between a socially active priest and one who dabbles in leftist politics? The dividing line was much clearer during the Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI eras when the latter was strictly verboten and priests were discouraged from engaging directly--especially in electoral politics. A few weeks ago I discussed the changes that may be in store at the Vatican given that someone from Latin America-- homeland of liberation theology spurred by the world's highest rates of inequality--has become pope. While Pope Francis has disavowed liberation theology in speech, in practice, many alienated (former) Latin Catholics believe that the hardline of the past will be replaced by a more tolerant and receptive outlook.

The highest profile critic of the Catholic Church so far as liberation theology is concerned is of course Leonardo Boff. Yet even he believes that while rhetorical disdain for godless Marxist elements of liberation theology may remain, in practice we may have a more nuanced and socially aware church emerging. Boff is positive, while the many priests killed in Latin America during the liberation theology period may even be regarded positively once more:
"Pope Francis comes with the perspective that many of us in Latin America share. In our churches we do not just discuss theological theories, like in European churches. Our churches work together to support universal causes, causes like human rights, from the perspective of the poor, the destiny of humanity that is suffering, services for people living on the margins."

The liberation theology movement, which seeks to free lives as well as souls, emerged in the 1960s and quickly spread, especially in Latin America. Priests and church laypeople became deeply involved in human rights and social struggles. Some were caught up in clashes between repressive governments and rebels, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

The movement's martyrs include El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose increasing criticism of his country's military-run government provoked his assassination as he was saying Mass in 1980. He was killed by thugs connected to the military hierarchy a day after he preached that "no soldier is obliged to obey an order that is contrary to the will of God." His killing presaged a civil war that killed nearly 90,000 over the next 12 years. The case for beatification of Romero languished under popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI due to their opposition to liberation theology, but he was put back on track to becoming a saint days after Francis became pope.
Boff narrates the familiar difference between theory and practice, with the idea that Pope Francis is oriented towards social action in a way his predecessors were not, really, despite lip service supposedly being paid to its features palatable to the Church (i.e., the non-Marxist ones):
While even John Paul embraced the "preferential option for the poor" at the heart of the movement, most church leaders were unhappy to see intellectuals mixing doses of Marxism and class struggle into their analysis of the Gospel. It was a powerfully attractive mixture for idealistic Latin Americans who were raised in Catholic doctrine, educated by the region's army of Marxist-influenced teachers, and outraged by the hunger, inequality and bloody repression all around them.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, hundreds of Argentine priests were affiliated with a movement that proclaimed Christian teaching "inescapably obliges us to join in the revolutionary process for urgent radical change of existing structures and to reject formally the capitalistic system we see around us ... We shall go forward in search of a Latin American brand of socialism that will hasten the coming of the new man."
John Paul and his chief theologian, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, drove some of the most ardent and experimental liberation theologians out of the priesthood, castigated some of those who remained, and ensured that the bishops and cardinals they promoted took a wary view of leftist social activism.
Monsignor Chavez of San Salvador may make liberation theology more palatable by saying that there are many varieties of liberation theology (eat your heart out, Hall and Soskice), with Pope Francis being on the least extreme end in terms of Marxist overtones--Catholic social vision instead of Marxist social vision, if you will:
"There are many theologies of liberation," he said. "The pope represents one of these currents, the most pastoral current, the current that combines action with teaching." He described Francis' version as "theologians on foot, who walk with the people and combine reflection with action," and contrasted them with "theologians of the desk, who are from university classrooms."
Then again, even the would-be Pope Francis acknowledged that there are certain leftist overtones one can readily read into the Gospels if one is not careful:
"The option for the poor comes from the first centuries of Christianity. It is the Gospel itself," said then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio during a 2010 deposition in a human rights trial. He said that if he were to repeat "any of the sermons from the first fathers of the church, from the 2nd or 3rd century, about how the poor must be treated, they would say that mine would be Maoist or Trotskyite."
In other words, leftist critics hope that Pope Francis will ask the faithful to do as he does, not as he says.

Divorces of (Real-Estate) Convenience in China

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/06/2013 01:00:00 PM
To paraphrase Steely Dan, this is not your Haitian but your Hainan divorce. Recent regulations in China intended to tamp down real-estate speculation have had an unintended consequence of separating happily married couples to take advantage of better tax benefits accruing to single persons:
Long queues of happy couples waiting to get married might be a common sight in Las Vegas. But lines of happily married couples waiting to get divorced? Only in China. In major cities across the country last month, thousands of couples rushed to their local divorce registry office to dissolve their marriages in order to benefit from fast-expiring tax breaks on property investments for unmarried individuals.

Local media reported long waits at registries in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and elsewhere as savvy investors sought to buy or sell a second home before the government introduced strict new regulations that would force married homeowners to pay hefty taxes on the sale of second properties.

The new regulations are designed to cool speculation in China’s feverish property market and are part of a package of measures that would require couples to pay up to 20% capital gains tax on the sale of second homes. But for determined investors, nothing gets in the way of a good bargain, and some quickly noticed that the 20% impost didn’t apply if the second home was bought before the couple were married — or after they got divorced.
It seems the authorities have caught on, though, and singles are increasingly unable to take advantage of the breaks sought after by the divorcees-of-convenience:

The divorce solution is extreme but it’s the kind of solution to which China’s put-upon middle classes have become accustomed...Of course, the country’s regulators have also taken notice of the long queues outside divorce registries and have acted to put a stop to the practice. In recent weeks, the government revised its regulations to increase the taxes payable by unmarried individuals selling a secondhand property, effectively cutting the most speculative investors out of the market.
Don't you just love it when marriage, profitology and authoritarianism collide?

Brokebank USA: Living Paycheck to Paycheck

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/05/2013 03:42:00 PM
Gillian Tett of the FT has an interesting article that seemingly contradicts all of the happy talk about how "America is back" with stock markets hitting all-time highs. There is no particular difficulty understanding stock market speculation and bubbles: with the Federal Reserve practically giving money away, those who still have access to credit have parked the proceeds in stocks. With the last two rounds of all-time highs coming right before the dot-com bubble burst and the subprime crisis, let's say its implications may not be welcome.

Outside of the casino economy, however, there appears to be a new way to measure the desperation of Americans living in and with the real economy. When people are strapped for cash--and American personal savings rates are once more headed to zero--it is only to be expected that business activity peaks during paydays. That is, quite a lot of these Brokebank Yanks Americans are living, as the saying goes, from paycheck to paycheck:
“Consumers are living pay check by pay check, and they tend to spend accordingly. Then you have 50 million people on food stamps and that has cycles too. So for our business it has become critical to understand the cycle – when pay [and benefit] checks are arriving.” Sadly, it does not yet seem possible for outsiders (or journalists) to crunch the numbers across the entire economy. Large companies are very secretive about their big-data projects (this particular company, which produces many of America’s best-loved snacks, would not let me reveal its name). And though economists monitor macro trends in retail spending, they have not traditionally analysed micro spending swings.
Nevertheless, this story is not unique. Executives at Walmart, for example, have recently noted the rising impact of the “pay check cycle”; Kroger, another retailer, notes that the proportion of customers using food stamps has doubled, creating additional swings. And as these anecdotal tales mount up, they are interesting for at least two reasons. First, and most obviously, they should remind us of the silent, dark underbelly of economic pain that is stalking America’s current “recovery”. Most notably, it seems that the financial fragility of the poorer section of US society has risen sharply in recent years, as unemployment remains high and real incomes and household wealth fall. (A revealing survey published last week, for example, suggested that the wealth of Hispanic and black families declined by 44 per cent and 31 per cent respectively between 2007 and 2010.)

Measuring this financial fragility – like measuring micro-level spending swings – is tough, since it is not an issue that economists have traditionally tracked. But one in seven Americans (about 50 million) are now thought to be living in poverty and a similar number in “food insecure” households. Meanwhile, six million are using food banks and 47 million are on food stamps. And when the Brookings Institution tried to look at this fragility issue a couple of years ago, by analysing how many households could find $2,000 in a hurry, it concluded that a quarter of families had no access to ready, rainy-day funds. “Although financial fragility is more severe among low-income households, a sizeable fraction of seemingly middle-class Americans are also at risk,” the study concluded. 
Make no mistake: Americans are worse off now than they were under Bush, and in turn worse off under Bush than they were under (Bill) Clinton. Althoug retailers are naturally wary of disclosing the timing of their sales based on paycheck cycles, it could be gathered anonymously by an impartial entity alike the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Summing it up merely solidifies an image of growing discontent as income and wealth slide and cause changes in consuming habits as a reflection.

Once massive Fed purchases of bonds are discontinued, who knows how far down this entire edifice of casino economy will fall. Certainly, there is no foundation of a real economy to fall back on. 

German (Randian?) Solution: No Minimum Wage

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 5/01/2013 05:38:00 PM
Sometime ago, I remember watching former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan testifying before the US Congress when he was asked about his views about the minimum wage. "There should be none," I reflexively blurted out. Knowing that Greenspan was a libertarian former acolyte of Ayn Rand, the answer was obvious and, true to form, that's what he said to the surprise of this congressman. This same debate is being played out in Europe as those championing reform of ossified economies point out that one of the features that makes German unemployment comparatively low to other European nations is its lack of a minimum wage. To be exact, there is no general minimum wage but sector-specific minimum wages arrived at through collective bargaining in the German corporatist system.

That is, would Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain which are all suffering from very high unemployment be better off if they moved to a German-ish system? Many conservative commentators certainly think so, but it's important to point out that even Germans themselves are considering a EUR 8.5/hour minimum wage as pushed by the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD). Indeed, it has already been passed in the upper house (Bundesrat):
The SPD is in favour of introducing a statutory minimum wage. On the official SPD website, they talk about the introduction of “humane” minimum wages. Indeed, after the regional elections in Lower Saxony in January, the changed majority situation in the Bundesrat permitted, according to the SPD website, to present a law proposal together with the Green Party for a minimum wage. It has been passed on 1 March 2013. This proposal demands € 8.5 for every employee in each industry sector – as enforceable right. They argue that this minimum wage is necessary in a social market economy and is, moreover, one essential element of human dignity. A minimum wage, according to Malu Dreyer, Prime minister of Rhineland-Palatinate (SPD), would bring both flexibility to the employers and security to the employees. It is now up to the Bundestag to approve this law proposal. 
In the FT, Alexander Privitera further argues that there is remorse on the social democrats' part for having pushed employment reforms that many cite for making Germany more competitive post-unification.: 
Mr [Gerhard] Schröder’s reforms helped this process. Limiting unemployment benefits pushed many to look for jobs. But the unintended consequence was that, today, the low-wage sector accounts for a remarkably high 20 per cent of all jobs. Germany’s victory in the battle against unemployment came at the cost of creating a two-tiered labour market – it has a flexible, low-wage sector and a higher-skilled, better-paid one that continues to be extremely rigid to this day.

Despite the fact that the Germans are promoting their reforms as a model to follow abroad, at home political parties still debate their benefits. Mr Schröder’s Social Democrats are convinced that the reduction in welfare benefits led to rising inequality, and argue that they should be partially reversed. Even some Christian Democrats now admit that a minimum wage might be necessary. One of the main lessons of the Schröder reforms is that timing matters. Pushing Europeans too hard, too quickly and all at the same time will not make them stronger. It could drive them over the cliff. 
Given what's happening in Germany, you have to wonder if the current CDU/FDP advocacy for the rest of Europe holds water. Not economically--you can have an endless debate on that, and people do--but politically insofar as left-leaning parties seem keen on introducing a "wage floor" that definitely is not in tune with the "Germany is a model for Europe--no pain, no gain" line of reasoning.