Germany used to be Europe’s economic powerhouse – it is fast becoming today’s sick man of Europe

Walk on by: Public transport workers held a strike across most of Germany on March 1. (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)


In 2010, the now German minister of the economy Robert Habeck wrote, in his book published that year, that “patriotism, love of country, that makes me want to vomit”.

This was a typical sentiment among the Greens of his generation, where even the slightest sign of patriotism was tantamount to a return of the Third Reich. Yet it is not without irony that just a few days ago the very same Robert Habeck has begun to demand more “patriotism” from German companies in order to prevent them from moving abroad.

Will they honour his plea? Probably not, and who can blame them. Nothing (and no one) works in Germany anymore. The Germans work fewer hours than their European neighbours, yet even that seems to be too much for them. Planning a trip in Germany or having to commute to work has become a gamble. The nation’s transit systems are regularly grounding to a halt when unionised staff initiate a prolonged strikes. The staff of the German airline and railway sectors seem to walk out on an almost weekly basis; a wave of labour unrest is sweeping through Europe’s nations.

The German economy continues to be under fire from self-inflicted idiocies: In addition to the notoriously high energy prices and mounting bureaucratic burdens on both the EU and national level, Berlin now has to deal with eco-terrorism and a wave of strikes in the transportation sector. According to Dr. Hagen Lesch of the German Economic Institute, “2024 could become a record year for strikes in Germany”.

To measure the intensity of conflicts, Lesch has created an “escalation scale” and calculated that in the first months of 2024, conflicts have already reached an average value of 4.3 on this scale. The seven-level scale indicates the extent to which a conflict has escalated: from level 0, where negotiations are taking place around the table, to level 7, where strikes are occurring.

Throughout the whole of 2023, the escalation was at 3.0 – the highest value measured since 2000. In 2024 most conflict occurred up to the beginning of March with strikes by the German train union, followed by Lufthansa ground staff and Eurowings-Discover pilots. The most pressing demand by the unions is a reduction in working hours at higher salaries, a proposal that has drawn criticism from the largest union in Germany, representing employees in Germany’s heavy industry.

Similarly, the public is increasingly losing patience with the ongoing strikes: According to the most recent poll, 65 per cent of Germans disapprove of the unions’ behavior. 

Even the aforementioned Robert Habeck, has called for an end of the strikes: “This affects millions of commuters who need to get to work and large quantities of goods that our economy and the country urgently need.”

Habeck is well aware that if employers give in to the demands, he is setting himself up for even more conflict this autumn: Between December 2023 and December 2024, wage tariff agreements for almost twelve million employees expire. In September of this year collective bargaining is set to begin in the metal and electrical industry, the largest tariff sector with over 3.6 million employees.

At the end of 2024, the collective agreements for public service employees at the federal and municipal levels (2.4 million employees) will expire as well. If current demands are fulfilled, all the other sector unions will take notice and scale up their own demands, squeezing an economy that is already spiraling into recession. 

What makes matters worse is that other countries are preparing to take advantage of Germany’s ongoing troubles, positioning themselves as better alternatives for production and manufacturing. 

The once much vaunted idea of “Deutsche Pünklichkeit” (German punctuality) has for now been replaced with German unreliability, contributing to the decline of what once was Europe’s economic powerhouse.

The questions is, will the people simple accept fewer jobs, higher inflation, and sinking living standards?

Supposedly, making train runs on time again was supposedly a cause for Mussolini’s takeover of Italy. If this is true, then the fascist threat for Germany might not come from the AfD but the country’s unions.