EU corridors of prejudice
Bundesbank affair highlights a sinister side to Europe
Of all the institutions in Germany, the Bundesbank, the nation's central bank, is the one which likes to think itself above politics. It may be less powerful than before the creation of the euro, but its influence on the European Central Bank and economic policy is considerable. The last thing the Bundesbank needed was a renegade member - in the shape of Thilo Sarrazin, 65, a former top finance official in the Berlin city government - spouting off.
In a new book (Germany Does Away With Itself) the former politician described Muslims as "spongers", adding, "I don't want the country of my grandchildren to be largely Muslim, or that Turkish or Arabic be spoken in large areas, that women will wear headscarves and the daily rhythm is set by the call of the muezzin."
Having assaulted Islam, he went on to impugn Jews by suggesting they have "a particular gene" in an interview with Weit am Sonntag, a leading German newspaper.
The New York Times was among the papers to latch onto the story early, noting the pusillanimous response from the Bundesbank. The bank's first reaction was to say that Dr Sarrazin's utterances "did harm to the Bundesbank". But with the row refusing to die down, the bank eventually relented last weekend and asked Germany's president, Christian Wulff, to sack Sarrazin.
Having insulted Islam, Sarrazin went on to impugn Jews
Much of the debate about Sarrazin has raged in the FT and the Wall Street Journal. But rather than address the substance of his alleged racism, the main concern has been on the likely impact of the row on the succession at the European Central Bank.
Bundesbank president Axel Weber is seen as the hot favourite to succeed Frenchman Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the ECB. Rather than addressing the substance of what Sarrazin had to say, Bundesbank officials feared that by failing to take action against Sarrazin fast enough they might injure Weber's chances of succeeding Trichet.
Most alarming for Germany's minority Muslim and Jewish populations is the public's reaction. The German English-language weekly newsletter Politics reported that a poll in Bild am Sonntag showed 18 per cent of Germans would vote for a party headed by Sarrazin. His comments have been welcomed by conservative voters although his own Social Democratic Party is threatening to oust him.
Sarrazin is the not the only European policymaker to have forgotten the ostracisation of Jews and other minorities in the build-up to the Shoah.
Karel de Gucht, a former Belgium foreign minister who holds the job of EU Trade Commissioner told a Dutch-speaking radio network VRT (in response to the re-opening of Israel-Palestine talks) that rational discussion was impossible with Jews.
"There is a religion, I can hardly describe it differently, among most Jews that they are right." He also questioned the power of pro-Israel organisations in the United States describing it as "the best organised lobby that exists there". De Gucht comments are particularly significant given the EU is Israel's most important trading partner. It is the EU trade commissioner who would have to deal with the issue of Israel boycotts should, for instance, they become a major issue within the community or world trade politics.
When his remarks were reported by AP, de Gucht apologised and said he wanted to make clear, "antisemitism has no place in today's world".
At least de Gucht had the grace to recognise he had blundered. The same cannot be said for Sarrazin.
Confronted with the likelihood that the German president will formally sack him, he remains defiant.
Due to media scrutiny, both men have been outed, if not exiled, for their remarks. But it does expose the latent prejudice which still stalks the corridors of continental Europe.
Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail