From austerity to solidarity? German discourse about common debt during the Eurocrisis and the Covid-19 pandemic



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Tartu Ülikool


In the wake of unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the European Union member states collectively agreed on introducing common debt in 2020. In light of Germany’s pivotal role for the agreement, this thesis explores Germany’s policy shift from opposing collective borrowing during the eurocrisis a decade ago to endorsing common debt as a unified response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Using discursive institutionalism, the study introduces two variables: the status-quo bias of decision-makers and persuasion in discourse. Focusing on the two initial periods during both crises, the discourse in Germany is analyzed following a comparative research design. Critical Interpretive Synthesis and Critical Discourse Analysis are applied to examine scholarly articles and interviews, speeches, statements, position papers and newspaper editorials. The empirical analysis reveals that fewer different ideas for a common European policy response were presented in the German discourse during the Covid-19 pandemic compared to the eurocrisis. This prevented choice overload, weakening the status-quo bias of decision-makers and facilitating policy change in form of introducing common debt. Further, results show that proponents of collective borrowing discursively aligned the policy outcome of common debt with the ideas of opposed actors during the Covid-19 pandemic, but not the eurocrisis. Employing this strategy increased the persuasion of proposals for common debt. The thesis concludes that Germany’s policy shift is a result of a weaker status-quo bias of decision-makers and increased persuasion by proponents of common debt. The presentation of novel insights into the mechanisms and factors that determine how ideas and discourse influence policy-making provides an alternative explanation to account for policy continuity and change. For policy-makers, the findings come with valuable implications by demonstrating opportunities to strategically alter the status-quo bias of decision-makers and increase the own persuasiveness in discourse. Study limitations in comparability, transferability and causality provide points of departure for further research.