Skip to comments.Is Angela Merkel good for Europe?
Posted on 09/21/2013 11:27:27 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
Is the German chancellor too cautious to run the EU's largest and strongest member state?
Polls suggest that more than 60% of Germans think that Angela Merkel is good for Germany. That is why she will be re-elected Chancellor of Germany in ten days' time. Few ask the question, least of all in Germany, whether Angela Merkel is good for Europe. Does she deserve and could she win similar poll ratings across the European Union?
The adjective most frequently applied to the chancellor is cautious. In recent times, she has attempted to stifle every significant issue that might threaten her re-election and, above all, the big-picture financial reforms carrying the risk of significant costs for Germany. Her re-election will bring immediate opportunities to clear policy log-jams that have been building up for months as the election approached. Most important of these is the completion of a banking union with a sensible approach to the restructuring of failing banks behind a wall of taxpayer protection.
Does Europe need a cautious leader running the largest and strongest member state? Or would Europe do better with a German leader less risk-averse and with a style capable of winning a sympathetic hearing across borders? Throughout the financial crisis, EU policy has followed events, and rarely mastered them. Merkel shares the blame with others for confused, uncertain and sometimes contradictory leadership. The European Commission wishes to be absolved of these charges. It believes that the euro was saved by Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, persistently snapping at the heels of Germany and the other members of the eurozone.
There is some evidence that Merkel was slow to recognise the gravity of the crisis and woke up only when she was made aware of the serious threat to the German banking system and to the stability of the eurozone as a whole. The orthodoxy of her subsequent responses has virtually guaranteed another term in the chancellery, but has still not steered the euro into a secure and safe harbour. Tax increases, spending cuts and surgical dismemberment of welfare policies as the price for bail-out aid has damaged the Union's standing across many countries and turned Merkel into a hate figure in some.
It is wrong to regard her as the sole architect of unpopular economic and welfare policies, but that is how she is seen. Eurosceptics and fervid rejectionists of integration are reaping menacing political rewards with their complaints that the EU was never intended to fall under German management and control. Inevitably, anti-German feeling is now stronger in some parts of Europe than it has been for 50 years. It is channelling support towards Eurosceptic parties in the Netherlands, France, the UK and quite possibly in Germany itself. The EU's legitimacy with its national populations has rarely been lower.
How could it have been different? The crisis required Merkel to accept a lone leadership role in Europe never before required of a German Chancellor. She clearly did not want it. As the largest and strongest economy deriving huge benefits from the single market, there was the risk of highlighting Germany's unavoidable responsibilities for bankrolling solutions to the crisis. Instead of drawing attention to Germany's financial support for new aid mechanisms created to help countries in trouble, she played this down at home and scarcely mentioned it abroad. She could have avoided much damage to Germany's reputation and Europe's standing if she had reached out to publics in the bail-out countries with sympathy and vision. The austerity foisted on Greece, Portugal and Ireland was largely unavoidable, but she could have authorised greater flexibility and allowed reforms to be spread over a longer timeframe.
This style of political leadership is no longer appropriate in the Union. It allows only partial solutions to the eurozone crisis and appears to care little for the evident decline in popular support for Europe. Some centralisation of economic and financial decision-making at the European level is needed to guarantee a sustainable future for the euro. But Merkel looks likely to maintain her opposition to mutualising responsibility for national debts in the eurozone even though most experts see no other long-term solution. She regards any such suggestion as encouraging and rewarding fiscal profligacy that will dump all of the big bills on the German taxpayer. She obviously has no confidence in the likely effectiveness of the new procedures and sanctions adopted in the past three years to establish and maintain tight budgetary disciplines in member states.
Europe needs a German chancellor capable of taking a much broader view of how the EU can better support the interests of all of its members and not Germany alone. It is an approach that needs to acknowledge that the diversity of our political cultures and traditions has to be accommodated in order to line up popular support behind common objectives.
Germany cannot deliver these objectives alone. But nothing will happen across a broad range of policies if Berlin does not offer leadership, not least on foreign and security policies as well as internal. Would Merkel's rival for the chancellery, SPD leader Peer Steinbruck, offer better prospects? He has disagreed with aspects of her handling of the financial crisis, but not on any matters of substance. He would be no better at a statecraft which recognises that a German chancellor must address EU-wide audiences and not solely German. Whatever the outcome of Germany's election, the poor quality of its leadership will remain the Union's critical problem.
-- John Wyles is an independent consultant based in Brussels.
She seems to be popular, but under her leadership Germany has not been the dominant power of Europe as it once was. Maybe it’s not her fault, but Germany has never regained the stature it had when the country was decided.
Decided = divided
The “Invisible Hand” applies (to a certain extent) to countries too. If each nation is acting in its own best interests*, then every nation can benefit.
If Germany always tried to put “Europe’s” interests first, then it would soon sink to the mediocre level of the whole Union, rather than being the economic powerhouse it is now. That wouldn’t help anyone there.
* “best interests” needs to be interpreted broadly, and includes long and short term considerations.