Finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble was Kohl's most loyal deputy, a man who had been considered his almost inevitable successor until he was shot by a psychopath and partially paralysed in 1990. He has been assigned the job of squaring the circle — reconciling Germany's economic with its political interests. On the one hand, Schäuble is a dedicated — one could almost say abject — believer in the ideals of the European Union. There is a certain type of eurocrat who believes the EU is entitled to collect Germany's debt to humanity on humanity's behalf, and Schäuble is the German politician such people would find most sympathetic. You would never hear him complain, as Kohl's Social Democratic successor Gerhard Schröder did in the 1990s, that Brussels had "frittered away" good German money.
On the other hand, Schäuble's view of economics is roughly in line with German orthodoxy. When I visited the finance ministry in 2010 I was told, "You won't find many Keynesians here," and the minister's philosophy has become more solidly grounded as the crisis has endured. (An aide who was present at Schäuble's meetings with George Osborne in London last October was struck by the similarities in the two ministers' economic philosophies. Both have absorbed the lessons laid out in Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff's history of financial crises, This Time Is Different, and both believe in "Ricardian equivalence", the idea that trying to stimulate an economy with borrowed money can backfire because people will store money away to pay for inevitable tax hikes. So negotiations over the bailouts have been a schizophrenic affair for Schäuble — a war between his willingness to give the store away diplomatically and his unwillingness to move an inch economically. But the two sides, as we have said, are not evenly matched. The early stages of German negotiations with Europe were marked by an opposition to eurobonds in fact — to any kind of shared responsibility for the southern countries' debt. But especially after Kohl's pronouncement last summer, and after europhile members of the CDU, notably Jürgen Ruttgers and Elmar Brok from North Rhine Westphalia, challenged Merkel and Schäuble internally, there has been a subtle shift. Germany now objects to eurobonds in name, but has shown itself amenable to taking responsibility for others' debts.
This is Merkel's compromise. Germany is in a position where it is going to haemorrhage either cash or sovereignty. The government has decided it would rather haemorrhage sovereignty. Voters will notice it less. They get to accumulate money in the short term. The EU gets to accumulate sovereignty in the long term. Everyone is happy. But the arrangement is tenable only so long as it costs taxpayers no money. The assumption on which it is based is challenged by the Greek bailout and default deal.
There are plenty of people who would like to see Germany bound more closely into a European government. Ulrike Guérot, a political analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations, professed herself delighted when Angela Merkel promised to campaign for Nicolas Sarkozy in his bid to be re-elected France's president. (Merkel was reportedly infuriated when Sarkozy's Socialist opponent, François Hollande, threatened to renegotiate the European treaties negotiated in Brussels in December, the ones David Cameron initially blocked.) Guérot described as "completely out-dated" the notion that Merkel is infringing on France's sovereign space by claiming a role in choosing its leader. This is a natural function of the transfer of political power from a national to a continental level, she believes, the sign of the Europeanisation of politics.
But not all Germans view matters in quite the same way. There are signs of a desire for more radical change. Two years ago, the race to elect Germany's largely ceremonial president, usually a humdrum affair, turned into a national obsession. Joachim Gauck, an anti-Communist Lutheran pastor and former East German dissident who has curated the files of the Stasi, roused the passions of Left and Right and nearly upset the former CDU governor Christian Wulff, chancellor Merkel's handpicked candidate. Wulff won only because Die Linke — the Left party, successor to the East German Communists — refused to support Gauck.
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