Once hailed as the undisputed Queen of Europe, Angela Merkel presided over the bleakest Cabinet session of her career yesterday as the German political world pondered whether she could survive the crisis of the Greek bailout. The Cabinet, tired and washed out, nodded through a state guarantee of at least €123 billion (£106 billion) as Germany’s contribution to the EU and eurozone’s unprecedented €500 billion bail-out fund.
Ministers then tried to persuade their parties, the Christian Democrats (CDU) and Free Democrats (FDP), to support the new aid package in preparation for its submission when it is submitted to parliament next week. Some backbenchers have signalled that they could mutiny while the opposition Social Democrats say that they will only approve it if the Government simultaneously introduces a Bill clipping the wings of the financial sector . . .
Furthermore, Mrs Merkel has to contend with a fractious Cabinet weakened by illness and plotting. She has had to stand by and watch as the European Central Bank surrendered some of its independence to politicians. The Sunday night session in Brussels burnt many bridges: President Sarkozy of France exposed the isolation of Germany instead of building on the fabled and now largely defunct Berlin-Paris axis; and the euro lost credibility.
“It is becoming ever more difficult to believe in the Euro-project,” said the respected conservative commentator Joerg Eigendorf. “A triple debacle for the Chancellor,” said Die Welt, referring to her election setback, the euro-deal struck in Brussels and her declining authority.
“Becoming”? Eigendorf’s choice of word is eloquent testimony to the intellectual bankruptcy of Germany’s political class.
The Times concludes:
The circle around Ms Merkel has shrunk. Her suspicions about the outside world have grown and her propensity to dither, to delay decisions, once seen benignly as a sign of mature leadership, is now viewed by her critics as serious liability. According to American reports, it took a telephone call from President Obama to Chancellor Merkel, who was in Moscow for end-of-war anniversary celebrations on Sunday, to abandon her caution and embrace a bigger rescue package. A strange way to run Europe, say Ms Merkel’s critics but one that reflects the present poor quality of EU leadership.
That’s too harsh. Merkel is not an inherently weak leader. A tough-minded and clever authoritarian who skilfully navigated her way through the intricacies of East German society, then elbowed her way to the top of the CDU, she may be cautious, but she is neither a pushover nor (usually) indecisive. The problem is that Merkel is being torn apart by the contradictions of the position in which she has placed herself, trapped between her belief in the euro and her need to answer to an electorate that — a decade or so too late — is beginning to realize what that project really means.