Angela Merkel

What is at stake with the euro crisis is nothing less than a redefinition of Europe. What a European project needs in such a situation is debate and contestation about its fate. It is her effort to avoid this debate which makes Angela Merkel the Flop European of this issue.

A new type of politician

From Adenauer to Kohl, German politics was characterised by a clear commitment to European integration and most importantly by clear visions for Europe, a clear European policy.

With Angela Merkel a new kind of politician is leading the German government like we have never seen before. It would be false to claim that Merkel is not pro-European and it would not quite hit the nail on the head to say that she is not as pro-European as her predecessors. For sure, not being pro-European would not make her a Flop European.

Europe is not her arena

In turn, the dangerous thing about Merkel is that she simply has no European policy and tries to keep the issue at the lowest possible tone. To put it bluntly, for Merkel there are only two worlds: one is domestic and one is international – none is European.

Domestic politics is Merkel's favourite arena, it is her big strength and it is the arena in which she does not avoid debate and contestation (for instance, with her claim for no higher taxation).

Merkel advances a void concept and anti-contests issues. She reaches consensus not by gathering as many but by repelling as little people as possible.

In contrast, international politics for Merkel is a “nice weather” domain. If there is a summit she can lead, she will do it. If she can welcome the Dalai Lama at her office to set a sign for human rights, she will do it. Yet, apart from the issues which she can be sure will receive consensus in her constituency, Merkel does not dare to set any topics.

Merkel's failure in the current crisis

In the Greece crisis it became extremely apparent that, in Merkel's dichotomous world, European politics falls under international politics - the “nice weather” domain.

Merkel's position was that help for Greece would be helpful, but not necessary. This was her version of the problem from February to April. She believed that she did not have to say anything about a possible German debt guarantee, hoping that Greece would manage to cope with the markets on its own. In contrast, it was the domestic arena that Merkel was concerned about, the mid-term elections in Germany's biggest constituent state, North Rhine-Westphalia, and the voters' views on a German present of billions to Greece.

Photo: Council of the European Union
Now see who's blurring: the fact that Merkel avoids clear and crisp statements on Europe is detrimental to European democracy.

When helping Greece became necessary, parts of the German opposition voted with the government for the bail-out package. There were embarrassing moments when the Green opposition leader, Renate Künast, had to explain and defend the bail-out package for Greece in the German media, while the government remained silent. Merkel failed to justify her own politics to her nation.

Merkel, born to a Protestant priest in the former Democratic Republic of Germany, is a child of European integration. Without the remarkable events of 1989/1990 and the European and German unification projects in the 1990s, her life would have taken a totally different course. It is remarkable that this personal background did not make any difference for Merkel in the current crisis. In her recent state of the nation address in parliament, she retreated to sweeping general statements about Europe instead of openly and confidently standing up with her politics.

Merkel's harm to European democracy

With her behaviour in the Greece crisis, Merkel has done much harm to European democracy. German voters still wonder: was Merkel really for the bail-out package? Or was she blackmailed by France, whose banks had large investments in Greece? Was she obliged by her finance minister, who was publicly in favour of the package? The question of accountability is central to democracy, but Merkel avoids facing it when it comes to Europe.

Instead, what we now need are clear and therefore accountable visions. Jean-Claude Juncker has offered one by publicly calling for a European economic government. Merkel, in contrast, advances a void concept and anti-contest issues. She reaches consensus not by gathering as many but by repelling as few people as possible. Yet, Europe needs contestation. We need pro-Europeans, and anti-Europeans, federalists, and advocates of a Europe á la carte. The citizens of Europe deserve to have choices – clear ones. In this respect, an EU-sceptic such as David Cameron with strong views on Europe is much more helpful for European democracy than the uninspired Chancellor from Germany who does not dare to fight for her position but who seems instead to hope that her position on Europe remains blurred. How long can a democratically-deficient Europe afford such leaders?

Cover illustration: Laura Hempel

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