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Monday, April 29, 2013

Sorry - who are you again? The rather indifferent German response to French socialists' attack on Merkel

Who wears the trousers?
On Friday Le Monde got a big scoop with the news that French President Hollande’s Socialist party had drafted a strongly worded paper criticising Angela Merkel and her focus on austerity, accusing her amongst other things of “selfish intransigence”. It’s not exactly news that all was not well with the ‘Franco-German motor’ but still pretty explosive stuff and we were keenly anticipating what the German response would be. 

However, even taking into account the number of caveats (not an official policy document etc.) this reaction was pretty muted, both in terms of the media and politicians (in contrast the story was still on the front page of Le Figaro today). Most of the main German papers ran the story online, only setting out the basic facts (e.g. HandelsblattSüddeutsche, Tagesspiegel), and noting it represented a struggle between moderates and radicals within the party. However the Welt write-up included a bit of editorial comment:
“As unemployment in France rises ever higher, just like the budget deficit, while President Francois Hollande’s popularity falls ever lower, the breakout attempts of the governing socialists become increasingly desperate.” 
Bild, which normally isn't shy of stirring up controversy looks to have completely ignored the issue at least online – although it did strike back by reporting on a French comic strip mocking Hollande. FAZ, which can usually be relied upon to come down like a ton of bricks on anything smacking of fiscal irresponsibility, also didn't give the story that much coverage, although its co-publisher Günther Nonnenmacher had a rather wistful piece in which he claimed that that it was symptomatic of the way Germany was becoming increasingly isolated in Europe. This was also the tone adopted by two retired SPD politicians who had a guest piece in Süddeutsche in which they argued that:
“There are markers that some German will react [to this foreign criticism] as was standard in the days of the Weimar republic. We may fall into a spiral of snivelling self-indulgence and coming increasingly into conflict with a justified criticism from outside. Instead let us try to understand why others are reacting how they are reacting.”
Likewise the response from politicians was quite muted, with few senior coalition politicians speaking out although the SPD’s former foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused Merkel herself of having strained Franco-German relations.

So what does this tell us? Well clearly the German media and politicians are unusually introspective and cautious not to stir a nationalistic argument, but that’s hardly news. More interestingly is the degree of relative indifference.

This speaks volumes about the changing power balance between the two countries.


Anonymous said...

Dear openeurope,

could you please do an article on the so called austerity in the EU/Eurozone. The Kingdom of Spain, for instance, has increased its public spending (according to Maastricht criteria) by approx. 20 percent since 2007. That's an increase of more than 3 percent per year. In fact none of the Eurozone countries has reduced its spending.

So any politician that blames anything on the harsh austerity measures obviously has no clue what (s)he is talking about and yet, (s)he assumes that deficit spending will make things better.

Anonymous said...

The euro is doomed without french cooperation...make no mistake, the French created it... If they dis-agree with Germany, Europe will split and that's not good...

However i still hope for the best...!

David Horton said...

If I were the French, I’d be a little bit more pleasant to Frau Merkel.

Merkel is keeping the EU dream alive with regular vast contributions, courtesy of the German taxpayer.

I am vehemently opposed to Britain’s continued membership of the EU in its current incarnation. And if it can’t (or refuses to) change to a simpler, cheaper more EEC-like model, then we should leave them to it. Immediately.

Nevertheless, you have to take your hat off to the German government and people. They pay hand over fist to prop up the PIIGS and others and all they get in return is vitriol for being efficient and prosperous. Ludicrous and I cannot understand why the Germans haven’t become wholly exasperated with the attitude of these other countries and cut the PIIGS (and the French) loose.

The un-Germanic attitude displayed by the Germans is an interesting study, but I hope that their patience has a horizon. I can’t imagine that Berlin will put up with soaring government expenditure, institutional and socially acceptable tax dodging for much longer. You can only throw so much good money after so much bad.

And when the Germans finally do admit defeat and announce that they are closing the treasure chest, the EU will have hit a very big iceberg.

“Women and children and those countries with their own currency first…”

Anonymous said...

Soluções politicas partilhadas da França e da Alemanha e não marginalizando a Comissão Europeia