The political fallout of the Greek crisis is hovering like a dark cloud over Europe. Germany - Deutschland - over all, over Europe. It marks the end of the European Dream.
Does anyone remember what that dream was?
For me, a United States of Europe is not the same thing as a United States of America. I never expected the same convergence: on the contrary, every European country's national identity - its History, its customs, its language - should be fully respected. And maintained within the Union. What I wanted was a convergence of a different order: a common foreign policy to promote European values and a common social policy (unemployment coverage, pension and health systems), giving the same benefits and same protection to every European citizen, no matter where he or she was born in the Union.
Most people don't see the European Dream in such big terms. Sure, they will refer to History, to the terrible two World Wars that shook the 20th century. And they will respond that a United Europe was supposed to put an end to all wars. Ok, I buy that, but it's a restrictive answer - a United Europe should have achieved much more than avoiding another war between France and Germany. It should have spread a respect for human rights worldwide. Now, the only organization left with that task is the United Nations. What a pity that the EU is about to miss its call to take its place in History!
On a more mundane level, most people, if asked what are the advantages of the EU in their lives, after grumbling about the useless bureaucracy in Brussels spewing out reams of ridiculous rules and regulations, will respond: traveling without having to go through customs or change money.
Yes, back to the Euro and the special role it was supposed to play.
The Euro was supposed to be the tool for helping European countries mired in nationalism to take the final jump to federation, to a European Union not in name as it is now, but in fact. A real union where considerations of national sovereignty are set aside in favor of the common good.
The Euro - born with one leg, the monetary one (yes, there is a European Central Bank) - was supposed to "push" Eurozone partners into an ever closer union by forcing them to converge on adopting a common fiscal policy and creating a common European Treasury - the indispensable second leg of any currency worth its name.
We saw what happened instead (see my previous posts for the technical details - here I want to focus on the political aspects).
If Europe is dying today, Germany is to blame. And one German man in particular: Wolfgang Schaueble, the Finance minister.
After having agreed with his partners, the finance ministers in the Eurogroup,to a proposal to continue negotiating on a Greek bailout, Mr. Schaueble appeared to go back on his word and has had the gall to suggest - and he did so several times, in particular before the German Parliament had to approve the bailout deal, presumably his attempt to sway it to give a negative vote - that Greece should consider exiting the Euro.
Who is he kidding? A Grexit would mark a watershed in European politics and he knows it. What is worse, is that the German Chancellor has covered her finance minister. Under normal circumstances, Ms. Merkel should either show the door to Mr. Schaueble or tell him very publicly to shut up. But she can't. She is a political animal and knows that Mr. Schaueble is more popular than she is, no doubt as a result of his strong stance on austerity and call for "Euro rules", i.e. his rules - squashing Greece like a bug.
But he is also squashing Europe like a bug. For the first time, Germany has shown its true nationalistic colors. And it has made clear that European integration is no longer in its national interest, it feels so strong that it can do without.
Here in Italy, people are growing concerned. They ask themselves, after Greece, why not Spain, Portugal, Italy?
One of the major Italian magazines, l'Espresso, had a very telling cover:
What the cover says (my translation):
Above Schaueble's picture:
"The Boss of Europe"
"This man is scary. He scares us too. The German super-minister of finance Wolfang Schaueble has imposed his law on the EU, humiliating Greece. And now Italy too fears his rigour."
And the article inside promises to tell us who this man really is.
I've mentioned before that I believe there is something odd in the unflinching support Angela Merkel gives to her finance minister. Particularly since he was tainted twenty years ago in the famous CDU (Christian Democratic Party) donations funding scandal.
And here I found the beginning of an answer.
If what L'Espresso says is right, Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schaueble's relationship is steeped in murky waters.
Helmut Kohl, the German Chancellor at the time of German reunification, picked out Angela Merkel among young promising female politicians coming in from Eastern Germany, as the first East German representative in his government.
But Schaueble is the one who promoted her to CDU Secretary General.
Then, when the CDU funding scandal explodes in 1999, it is sweet Angela Merkel who revealed everything in a damning op-ed article accusing Kohl and published in the "Faz" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a major paper in Germany). That article was a ghastly back stab that killed off not only Kohl's career but also Schaueble's and marked the rise of Merkel's own career.
However something happens. When she became Chancellor in 2005, she offered the ministry of Interior and then of Finance to Schaueble.
Why? Maybe because ten years before, she had been made Secretary General of the party by Schaueble, the first stepping stone in her career. She is a woman who remembers her friends. Though, according to the Espresso, they are not such close friends. They did once go to the movies together but without Schaueble's wife. As to Kohl, he must have known where the music was coming from all along: at Schaueble's 70th birthday (he is 72 now), he didn't turn up while Angela Merkel did...
And Schaueble has recently become famous for fighting with Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank. Nobody has ever fought with Draghi, he is the smooth, cool, composed central banker par excellence. Yet Schaueble managed to do the unthinkable, they both got so hot under the collar when discussing the Greek bailout, that Schaueble exclaimed "don't take me for a fool!" and the head of the Eurogroup had to suspend the meeting to let participants cool off.
|Draghi and Schaueble at the Eurogroup meeting that discussed the Greek Bailout (source of photo: here)|
The cause of the fight? It seems that Draghi was simply arguing that a Grexit would open the door to Russia and let it put a foot in the EU. In my view, not just Russia but China too. Whatever the exact cause of their squabble, you can see Schaueble at his best in the above photo: he really dislikes Draghi, if he could kill with his eyes, he would.
Draghi is surviving - his smile says as much - but can Europe survive?