Merkel wants us in touch with our inner German housewife
ANALYSIS:EAGLE-EYED READERS will have made an unusual sighting in the letters pages of Tuesday’s edition of The Irish Times.
A reader from Avoca in Co Wicklow expressed her amazement that men needed a fiscal treaty to understand “good housekeeping with budgets – women have been doing this succesfully for years”.
This is the maxim of the Schwäbische Hausfrau, the thrifty Swabian housewife from southern Germany, a figure German chancellor Angela Merkel invokes every time she wants to silence the euro zone crisis cacophony.
Europe has been living beyond its means, she argues, and needs some thrifty Swabian housekeeping and financial common sense to balance budgets. Dr Merkel’s logic, codified in the fiscal treaty, is not far from Margaret Thatcher’s legendary put-down of socialism: eventually you run out of other people’s money.
Irish voters made their fiscal treaty choice on Thursday – either as an expression of agreement with what was being proposed or under the duress of the conditions attached to external financial assistance.
Critics say it does little to address the current crisis and, as proof, point to the fears over Spain’s banks. That, in turn, triggers another round of the Cassandra crisis chorus: what does Dr Merkel want?
There are two answers to this.
The easy answer is that “what does Dr Merkel want?” is the wrong question.
If politics is the art of the possible, Dr Merkel is its unchallenged master on today’s European stage. Throughout the crisis, the German leader has identified what was possible and reverse-engineered her demands to land on target.
Regardless of the issue – bailouts or boosting the bailout funds – the German leader adjusts her course, even initial resistance, to obviate the need for a U-turn.
The latest example involves calls for a growth agenda for Europe: Dr Merkel claims, somewhat disingenuously but not entirely incorrectly, that she has been calling for growth measures since January.
The point is this: what the lady wants is what she thinks she can get – and, then, usually on her terms. If what she thinks she can get shifts – for instance, a change in Europe’s political wind – she simply alters course and claims she always wanted that, while keeping her eye on a long-term path.
This leads to the second, longer answer about what Dr Merkel wants. When the German leader leaves the political stage, she wants to leave behind a European Union that is a real political union – a far more closely linked bloc than the crisis-wracked construct she inherited in 2005. The Germans have a word for it: krisenfest – crisis-proof.
Her officials say there are at least three stages to this process, the first of which is under way: adoption of a fiscal treaty rulebook to manage budgets in exchange for access to the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund, bankrolled largely by Berlin.