Merkel meets ghosts of the spendthrift German past
Three encounters put the German chancellor’s budgetary zeal into perspective, writes DEREK SCALLYin Berlin
THIS WEEK Angela Merkel paid tribute to three politicians who all learned to their cost not to underestimate her. Though very different characters, the three are the kind of politician that, her critics say, Angela Merkel will never be.
The first was Edmund Stoiber, the 70-year-old ex-leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian sister party of the larger Christian Democratic Union (CDU). He elbowed Merkel aside to take on chancellor Gerhard Schröder in the 2002 general election.
Merkel had her revenge when Stoiber lost – narrowly – and was ousted from power. Launching his autobiography in Berlin on Tuesday, she and Stoiber joked about their endless fights and one particularly bitter row over healthcare fees.
“Even today I was, rationally speaking, 100 per cent right,” said Merkel. But in hindsight, she said Stoiber had shown a better sense for what Germans would accept. It was a rare acknowledgement of fallibility from Merkel: in politics you can be right and still be wrong.
On Wednesday she attended the 70th birthday celebration for finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, whom she infamously shafted 12 years ago for his involvement in a fundraising scandal in their Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
When asked about their relationship today Schäuble, the man who might otherwise have been chancellor, said Merkel enjoys his full loyalty but will never have his friendship.
In a birthday speech Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund and former French finance minister, said: “Europe has a heart and it beats in Wolfgang Schäuble. May it beat for many years to come.”
Schäuble was visibly delighted, fully aware that no one has ever tried such European flattery on the German leader seated beside him.
Merkel’s final rendezvous on Thursday evening was her most challenging: marking the 30th anniversary of Helmut Kohl’s rise to power in Bonn.
Four years ago, the 82-year-old suffered a fall and a stroke. Since then he has been wheelchair- bound and has had difficulty speaking. His physical decline and the passage of time have softened party hearts hardened by the CDU’s 1999 illegal fundraising scandal and his refusal to name names of donors.
This week the ruling CDU rehabilitated its former leader and bathed in the reflected glory of his legacy as the father of German and European unification. But not everyone in Germany is feeling magnanimous. One news magazine mentioned the unmentionable on its front cover, asking: “Is Helmut Kohl to blame for the euro crisis?” It reflected the views of a growing eurosceptic conservative class that blames Kohl for agreeing to European monetary union, without real political and fiscal union, at the 1996 Dublin summit.