German divisions over Greek approach

Merkel and Schäuble are still insisting they are in complete harmony

German chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the Protestant Church Congress Kirchentag in Stuttgart. Photograph: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

German chancellor Angela Merkel during her visit to the Protestant Church Congress Kirchentag in Stuttgart. Photograph: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters

 

Spokesmen for Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble were sent out yesterday with outright denials of any rift over Greece between the German chancellor and her finance minister. The two are in complete harmony, we are reliably informed.

At issue was a report in the mass-circulation Bild which said Schäuble was upset at unscheduled late-night talks in Berlin on Monday at which Merkel discussed the fate of Greece with French president François Hollande and other luminaries including IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

Whatever about the denials, Bild cast Schäuble in thoroughly uncompromising mode, saying that the meeting was a “solo number by the lady” and that “Merkel is letting them take her to the cleaners”.

The “them”, presumably, is the Greek government, which has deferred a big IMF payment as it fights hard for a new new round of bailout funds from its reluctant creditors.

As a result, real doubt persists over the viability of Greece’s participation in the euro. In Bild’s account, Schäuble believes a softening of the euro’s rulebook is more likely to lead to the currency’s failure than a “Grexit” per se.

By contrast, the argument goes that Merkel is more likely to view a repudiation of Greek membership as a drastic setback in the sweep of European history and integration.

The balance of opinion on each side is likely to be much more nuanced than that. However, fruitless talks with the recalcitrant Greeks seem now to be careering towards the point at which a choice will have to be made between hardliners who would dare Greece to defy her creditors and the softliners who would cower at the very thought.

There are many in both camps – within Germany and beyond.

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