THE GERMAN chancellor, Angela Merkel, has come in for a scolding from Joschka Fischer, the former foreign minister, for her response to the global financial crisis. He blasts her for focusing too much on the national interest in recent weeks, and in the process, thinks she has foresaken the chance for Germany to play a broader leadership role. According to the Financial Times, he is not alone in his worries:
Mr Fischer’s criticism echoes concern across Europe that Germany, once the most influential European Union member state in shaping EU policies, has become introverted and acted selfishly by initially blocking French calls for a co-ordinated European response to the financial crisis.
Though Ms Merkel has faced little criticism at home for her handling of the financial crisis and her opinion ratings remain high, there is discontent within her Christian Democratic Union at the fiscal package, which many MPs see as too modest.
“Both Nicolas Sarkozy [the French president] and Gordon Brown [British prime minister] have made more decisive contributions,” said Mr Fischer. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the French proposals are the right ones. We don’t need a new protectionism, but only to say ‘no’ is not enough.
“Through its crisis management, Germany has given the impression that Europe’s largest economy is now acting purely nationally. This is a big concern because the economic crisis will put the European project, including the euro, at risk.”
A government spokesman rejects the criticism, saying that Mrs Merkel has been working “behind the stage” as a unifying force in Europe.
Mr Fischer’s criticism (which should be taken with a dose of salt ahead of an election year in Germany) highlights the intriguing role-playing by European leaders at the moment. The hyperactive Mr Sarkozy and seemingly reinvigorated Mr Brown are publicly leading the response to the crisis in what they want us to believe is broad agreement. The leadership roles seem obvious to many: one’s country holds the rotating EU presidency, and the other oversees Europe’s biggest financial hub. A European advisor on financial reform proposals says privately, though, that “under the table, there are serious differences between the British delegation and the French and German delegations.” In other words, no one has entirely abandoned their national interests. A fellow contributor to this blog also alludes to the lack of unanimity behind closed doors.
The discussion is playing out as final preparations are made for the G20 financial summit in Washington at the end of this week. Gideon Rachman, for one, suggests that with developing nations like China and Brazil joining the Washington talks, “the more voices around the table at Bretton Woods II – and the more equality there is between them – the harder it will be to reach agreement.” In his view, success has more to do with US leadership (which will be hard to achieve with a lame-duck president as host) than Europe’s position. He’s predicting the talks will flop.
Nonetheless, it seems worth asking: Is Mr Fischer’s criticism justified? And if so, is it too late for Mrs Merkel to forge a more assertive role in response to the crisis?
Economist.com, November 11th