Maintaining Merkel Just a Bump in the Road

Most of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats voted for a third Greek bailout package, not because they endorse her position on more aid, but because they want her to retain power in the upcoming 2017 elections, writes Handelsblatt's co-editor in chief.
Merkel has the German people behind her.

The greatest chancellors of Germany's Christian Democratic party, the CDU, are typically characterized by a certain unflappability, and considered or consider their office as a sort of personal fiefdom.

Konrad Adenauer used to say: “What do I care about my blathering from yesterday?” To Helmut Kohl is attributed a kind of “dogs bark but the caravan rolls on” wisdom.  For her part, Germany's current chancellor, Angela Merkel, condenses crisis management into a single phrase: “no alternative.”

Now after the positive parliamentary vote on a third rescue package for Greece, the Merkel caravan is moving on. The decision in favor of the bailout was predictable because of the government's clear majority. The 454 "yes" votes versus 113 who said "no" was a bearable outcome for the chancellor.

The debate about the advisability of financial aid amounting to €86 billion for the problem child of the euro zone was overshadowed by the question of how many dissenters there would be this time in the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, and what that would mean for Angela Merkel's power.

With 63 votes against the bailout, the internal opposition stayed just within the confines of what has been the pattern in the past. There had been speculation beforehand about as many as 150 dissenters. This time, victory for the Merkel camp was defined by the fact that things weren't worse. 

The conclusion that can be drawn from the internal party conflict is that Machiavellianism triumphs over freedom of opinion. A significant number of parliamentarians, swayed by the gibberish of party discipline, most certainly ignored the headaches and queasy stomachs they felt at the thought of the Greek bailout.

The conservative party's decision on the Greek bailout is a strategic move to hold onto power in the medium term. It facilitates what is likely the last attempt to pay for debts with debts in the conflict over Greece.

And the outspoken political opponents, who otherwise delight in scoring points by castigating the supposedly incompetent Greeks, kept in mind that the head of the party must not be damaged by these decisions.

Everyone has an eye on the 2017 elections. Who else but Angela Merkel is capable of assuring votes and mandates for the CDU in two years' time? And how can she better accomplish that than by retaining her aura of consummate mastery of foreign and European policy? Such considerations have been voiced internally by CDU parliamentarians for a few weeks now.

The conservative party's decision on the Greek bailout is a strategic move to hold onto power in the medium term. It facilitates what is likely the last attempt to pay for debts with debts in the conflict over Greece.


Helping Greece What Germans Think 3-01


The advantages of the new package for the Europeans are that their currency union remains intact, the member countries are displaying solidarity (for many, a horribly old-fashioned word), speculations over which country could be the next to leave are quashed and, above all, Greece will undertake the reforms that have been being demanded all along.

That is what turned Germany's peevish finance minister Wolfgang Schaüble into an advocate of the loan to Greece. The insurgents lost their presumed figurehead, and Angela Merkel retains her competency in terms of framework directives. She must take care to preserve this important political capital for the looming refugee crisis rather than in the ongoing Aegean saga.

However, even after the vote for Ms. Merkel, questions remain.

Firstly, how, in subsidized Greece, will the hoped-for investment stimulus actually occur? Where are the growth boosters? There is an utter lack of a corresponding program. There is no talk, for instance, of promoting solar energy in Greece and purchasing it from there. Fiscal accounting is not everything. What is desperately needed is a trade surplus, far more than a “primary surplus” in the budget.

Secondly, what will become of the protective escort provided to date by the International Monetary Fund, the IMF? A decision is scheduled for sometime this fall. The earlier the choice is made by IMF experts to continue their support, the better.

Thirdly, how will the domestic political situation in Greece develop; which party will form the government after the anticipated new elections? And after all the mutual insults and injuries of the first Syriza months, how will relations be among officials in Athens, Brussels, Paris and Berlin? Radical reforms require moderation and motivation. Where is the communication and understanding regarding difficult issues like, for example, the crimes of German soldiers in Greece during the Second World War?

Whoever believes that the pro-bailout decision means the Greek project has been checked off the list is woefully mistaken. The work has just begun. Germans are also nervous over this issue, but they have patience with only one major protagonist: Angela Merkel.


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