The price of Merkel’s pragmatism

Where is Europe heading? This question has not only remained open in the Bundestag election campaign. Even the most important and experienced politician in the EU, Chancellor Angela Merkel, failed to provide an answer.

No wonder, she was fully occupied with crisis management – and she did it very well, according to Brussels.

Yet the Chancellor was responsible for the crises lasting longer and becoming more expensive than necessary. In Greece, with the refugees and most recently with Corona.

She relied first on national answers and often only feigned a “European solution”. Even after the Brexit in 2016, she did not correct the course.

When French President Emmanuel Macron gave his famous Sorbonne speech in 2017 to launch a “renaissance” together with Merkel, the chancellor gave him the cold shoulder.

Again, the nation was more important than a European vision. Once again, pragmatism was writ large and strategic thinking small. Yet a redefinition is overdue. A look back shows this.

When Merkel came to power, Germany was still committed to the Constitutional Treaty, the EU was to be expanded into a federation. She had also inherited the mandate from Kohl to build a “political union” to “complete” the monetary union.

But none of this has been implemented. Merkel did develop the Lisbon Treaty, which enshrines the goal of “ever closer union”. But she did not act on it, the EU states are drifting apart, the “political union” is more distant today than 20 years ago.

Europe has become more German, but Germany has not become more European

Europe has become more German, but Germany has not become more European, as the election campaign shows. The EU has got new institutions, with many German heads – but that does not make it function any better, as the Corona crisis proves.

Merkel never said where all this should lead, she was an administrator of the status quo. She has not given direction, she has not laid out a plan, she is not inscribing herself in a “grand narrative” of Europe and its future.

If anything, she has declared her course negatively. “If the euro fails, then Europe fails” was Merkel’s most important slogan for a long time. This was not motivating, on the contrary: it gave the impression that the EU is permanently on the brink.

German leadership also entails more responsibility and higher costs

But Merkel did not explain why Europe must not fail. That Germany benefits more than average from the EU and the euro, and that German leadership also entails more responsibility and higher costs – not a word.

Merkel has driven by sight, without vision for the nation and for Europe. Her successors will no longer be able to afford this. They will have to explain where the journey is going – and they will have to bear even higher costs.

For the price of the Merkel era and its failures, that is already clear, will be high – also for Germany. The overly pragmatic chancellor has left behind so many construction sites and mortgages that we will still be thinking of her in 2050.

And not only in climate policy…

Translated with (free version) The original post (in German) is here.