Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Merkel's Gains in Brussels

Here's a cogent wrap-up, from The Economist's "Charlemagne's Notebook" blog, of the EU economic governance summit that ended late last week in Brussels. Among the demands presented, German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued for -- and won qualified concessions -- for a reopening of certain economic contours held in the landmark 2009 Treaty of Lisbon.

Merkel emerged as the clear winner -- and, it seems, one of the most effective national leaders in the Union.  This is certainly true when compared with Herman Van Rompuy, whom the article insinuates as a kind of EU pipsqueak, out of his depth in the EU's play-for-keeps attitude among the Continent's heavies such as Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron. The blogpost's takeaway is as follows:

 “I AM on the whole quite satisfied with the decision.” With these modest words, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, rounded off a remarkable victory at the end of a bruising European summit that concluded today.

Less than a fortnight ago, members of the European Union were universally opposed to Germany’s demand to reopen the EU’s treaties to strengthen the means of maintaining fiscal discipline among members of the euro zone. But within days of winning over Nicolas Sarkozy to her cause at the Deauville summit on October 18th, she got everyone to sign up to the idea of a “limited treaty change”. By the slow-moving standards of the EU, this happened in an eye-blink. It is a testament to the authority of Mrs Merkel, as well as the power of Germany’s constitutional court in Karlsruhe.

“Everybody was very sensitive to Mrs Merkel’s persuasive arguments,” is how one national diplomat put it. “Bullying,” said another. Whether by persuasion or compulsion, Mrs Merkel secured her main objective: agreement to amend the EU treaty to allow the creation of a “permanent crisis mechanism” to resolve the debt of countries that may be hit by a Greek-style crisis in future.

This means creating a bail-out fund similar to the €750 billion IMF-backed temporary financing facility that was created in May, imposing tough conditions on any country that taps it in future and making bondholders take some of the pain of saving insolvent countries. “The burden must never again be borne simply and only by the taxpayer,” she declared." (...)

This may turn out to be a baby step toward tighter EU integration, at a time when member states can hardly maneuver otherwise -- and would hardly choose to do so in sunnier times. Once the tight belt of the recession loosens, we'll see which European country strains for more room to breathe. 

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