Photo by Tobias Koch (Wikimedia Commons)
Merkel and Schäuble
This week there has been a lot of talk about Angela Merkel's problems expressing emotion after she was filmed clumsily stroking a Palestinian girl because she couldn't think of anything to say. For me, the scandal was compounded by the fact that there are other people she has been showing affection to for too long. For example, Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, who has been getting too many free strokes from his boss in the last few months. It's time she turned a bit more of the tough love she has for asylum seekers and the Greek people onto her old CDU rival.
Now the wily dog is even suggesting he might resign if Merkel doesn't let him ruin Greece. She has handed him all the initiative and the momentum, allowing him to bring Greece's exit from the Eurozone onto the table – which, he admitted to Der Spiegel, was against her wishes, and which is likely to further discourage any company from ever investing in Greece ever again.
Many people have pointed out that Greece is a bit like East Germany in 1990. This great piece paints a picture: "East Germans had just held their first free elections in history, only months after the Berlin Wall fell, and some of the delegates from East Berlin dreamed of a new political system, a ‘third way’ between the West’s market economy and the East's socialist system – while also having no idea how to pay the bills anymore."
But then Schäuble – who was Helmut Kohl's interior minister in 1990 and negotiated the treaty unifying Germany – said no, East Germany has to "balance its books". So Germany sold off East Germany's assets to pay for keeping the country afloat. It sounded like a really good idea – I mean, it's sensible to spend no more than you're earning, right? The only problem was that it meant that thousands of people lost their jobs, ended up on benefits, and the country had to be bailed out with 100 billion DM anyway. Meanwhile, the German government had to introduce the Solidarity Tax to keep the former East from dying, which every German taxpayer still pays today. The state's books may be balanced, but only because the taxpayer has to make up the shortfall. Schäuble's mantra is making people poorer.
Now the same mantra is being applied to Greece – with the difference that Greece is not part of Germany and German taxpayers would, I'm guessing, probably not be in favour of a solidarity tax to help the Greek state out. The Bild newspaper ran a headline last week, when the initial deal was struck after that all-nighter in Brussels, saying Merkel was "saving Greece with our money". In fact, Germany is only guaranteeing the emergency loans that the ECB and the IMF are paying Greece (Greece can only use these loans to pay off other loans, not to help the Greek economy, so they will only put Greece deeper in debt).
The madness is that the German taxpayer will only have to pay to help Greece directly if Greece goes bankrupt – which would definitely happen if no debt restructuring happens and if Greece is pushed out of the euro – the very thing that Schäuble is trying to make happen. And yet Bild, and the majority of Germans, support Schäuble's plan. It makes no sense. I feel like crying now. Do I get a stroke?