Skip to main content

Opinion: Angela Merkel's real nightmare

By Almut Moeller, special to CNN
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Sat June 30, 2012
Angela Merkel has been focused on helping to solve the euro crisis -- but now faces a re-election battle at home.
Angela Merkel has been focused on helping to solve the euro crisis -- but now faces a re-election battle at home.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Angela Merkel's mantra over the last two years has been 'There is no alternative'
  • German Chancellor has been committed to helping to solve the euro crisis
  • The 'no alternative' idea is unpopular in Germany, where many are fed up of the issue
  • Merkel now has to face the fight for re-election in 2013

Editor's note: Almut Moeller is director of the Alfred von Oppenheim Centre for European Policy Studies at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP). Her recent publications include "Germany as Viewed by Other EU Member States" covering EU members such as Greece, Poland, Spain, Italy, Finland, the United Kingdom, and France.

Berlin (CNN) -- There Is No Alternative: This has been Angela Merkel's mantra over the last two years; a phrase that the German chancellor frequently used to organize support within her government and in the German parliament for increasingly unpopular rescue measures helping euro countries hit by the crisis.

So far, it has worked out okay. But Angela Merkel will have to put her European policy to the German electorate in general elections next year. This should have been her biggest concern when she left Brussels for Berlin on Friday afternoon.

Part of the domestic deal so far has been the assurance that Germany is in charge of shaping the rules of the game; rules that would guarantee none of the countries receiving financial assistance happily went on spending and increasing their sovereign debt levels.

The fiscal treaty signed in March 2012 served as the proof for the Merkel government of Berlin imposing its ideas of a "stability union" on its fellow eurozone members.

Almut Moeller is the director of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies in Berlin.
Almut Moeller is the director of the Alfred von Oppenheim Center for European Policy Studies in Berlin.

When Merkel set off to Brussels for the European Council meeting on Thursday, she knew she would be confronted with another "T. I. N. A." that she would have to put to the Bundestag the next day. But this time, it was not made in Germany.

Merkel had met with her Spanish, French and Italian counterparts in Rome last week to prepare for the Brussels summit, so of course it did not come as a surprise that Monti and Rajoy refused to leave the negotiating table without deciding on major steps. The eurozone is now set to move towards a more flexible handling of the EFSF/ESM mechanisms to stabilize bond markets, and to allow for the ESM to recapitalize banks directly.

Merkel knew that there was no alternative to soften the vulnerabilities of Spain and Italy. Losing just one, let alone both of these countries in the course of the euro rescue mission in the coming weeks would have meant that the EFSF/ESM system would collapse, and with it, the euro.

Merkel was not defeated; she knew perfectly well what she was doing.

Of course she went into the negotiations with a bit of saber -rattling ("No Eurobonds in my lifetime!"). And of course she left them by insisting that her line of "no guarantees without accountability" prevailed (an independent banking supervision).

Eurozone reaches a deal
Stocks soar on E.U. bank bailout deal
Breakthrough in Brussels for eurozone
The debate over a more federal Europe

And all her fellow European colleagues did just the same when they walked out to the cameras: praising their successes. European business as usual, and nothing to waste time with.

Even the domestic context on her return was not all that messy. Merkel and her government, as well as most of the opposition parties, have come to accept over the last two years that a piecemeal approach to sorting out the euro mess is no longer an option. Maastricht needs to be fixed, and this will mean another major step in European integration.

This raises two questions: What will the details of the future economic and monetary Union look like? And how can they be implemented?

While the first question will eventually be sorted out in (perhaps fierce) battles both in Germany as well as between the eurozone members in Brussels in the next months, the second question will be what really makes Angela Merkel stay up at night: How can she possibly campaign in the 2013 general elections, telling her voters that dealing with other euro countries' grief is no longer a question of choice for Germany, as the euro countries are already too intertwined?

When the German Chancellor came back to Berlin after a long night in Brussels, she might have smiled mildly about the headlines of the "German defeat" in the international media on the plane.

The debate in parliament, convened to vote on the ESM/EFSF package before disappearing into the summer recess, was perhaps an unpleasant strain after a long two days in Brussels, but still a rather consensual business.

But an election campaign starting to get into swing after the summer break, while Germany and fellow Eurozone governments are forced into the messy business of negotiating a new deal for the future euro governance, must be a nightmare prospect for the German chancellor.

The euro mood in other parts of the country is far away from Berlin's political elite. Merkel knows that, and this is why she gave the order to her CDU party candidate not to campaign on the euro in recent elections in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's biggest federal state.

"T.I.N.A." is not an answer that Germans are happy to hear these days, and Merkel will now have to start fighting domestic battles.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Almut Moeller.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble says the eurozone's problems are not solved, but "we are in a much better shape than we used to be some years ago."
updated 11:28 AM EDT, Wed September 4, 2013
The G20 is held in Russia but, amid disagreements over Syria, can anything be done? John Defterios investigates.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Wed July 10, 2013
Summer could not have come soon enough for Lloret de Mar, a tourist resort north of Barcelona. Despite the country's troubles, it's partying.
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Fri June 7, 2013
The euro club has suffered major shockwaves but its newest member has emerged as an economic star. What;s behind Estonia's success?
updated 9:23 AM EDT, Wed May 29, 2013
The global recovery has two speeds: That of the stimulus-fed U.S. and that of the austerity-starved eurozone, according to a new report.
updated 9:26 AM EDT, Tue May 14, 2013
The flags of the countries which make up the European Union, outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The "rich man's club" of Europe faces economic decay as it struggles to absorb Europe's "poor people", according to economic experts.
updated 10:56 PM EDT, Sun May 26, 2013
Europe's competitiveness is threatened as manufacturing companies scrambling to find enough skilled engineers.
updated 11:02 AM EDT, Wed July 10, 2013
Spain's economic crisis is in its sixth straight year yet tourism, worth 11% of GDP, is holding its own, one of the few bright spots on a bleak horizon.
updated 6:44 AM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
As European financial markets close for the spring celebration of May Day, protesters across Europe and beyond have taken to the streets to demonstrate.
updated 8:10 AM EDT, Fri April 26, 2013
As Croatia prepares to enter the 27-nation European Union, the country's Prime Minister says Italy must return to being the "powerhouse of Europe."
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Thu April 25, 2013
Spain's unemployment rate rose to a record high of 27.2% in the first quarter of 2013, the Spanish National Institute of Statistics said Thursday.
updated 9:55 AM EDT, Mon March 25, 2013
The financial uncertainty in Cyprus is generating images of long lines at ATM machines and anti-European Union protests.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Mon March 25, 2013
Cyprus will "step up efforts in areas of fiscal consolidation." Where have we heard that before? Oh yes. Greece.
updated 9:39 PM EDT, Fri March 22, 2013
The Cyprus debt crisis is being felt by the banks but also by the people who work at them. Nick Paton Walsh reports.
updated 8:10 PM EDT, Thu March 21, 2013
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on a Russian hotel maid caught up in Cyprus' financial crisis.
updated 12:08 PM EDT, Mon March 18, 2013
Never underestimate the capacity of the Eurozone to shoot itself in both feet, says CNN's Richard Quest.
updated 11:03 AM EST, Thu February 21, 2013
Spain has seen hundreds of protests since the "Indignados" movement erupted in 2011, marches and sit-ins are now common sights in the capital.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT