WHO’S PLAYING CHARLEMAGNE?July 18, 2015
As you know, last Thursday in my News and Views from the Nefarium I spoke briefly about the rccent Greek tragedy and the capitulation of the Syriza government of Mr. Tsipras to the demands of the European Union (read Berlin and Wolfgang Schaueble, the German Finance Minister). Well, there's more to the story, obviously, than can be covered in a fifteen minute news video, and really, much more to the story than can even be covered in a more detailed blog or a whole series of blogs. Behind the scenes there is of course the whole role of Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank in the affair, selling the Greek government bad securities - much of which was the so-called "mortgage backed" securities - which Goldman sold via the 'credit rating worthiness" assurances given to Athens by the giant German bank. This on top of massive German armaments sales to Greece, which was being threatened by... well... by whom? In spite of the bad blood between Turkey and Greece, Turkey wasn't planning to re-annex its for Greek province in any sort of re-vivified Ottoman Empire. Italy? Well, notwithstanding Mussolini's foolhardy venture in 1941, there were no plans of recent Italian ventures. In short, the large Greek military buildup of the years previous to the current crisis makes no military sense. It makes perfect sense, however, if you're corrupt oligarchs in Athens looking for a way to waste money and enslave your own people. So in a way, what we've witnessed are the penultimate chapters in the Goldman Sachs-Deutsche Bank rape of Greece.
But, everyone is counting the Greeks as down and out. Well, don't count too quickly yet...
The German side of this equation is equally mystifying, for the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaueble, one of the architects and savants of "European Union" also played his role as Shylock in the affair to perfection, demanding, and getting, the last pound of flesh from Greece. There was, in the most recent version of the Play - one might call it "The Merchant of Frankfurt" - no softening influences of Portia or Antonio; there was just Shylock, and only Shylock, who was going to have his pound of Greek flesh, or, failing that, kick Greece altogether out of the European Union. The pattern, however, on the German side of the equation, is as mystifying as the Syriza capitulation that were much worse than the initial demands that the Greek populace rejected, and which brought the Syriza government to power. Consider this article shared by "P":
The point in this article that I found particularly intriguing - and there were many, but this one in particular stands out - is contained in these paragraphs:
But that freedom is now becoming an issue for Merkel. The euro summit last weekend came close to failing because Schäuble tried to push through such tough demands. And this from a finance minister who has done so much for European unity. Just three years ago, Schäuble won the International Charlemagne Prize of Aachen for his contributions to the integration of the Continent, but is now regarded in southern European countries as the epitome of the ugly German. This too adds to the drama of Wolfgang Schäuble.
In past decades, the burden has always fallen on Germany to be the mediator in Europe. But only when Germany suppressed its own interests was it possible to find harmony in the complicated meshwork that is Europe, where the Catholic South meets the Protestant North and the rule-fixated Germans and the anarchistic Greeks come together. No one has internalized this rule more than Schäuble -- or so it seems. Now Germany's policy on Europe is revealing itself as a curious mix of indecision and brutality. That brutality, for the most part, comes from Schäuble.
It was undoubtedly the right move to impose strict reforms upon Greece. This was the only way to persuade countries like Slovakia and Latvia to release new funds. But last weekend's marathon summit in Brussels didn't only bring forth a new aid package for Greece. A new Germany was also presented, one with a rather uncomely face.
It was there that Schäuble raised the idea of pushing Greece out of the euro. It was a suggestion that broke a European taboo. Germany, of all countries, was showing another euro-zone member the door. Germany, whose rise is so closely linked to the solidarity and forgiveness of its neighbors.
The summit was therefore not merely a break in Germany's Europe policy. It also described the tragedy of Merkel and Schäuble, chained together yet increasingly working against one another.
The calamity began last Thursday when top members of Merkel's coalition government met at the Chancellery. Merkel was there, as was Schäuble, Social Democrat (SPD) leader Sigmar Gabriel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is also from the SPD. The idea was to prevent a rift with France, but the group also deliberated over how to proceed with Greece if it refused to implement the reforms demanded by its creditors.
Schäuble proposed a temporary Grexit, in such a situation. Merkel and the SPD leaders agreed, but for them it was little more than a thought experiment. Greece, they knew, would never willingly sign on to a Grexit. (Emphases added)
The mention of how to "prevent a rift with France" highlights what I saw going on, in part, behind the scenes: it was as much about "sending strong messages to France" to mend its socialistic spendthrift ways as it was about Greece: Greece was merely the whipping boy needed - and used - to send messages to Paris, and the message was: Berlin gets to play Charlemagne for now, not Paris. The subtler message lying behind that was: Berlin will always get to play Charlemagne, your economy simply isn't large enough. As I pointed out in The Third Way: The Nazi International, The European Union, and Corporate Fascism, the recent affair with Greece is but a replay of events much earlier on the bumpy road to the Euro, when Kohl's Germany had to make sure Mitterand's France understood that point.
The recent German hard line is producing the old fault lines:
The euro crisis is driving a wedge between Berlin and Paris. Hollande is doing everything he can to prevent a Grexit, even if it means going behind Germany's back. Just two weeks ago, after the Greek referendum, Hollande and Merkel were in agreement that Athens must make its own reform proposals.
Merkel's people were thus surprised to learn that Hollande had provided the Greek premier with advisers to help him come up with a list of reforms. The plan to send French officials to Athens had been in the works for six weeks. On July 2, the social democratic leaders of France, Sweden and Austria, as well as Gabriel and the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, met in Evry, near Paris, to deliberate over a solution for Greece. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls suggested sending French finance officials to Athens to help the government there formulate its request for emergency funds. Faymann, Gabriel and Schulz all agreed.
Now, after the summit, Merkel sees herself in a role she never wanted. She's the woman who imposed her will on Europe. "The French president has fought hard for a solution," Austrian Chancellor Faymann said, while handing out no such praise to Merkel.
Germany's relationship with power has been precarious ever since the end of World War II. That has to do with its central location in Europe and its reluctance to use military force. Most of all, though, it has to do with its Nazi past. Any bravado or harsh words are immediately conflated with a resurgence of German megalomania.
The response to this problem by German policymakers has been the use of "soft power." Germany has led the Continent not with orders, but with persuasion and cooperation. Every chancellor has relied on the relationship with France in matters of European policy. This alliance prevents a split between the northern European Protestants and the southern Catholics.
But now, a fault line is threatening to emerge. In early 2013, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben wrote an essay for the newspaper La Repubblica in which he implored the "Latin empire at the heart of Europe" to resist Germany's dominance. At the time, it seemed like the idea of an overexcited essayist, but now it's clear that the southern countries are increasingly opposing the Continent's germanization.
Merkel's people can sense this mood change. A few months ago, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut mused in a small group about Germany's changing role within the European Union. Meyer-Landrut was Merkel's European policy adviser for four years but soon he'll become the German ambassador to France.
But behind these fault lines, the Der Spiegel article is also suggesting that there are fault lines between Frau Merkel and her ministers, chiefly Herr Schaueble. One has to wonder, however, if these fault lines are genuine, or just for show. My high octane speculation of the day is that, to some extent though not entirely, the fault lines are just for show. Consider the fact that, in the past, Frau Merkel has allowed the ministers of her coalition government to speak for her, while she herself maintains a discrete silence or, as is also often the case, mouths the required platitudes and formulas embraced in Washington. Recall that the German Interior Minister, de Maziere, a firm pro-west Atlanticist and from a family with a long connection to the German military and German politics, issued some warnings about the long-term destablizing consequences of American unipolarism. The warning was not from Merkel herself, but originated within her cabinet.
Then, you'll recall, there was the speech given by the SDP Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeir in Berlin to a group of assembled German businessmen. You'll recall Herr Steinmeir made the breathtaking assertion that Germany would have to take up the mantle of being a world power once again, and that its foreign policy would therefore have to take on a much more military flavor. Again, in the context of de Maziere's warning about American unipolarism, it was an "interesting" comment to make. And given the wider context of the Ukrainian mess, and even more interesting one.
And now, as if on cue, Herr Schaueble played a classical "brinksmanship" diplomacy card: agree to the deal, or we kick you out of the EU." So while Der Spiegel wonders about possible rifts in the EU along classical Protestant and Roman Catholic lines, and possible rifts between Frau Merkel and some of her ministers, if one puts these ministerial statements of the past few years into context, what emerges is a rather different pattern, namely, that when Frau Merkel wants to send tough messages, she allows her ministers to do it, while she gets to play the role of the somewhat gentile and frumpy deutsche Hausfrau, for make no mistake, statements of her cabinet ministers do represent the position of her government, and when one examines these three ministers and their statements over the past few years, the pattern is amazingly consistent. And we could add those of Ursula von der Leyen, the German Defense Minister, as well, who, when Washington was pressuring its European allies about potential military involvement in the Ukraine, made the extraordinary statement that the Luftwaffe had fewer then ten operational fighters, and that the whole Bundeswehr was not at all prepared for any such effort, and that they were woefully short on spare parts and...&c &c... you get the picture. "Sorry, can't join you on this one. You're on your own."
To put it country simple, it appears that when "tough things need to be said," that the new playbook in Berlin is "let the ministers say them, while the Chancellorship itself is isolated from them, and can appear to be 'bowing to pressure.'"
In short, it's Merkel who's playing Charlemagne. And that means, she's in drag.
See you on the flip side...