PLANK JUNE 7, 2012
In today's Financial Times, Quentin Peel surveys the many difficulties facing Angela Merkel as she tries to steer Europe out of the latest chapter of its extended crisis, before praising her political savvy:
Yet the underlying political reality, both in Germany and the rest of Europe, is that the chancellor is more in tune with public opinion than are many of her critics. The latest opinion poll published by the Pew Global Attitudes survey last month showed that she is the most respected European leader in every country except Greece. The same is true at home. According to Pew, 80 per cent of Germans think Ms Merkel has done a good job as an economic manager.
The German electorate also remains more fundamentally pro-European than those of any of the other big EU members – with 59 per cent saying the country has been “well served by European integration”, according to the survey, and 65 per cent saying EU membership is a good thing for the nation, in spite of the euro crisis.
This tracks with how much of the German intelligentsia appraises Merkel's performance: that she is cannily using the crisis to incrementally coax the German public to act decisively. "Merkel portrays herself as beleagured. That's the only way that Germans will slowly accept the inevitable," writes Malte Lehming today in the German newspaper Die Zeit (my translation.) "Her political hesitance is the only means to prevent Germans from rebelling, and to get them to agree to a new course of action."
But Achtung! Why does anyone think Germans' warm feelings for Merkel are any sort of proxy for their willingness to act on Europe's behalf? Merkel's popularity is partly a product of her refusal to discuss what it will cost to bailout Europe; she has made hardly any efforts at all to educate the public about what kind of sums are at stake. Wolfgang Muenchau of the Financial Times and Der Spiegel has estimated that setting up a functional banking union in Europe will cost somewhere between 4 and 9 trillion euros; refusing to do anything and allowing the eurozone to collapse would put the German government alone on the hook for over 1 trillion euros. As it is, Germans have little idea about any of this. Indeed, they like Merkel so much precisely because she has enabled their ignorance.
So don't expect Merkel to cash-in her public support on behalf of a grand bargain. Merkel isn't leading the German public from behind. She's following them off a cliff.