Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl obliquely criticized his successor and former protégée Angela Merkel last week when he urged her to continue financial support for Greece in order to maintain Europe’s unity. “Those who want to do away with everything and start over again are mistaken,” he said, referring to the notion of ejecting Greece for the eurozone.
As Europe’s largest economy, Germany has born the brunt of the Greek bailout effort. Many Germans, including many conservative party members, feel that they have shouldered their fair share of the burden of preventing fiscal collapse in the south of Europe. As Greece is likely to require higher borrowing guarantees from fellow euro nations to avert a default, European solidarity is put to the test once again.
Merkel has pushed for a “competitiveness pact” to force austerity on heavily indebted eurozone nations even if Europe didn’t want Germany’s rules. After Ireland and Portugal had also to tap into the European financial rescue fund however, the case for a broad European reform effort was strengthened.
All members of the continent’s single currency union will have to raise their retirement ages, abolish the popular indexation of wages to inflation, harmonize corporate tax rates and institute a “debt brake” that limits their ability to plunge in the red. These measures are designed to mend the economic imbalances that exist between northern and southern member states but Germany shrinks from the responsibility that full fiscal convergence would imply, fearing permanent bailouts.
Kohl, who shepherded Germany through its post-Cold War reunification, played a key role in the creation of the eurozone. His sixteen year tenure as chancellor was marked by a strong commitment to Atlanticism and the European project and he urged his audience in Berlin last week not to give up on these ideals. “We have reached the future which we spent years fighting for,” he said before noting that “Germany’s future is with its neighbors” and its partners in the EU. “We will stand side by side with the Greek people,” he professed. “It is the most important thing.”
German support for Greece may be unpopular but so was reunification in 1989, according to Kohl.