Angela Merkel's Mania for Austerity Is Destroying Europe
Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)
Which world leader poses the biggest threat to global order and prosperity? The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Wrong. Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu? Nope. North Korea's Kim Jong-un? Wrong again.
The answer is a mild-mannered opera fan and former chemist who has been in office for seven years. Yes, step forward, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, whose solution to Europe's financial crisis--or lack thereof--has brought the continent, and perhaps the world, to the edge of a second Great Depression. "World Bank warns that euro collapse could spark global crisis", read the headline on the front of the Observer on 17 June.
With apologies to Mike Godwin and his eponymous law, Merkel is the most dangerous German leader since Hider. Her eight predecessors--from Konrad Adenauer to Gerhard Schroder--presided over a manufacturing miracle at home and the rehabilitation of Germany's reputation abroad. Under Merkel, however, the country finds itself isolated once again, loathed and feared in equal measure.
Cartoons in the newspapers of Germany's neighbours have depicted the chancellor with a Hider moustache or wearing a spiked, Bismarck-era military helmet. Commenting on the phenomenon, the columnist Jakob Augstein observed: "Her abrasive pro-austerity policies threaten everything that previous German governments had accomplished since World War II." Merkel, Augstein rightly noted, is "a radical politician, not a conservative one".
Merkel did not cause the financial crisis; that (dis)honour still belongs to the world's "top" bankers. But her deficit fetishism and obsession with spending cuts are exacerbating the continent-wide debt-and-growth crises that threaten to upset more than six decades of pan-European unity and stability.
Then there is her bullying tendency. The majority of Greeks voted on 17 June either to delay or to cancel the EU-imposed austerity plan; up popped Merkel the next day to warn: "No departures can be made from the reform measures ... We have to count on Greece sticking to its commitments"--and to slap down her foreign minister, who had suggested that the EU might give Greece more time to do cuts.
Merkel prefers to fiddle as Athens burns--and Madrid and Rome, too. Youth unemployment in Spain and Greece is hovering around so per cent; in Italy, a third of 15-to-24-year-olds are out of work. Riots beckon as Europe's far right attracts new supporters. It is ironic that the leader of a nation paranoid about and offended by any mention of its Nazi period seems so relaxed about the rise of anti-austerity, neo-Nazi parties across the EU, from Marine Le Pen's National Front in France to Greece's black-shirted Golden Dawn to the fascists of Jobbik, now the third-largest party in Hungary's parliament.
Merkel's supporters argue that this is unfair. She is, they say, standing up for hard-working Germans who are weary of bailing out their feckless southern European neighbours. …