sexta-feira, 27 de março de 2015

Greek morals and German maths must find common ground

By origin, “enigma” is a Greek word. By chance, it is also what confronts Germans these days when their thoughts turn to Greece. Neither Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, nor Wolfgang Schäuble, her finance minister, knows for sure what Alexis Tsipras is up to. Is it blackmail? Poker? Or political suicide?

Last Monday, Ms Merkel spent about seven hours talking to the Greek prime minister. The atmosphere was less tense than expected but there was only marginal progress on matters of substance. Mr Tsipras still challenges the letter and the spirit of almost every agreement signed by previous Greek governments. With money running out, he and his fellow cabinet members have isolated their country in an unprecedented way. Eurozone leaders, liberal or Keynesian, stand united against the demands of the Syriza-led government in Athens.

Things do not look promising for Mr Tsipras but they might work out better than you would think. His primary opponent, caught in a very German dilemma, is politically weaker than she seems. True, the chancellor’s influence over senior European leaders means that whether or not Greece stays inside the eurozone is in effect for her to decide. Yet while this is a powerful card, sensitivity surrounding Germany’s history makes it one that is almost impossible to play.

Like all her predecessors, Ms Merkel seeks to avoid any impression of German Führung (leadership) or Ubermacht (dominance). But doing so is becoming far harder. France, traditionally a counterweight to Berlin, has lost much of its economic clout. Germany is indisputably the eurozone’s formidable economic force. For all the incipient troubles that cloud its horizons — an ageing population, decaying infrastructure, the recent reversal of some labour-market reforms — it is for now a beacon of prosperity.

Paradoxically, Ms Merkel also draws strength from her country’s past weakness. Germany’s painful adjustment at the start of the past decade helped Ms Merkel to push her main point: no state should be bailed out without agreeing to lower deficits and structural reforms.

Here she has indeed been able to set the terms. Against fierce opposition, she insisted that the International Monetary Fund should have a supervisory role in troubled eurozone countries such as Greece.

The European Commission was sidelined; instead, most of the rescue mechanisms took the form of intergovernmental agreements so that responsibility for negotiating and enforcing them would reside squarely in national capitals rather than the more pliable Brussels body. All of this added to the impression that Germany was in charge.

Ms Merkel occupies a commanding position that is unprecedented for a postwar German leader. But she dislikes being seen that way. More than once, she has stressed that decisions on Greece are taken collectively by the eurozone’s 19 members. Germany, she suggests, is merely one among equals.

That is a myth, as Mr Tsipras ceaselessly points out. He is turning a crisis of the Greek economy and the eurozone’s monetary institutions into a showdown between two nations, pitching his own as a righteous warrior against Germany’s arrogant Goliath. It is a canny attempt to influence governments and voters across the continent. Greek pleas for forbearance are portrayed, not as the ungrateful demand of a nation that has already been rescued twice, but the last stand of a country victimised by a mighty Germany that might soon visit its wrath on other nations, too. To surrender to Ms Merkel, the Greek prime minister suggests, would be to concede a German victory over all of Europe.

This rhetoric is as powerful as it is preposterous. The Greek narrative is moral; the German one is maths. That leaves little common ground on which to reach the kind of pragmatic compromise at which the EU generally excels. And when a country’s economy is at risk of disintegration, maths is a cold thing to sell, no matter who is responsible for the deplorable state of Greek governance.

Progress, then, will be impossible un­less one side or both give in. That may not take long. When senior politicians and officials from Ms Merkel’s grand coalition talk about Greece, they increasingly shun the dry lexicon of economics for the more evocative language of geopolitics. Greece, they say, is Nato’s crucial outer flank. A buffer against refugees from the Middle East and a cornerstone of European security, it is too important to be left alone. This is clearly an attempt to prepare the ground for a third rescue package, which would be impossible to defend using the usual rhetoric.

It will draw heavy fire, and not only from the notoriously excitable headline writers of the Bild tabloid newspaper. More than 100 parliamentarians from Ms Merkel’s own party have signalled their reluctance to offer further concessions. Their resolve will probably be tested by the end of the summer. Then we will learn the true limits to Ms Merkel’s power, and Germany’s.

It will be a fraught moment for a politician who knows her influence but has never been entirely comfortable with her position as Europe’s most powerful leader. Yet there is one thing the chancellor is more afraid of than the impression of German Ubermacht — and that is being held responsible for precipitating a Greek exit.

Nikolaus Blome is head of Der Spiegel’s Berlin bureau and a member of the editorial board

Fonte: FT