Merkel Disowned?

As turmoil continues to grip European financial markets at the prospect of a sovereign default by Spain or even Italy, the emergency Euro-summit scheduled for Thursday this week is looming large in importance. This is all the more true in view of the fact that European Council President had tried to get everyone together for a summit last Friday – but no one was interested then, even as market rates on Italian debt skyrocketed.

The key figure at the summit, as always, will be German Chancellor Angela Merkel, fresh and possibly even slightly sun-tanned off an official visit to various African countries. Just as she is preparing for Thursday’s meeting, however, scattered press speculation has arisen to the effect that Helmut Kohl – the German Reunification Chancellor, and probably the mentor who did most to make Merkel what she is today – now cannot hold himself back from criticizing her Eurodebt policy. Die macht mir mein Europa kaputt! is the catchy quote from Kohl – “She’s destroying my Europe!” – and it comes from a fairly reputable source, namely the German news-magazine Der Spiegel. Ed Harrison over at Credit Writedowns identifies this Spiegel article and provides his own translation.

The thing is, Kohl himself recants everything; Harrison even writes of him “vehemently [denying] the Spiegel account” but at the same time ventures that “it is likely true in substance if not form.” Still, there is an alternate source to this story, one pointed out by Presseurop, namely from the respected Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel: Kohl disputes Merkel’s Europe policy. (By the way, Kohl is quoted in this piece as dismissing the Spiegel report as “freely invented,” i.e. out of whole cloth – but Der Tagesspiegel would print that about a competitor’s piece, wouldn’t they?)

So what does the Berlin paper put forth that Helmut Kohl does not deny? He is said to have issued some remarks to the Bild Zeitung – a considerably more down-market paper, but never mind – expressing his concern that the euro be shored up and that the current problems be seen not as structural, but as merely “the results of home-made mistakes.” Der Tagesspiegel also claims to know that Kohl is certainly willing to criticize Merkel, but only in private when people come to visit him, which he often takes as opportunities to decry her lack of vision for Europe and her neglect of the all-important Franco-German relationship. (It’s true that she and French President Sarkozy don’t like each other much.)

Der Tagesspiegel is also able to quote another former German heavy-hitter very close to Kohl, namely his foreign policy advisor Horst Teltschik, about Merkel:

She has developed no concept for Europe’s future, although that’s just what we now need. For this systematic crisis [sorry, Helmut!] Europe must find a systematic answer. It’s obvious that we need a common European budget-, debt- and financial policy.

So yes, it’s fair to say that those who are supposed to be in Angela Merkel’s corner are starting to grow rather nervous at the recent turn of events.

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