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The reluctance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to help Greece has tarnished the image of Germany and Germans in the country of Aristotle, Plato, and feta cheese.
The coverage given by the German press regarding the need for an EU rescue plan for Greece has not improved relations between the two Eurozone Member States -witness the front page of the German magazine Focus in February which showed the famous Venus di Milo making an obscene gesture.
According to a poll published on 25 March by the Kappa Research Institute which questioned Greek citizens about their views on Germany, only 28.8% replied positively, which is very low when compared to the 78.4% recorded five years ago for a similar poll.
The German low cost airline Air Berlin recently announced that the company had noted a significant drop in the number of reservations for Greece, and on this evidence it seems that the crisis has created a real gap between the two countries and their populations.
Let’s hope that the agreement on an EU plan to help Greece, reached yesterday at the European Summit, will serve to reconcile our Greek and German friends.
Germany appeared to take a decisive step back from her traditional post-war role as paymaster of Europe today when Chancellor Angela Merkel issued harsh words on the prospect of a European bailout for the crippled Greek economy.
During the government’s debate on the 2010 budget she warned against premature European action which might not actually solve Greece’s problems in the long term and could also actually weaken the Euro further, and stated that a rash show of solidarity was not the right solution.
In addition she expressed her support for Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s idea of putting together an agreement which would be able to exclude future persistent offenders from the Eurozone as a last resort. According to her, current provisions are not sufficient to deal with a situation where a Eurozone country is on the brink of insolvency. She believes a new agreement is crucial for future cooperation.
This reluctance to pay out to Greece seems at odds with Germany’s usual role as financial martyr to the EU cause. So is the Federal Republic’s long-term love affair with all things EU showing signs of fatigue?
Or is Angie merely trying to placate her public, who, during times of financial uncertainty at home, certainly don’t want to be dishing out the Euros to those abroad?!
Indeed, behind her stern stance towards a rapid rescue for Greece surely lies a genuine concern for and continued commitment to the success of the currency union.
Keine Panik, Germany hasn’t given up on us yet!
While the thermometer reads 37 degrees in Brussels, the political temperature in the European Parliament is set to rise with MEPs heading towards the end of the summer recess. While the rate of activity of the Parliament is still slow, The Lobby looks back to the allocation of top positions in the European Parliament and the subsequent changes within the largest national delegations.
At first glance, it may seem that France has lost influence, the Brits have managed to secure control of some important committees, and that Italy is the big winner. What strikes us most however is the dominance of the Germans.
To summarise: France has four chairs, but of these only the Budgets Committee could be said to be influential. Italians and Germans have five Chairs and the Brits three. Germans obtained the most influential posts, such as the Environment and the Industry Committees. The Brits will control heavyweight committees such as Economy and Monetary Affairs and the Internal Market. Italy obtained the prestigious post of Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Agriculture Committee, which will be responsible for the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy when/if the Lisbon Treaty will be adopted.
For the first time there will be no French MEPs among the fourteen Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament, who are responsible for laying down the institution’s rules – will this have an impact on the disputed future of the Strasbourg Parliament? Among the 14 Vice-Presidents, there will be three Germans, two Brits, and two Italians.
This picture would not be complete without looking at the coordinators of the main political groups, who play a key role in shaping opinions as they coordinate the work of their political groups within the different Committees. Among the coordinators appointed so far by the EPP and ALDE (we await the other groups), German MEPs are dominant, while the French are still lagging behind. Since they divorced from the EPP, British MEPs are expected to have a high number of coordinators in the new Conservative group (ECR), but their actual influence will depend on whether the new group will be able to become a forceful player in the new Parliament.
Looking at the largest political group (EPP), France has one MEP coordinating the group in the Economic & Monetary Affairs Committee and one as Vice-Coordinator in the Industry Committee. Italians will coordinate minor committees such as Fisheries and Culture and will have a Vice-Coordinator in the Environment Committee. What is striking again is that German EPP MEPs grabbed the positions of coordinator in three key committees: Environment, Internal Market and Agriculture. The situation is more balanced in the ALDE group, in which Sweden has a coordinating role in the Industry committee, France the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and the UK the Environment Committee.
During the past legislature Germany and the UK had 27 and 23 MEPs respectively acting as coordinators in the Parliament, whereas France had just eight. The puzzle is not sufficiently complete for the moment to make comparisons as we wait for the S&D to appoint its coordinators in September. In addition, the appointment of future Rapporteurs will tell us how much influence the national delegations really have.
For the moment though, it seems the Germans are the clear winners of the horse-trading for key posts and have already secured a 2.5 year Presidency of the Parliament in the form of S&D President Martin Schulz as of mid-2011. But where are the French? Assessing French influence by looking only at these figures would be simplistic, but the facts show that the French are currently under-represented in the Parliament. The same is actually true in the Commission, where they have fewer Director Generals than the Germans or British. Is it just a lack of interest in the institutions, or is it part of a long-term strategy that seems content to leave the parliamentary positions to the other countries and claim in return more influential positions in the Commission? Are the French holding out for the President of the EU or the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, should Lisbon fully be ratified? All open questions…
You could almost bet on it… Following the German Constitutional Court issuing a landmark ruling in response to the Maastricht Treaty in 1993, today’s ruling on the Lisbon Treaty again testifies to the central role Karlsruhe – the seat of the Court – plays in EU matters when asked.
Whilst most attention was focusing on the second Irish referendum, Europe seemed to lose sight of the case that had been pending before the German Constitutional Court for many months. Indeed, it was often mistakenly reported that Germany had already ratified the Lisbon Treaty, but since the challenge against the German law transposing the Lisbon Treaty had been brought forward by a group of MPs and lawyers, President Köhler had announced his intention not to sign anything before Karlsruhe’s verdict on the matter.
Now what is this ruling all about? First, Köhler’s signature will have to be further postponed, effectively meaning that the ratification process in Germany is temporarily suspended. This is because laws that strengthen the participatory powers of the German legislature will have to come into force first.
The complainants have praised this judgement as a great success in their fight against the apparent erosion of the influence of the democratically elected German legislature on decisions made in Brussels. Now, it rests on this very legislature to pass the relevant legislation very rapidly if the Treaty is to be ratified in early 2010 at the latest. Just imagine what effect a delay would have on the second referendum in Ireland and the decisions in Poland and the Czech Republic!