German Chancellor Angela Merkel made explicit on Tuesday what many Europe watchers have assumed for some time now — that she never would have let Greece, that Mediterranean hotbed of radical politics and populist rage, into the eurozone.
At a campaign event in the north German town of Rendsburg, the steward of the E.U.’s finances who is routinely pilloried as a Nazi invader by Greek anti-austerity protesters, fed some red meat to her base.
“Greece shouldn’t have been allowed into the euro,” Ms Merkel told around 1,000 backers of her Christian Democratic Union. “Chancellor Schroeder accepted Greece . . . and weakened the Stability Pact, and both decisions were fundamentally wrong, and one of the starting points for our current troubles.”
Merkel remains the obvious favorite to win re-election in a few weeks and this latest remark should not be interpreted as flailing or some kind of epic departure in campaign strategy. But it is the inevitable result of the organizing being done (much of it by conservatives who might previously have been in her camp) around the Alternative for Germany party, which exists solely to challenge Merkel on her support for the E.U. and its needy wards. That party is not expected to perform particularly well, but the fact of its existence has made this campaign a more delicate maneuver than it might have been otherwise for the incumbent, whose personal popularity remains almost as high as the German unemployment rate is low. Schroeder, the Social Democrat who preceded her, and the specter of lazy Greeks who won’t get their finances together, combine to serve as a useful foil for Merkel, who would much rather talk about the strength of the national economy than her government’s role in U.S. National Security Agency surveillance programs.
Of course, we should not expect Merkel to actively seek to expel Greece going forward. On the contrary, it would appear she was merely seeking to divert some of the anger at reports that another round of aid will be needed sometime soon to keep it from going under. So this is election-year politicking, not the announcement of a policy change. Every indication is that once her center-right coalition gets support from the voters, Merkel and her allies in Brussels will go right back to propping up weak economies like those in Greece as essential to maintaining the structural integrity of the eurozone, and the confidence of the investor class. And it should be noted: if this is far as Merkel has to go to assuage the domestic political backlash against Germany’s role as Europe’s banker-in-chief, it won’t have been all that far at all.