23rd Oct 2016

Former chancellor launches blistering attack on Merkel

  • Angela Merkel - criticised from many sides (Photo:

With his EU credentials intact after his years as German chancellor, Helmut Schmidt, now 92 years old, has emerged from the shadows to launch a blistering attack on current leader Angela Merkel for her handling of European affairs and particularly Franco-German relations.

Speaking to the political magazine Cicero, Mr Schmidt said Chancellor Merkel is practising a foreign policy not seen since the Kaiser era and that her approach to relations with France is "foolish."

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He spoke of European policy under Ms Merkel as having a tendency towards "Wilhelmine pomposity," a reference to the aggressive German foreign policy under successive Kaiser Wilhelms until 1918.

But Mr Schmidt, who enjoyed good relations with his French counterpart Valery Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s, also hit out president Nicolas Sarkozy saying the way Paris was handling Berlin is just as "foolish."

Relations between the two sides have reached a low point in recent years - something Mr Schmidt said was caused by both leaders having an "exaggerated craving for recognition."

Seen as essential for keeping European integration running, the Franco-German motor has suffered due to cool personal relations between the reserved Ms Merkel and the ebullient Mr Sarkozy and a profound difference in views over how the eurozone should be governed and how Europe should emerge from the economic crisis.

Germany has been at the forefront in pushing for austerity measures - it recently laid out an €80bn four-year austerity package to set an "example" to others - across the EU and has also taken unilateral measures towards financial regulation, such as banning naked short selling.

Its approach, with the emphasis on budget discipline rather than growth, has put it at odds with partners beyond Europe. US president Barack Obama recently warned that the EU's approach could damage the fragile global recovery, something that Ms Merkel strongly refuted.

Others are also critical. The financier, George Soros, accused Germany of being so intent on handling the Maastricht Treaty as if it were "scripture" that it risked driving the eurozone to deflation.

"Germany cannot be blamed for wanting a strong currency and a balanced budget but it can be blamed for imposing its predilection on other countries that have different needs and preferences - like Procrustes, who forced other people to lie in his bed and stretched them or cut off their legs to make them fit.

"The Procrustes bed inflicted on the eurozone is called deflation. With its insistence on pro-cyclical policy, Germany is endangering the European Union. I realise this is a grave accusation but I'm afraid it's justified," said Mr Soros in a speech at the Humboldt University in Berlin on Wednesday (23 June).

The almost daily criticism of Ms Merkel in recent months represents a marked turn around from when she became Germany's leader in 2005.

For the first years she was admired as a discreet and astute leader when it came to EU policy. However, she is widely seen as having stumbled in her handling of her response to the Greek financial crisis, taking her time to agree a plan and helping unleash a populist anti-Greek debate in Germany.

Since her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder came to power in 1998, Berlin has focused more on national interests when it comes to policy toward the EU. But this has led to concern that it is to the detriment of the EU as a whole where Germany, along with France, is expected to play a leading role.

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