Opinion

The Great Debate

from Anatole Kaletsky:

How EU politics pushed Merkel to lift Germany’s austerity policies

German Chancellor Merkel and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Juncker hold a joint news conference after a meeting in Luxembourg

Matteo Renzi, the prime minister of Italy who took the revolving presidency of the European Union this week, seems to be the sort of man that Napoleon was referring to when he reputedly said that the key qualification he sought in recruiting a general was good luck.

Renzi become prime minister without even needing to win an election because Silvio Berlusconi and all other rivals self-destructed. He took power just after Italy passed the lowest ebb of its economic fortunes. In May, he was rewarded for his good fortune by Italy’s voters, who anointed him with a strong democratic mandate in the same European elections that discredited almost all Europe’s other national leaders. Now he is taking the helm in Europe, as an economic recovery is starting and the European Central Bank is swinging decisively in support of growth.

But even a politician as lucky as Renzi could not have counted on his latest and most unexpected windfall: the unintended consequence of last week’s failed campaign by British Prime Minister David Cameron to stop the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission.

Italian PM Renzi talks during a joint news conference with European Commission President Barroso at the end of a meeting at Villa Madama in RomeAnalysis of Cameron’s crushing defeat in the 26-to-2 vote by Europe’s national leaders to appoint Juncker has focused on its implications for British politics and for Britain’s future in the EU. But this event was actually less significant for Britain than for Europe as a whole, specifically for the Italian EU presidency that started on July 1.

For Cameron and Britain, the embarrassment of losing the Juncker battle was more apparent than real. The outcome was predictable once the British press started smearing Juncker with claims about alleged Nazi parentage. From that moment on, Chancellor Angela Merkel was pressured by German public opinion to give Juncker her unconditional support and secure a near-unanimous coalition of Europe’s leaders to head off Cameron’s attacks.

Don’t bank on EU’s tough state aid talk

paul-taylor– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

PARIS, April 20 (Reuters) – The European Union’s antitrust czar is struggling to stop governments bending EU rules on state aid to business when they rescue banks with taxpayers’ money.

But Neelie Kroes’ threat to force some banks to the wall unless they offer viable restructuring plans within six months of receiving state cash was economically unwise and politically inept. It could fuel political pressure to suspend the rules and weaken the European Commission’s crucial watchdog powers.

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