Opinion

John Lloyd

Germany’s renewed hegemony isn’t something Europe needs to fear

John Lloyd
Aug 22, 2014 06:48 UTC

German Chancellor Merkel attends news conference in Berlin

She can’t help it. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, is the most important leader in Europe. She tries to duck it by exhibiting a modest demeanor, presenting no charisma, no grand pronouncements, no apparent ambition to stamp her views on history. She just carries on.

Yet European leaders vie for her Mona Lisa smile (or is it a smile?). Are we comfortable with Merkel’s influence and power?

No other politician in Europe brings the gravitas she does to a meeting. No other European leader can be so definite about what Europe’s support – which has been expressed, if in varying degrees of intensity, by all member states of the European Union – amounts to as a whole. And her unrivalled, understated leadership in Europe will be again on display.

Merkel travels to Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, this weekend to meet with Petro Poroshenko, the country’s president, to show support and to offer counsel before his meeting early next week with Vladimir Putin in Minsk, Belarus. She met Poroshenko in Berlin before traveling to D-Day memorial celebrations in France in June, and once there, talked with Putin about the crisis in Ukraine. She’s the go-to woman.

Just ask Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old prime minister of Italy. He grabbed his premiership in an inner-party coup, then solidified his position with 41 percent of the vote in the May European elections, making his left-of-center Democratic Party the largest in the European parliament. Renzi’s political fortunes have been riding high ever since, high enough, it seems, to have emboldened him to approach Merkel with a request to relax her stern observance of the fiscal austerity rules all states using the euro have agreed to. She isn’t budging yet. Italy needs labor reform, higher productivity, and faster and cleaner justice so that foreign investment will flow into the country, Merkel insists. Short of these changes, the German chancellor and her still sterner finance minister, Wolfgang Schauble, believe that any larger assistance or transfers to the country would create more moral hazard.

Even a billionaire cannot save the EU from itself

John Lloyd
Mar 14, 2014 15:02 UTC

The world’s richest hedge fund manager, George Soros, says Europe’s great project, the European Union, is at risk. Even if it survives it is doomed, he says, to a period of stagnation and fragility, rendering it powerless on a world scene dominated by powerful blocs.

At 83 and insisting that he has retired, Soros still commands attention. He appeared at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London on Wednesday (he is a main funder) where he offered an off-the-cuff judgment that a central bank in an independent Scotland would be a risky endeavor. He generated headlines in a country that is nervous of a breakup of the Union. He dominated the morning’s BBC Today program, required listening for all public figures. He addressed a packed lecture hall at his alma mater, the London School of Economics and attended a meeting at the House of Commons.

Soros’ fame is a mixture of fear, awe, admiration and prejudice. At the same time, his reputation, at least among liberals, is one of generosity and vision. In the past three decades he has invested $8 billion in promoting democracy in the former Communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, including the former republics of the Soviet Union — and later further afield in Africa, Latin America and Europe.

For Europe, it doesn’t get better

John Lloyd
Apr 4, 2012 21:03 UTC

The European crisis isn’t over until the First Lady pays, and the First Lady of Europe, Angela Merkel, cannot pay enough. She needs to erect a large enough firewall to ensure that the European Union’s weaker members do not, again, face financial disaster. That will not happen – which means the euro faces at least defections, and perhaps destruction.

The crisis had seemed to recede somewhat in early 2012, and the headline writers moved on. But it had only seemed to recede, and relaxation was premature. As Hugo Dixon of Reuters’ Breaking Views put it on Monday, “the risk is that, as the short-term funding pressure comes off, governments’ determination to push through unpopular reforms will flag. If that happens, the time that has been bought will be wasted – and, when crisis rears its ugly head again, the authorities won’t have the tools to fight it.”

But the underlying tension remains between high indebtedness in nearly all the EU countries and the need to pare back public spending without suffocating the economies. The flat, or negative, growth lines in the same countries that are indebted are likely to be made worse as demand falls and a malign cycle threatens.

  •