Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Grandest of Coalitions

As President Hollande receives the leaders of the German SPD  Sigmar Gabriel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Peer Steinbrück at the Elysee palace today to discuss a fiscal pact and growth in the Eurozone we see the shadow of the grand coalitions that have ruled Germany for so many of the recent decades beginning to shape itself as an intra-state force in the heart of Europe.

Le Monde describes the meeting as “unheard of”,  as an attempt by the French president to pressure  the German Chancellor to shift emphasis from 'austerity' to growth  ahead of the EU summit;   certainly the growth agenda needs to be addressed more urgently, as the third 'voice' of a shadow EU troika, Mario Monti, has constantly emphasized.

It should be borne in mind, though, that the SPD is in negotiations with the CDU/CSU on the fiscal pact  (ratification of the pact requires a two-thirds majority in the Bundestag.)   Mrs Merkel is highly skilled at conducting a grand coalition in a German-only political environment; indeed a very good case can be made for such a political coalition arrangement to be infinitely preferable to the current centre-right coalition with the FDP in Germany.  Some have said she would 'give her right arm' to be in the former grand coalition with the SDP.   At the same time President Hollande is as  unimpressed by the parties to his left as Chancellor Merkel by the parties to her right.

The Chancellor and the President have not yet gained confidence in one another but there are obvious political stability advantages from interchanges like this one.  The European Union does not suffer so much from 'state desertion' as from  failure to construct the state at all in a timely and modern fashion during the years of plenty.

Hollande's determination to emphasize growth,  not austerity,  now is  admirable  and, many would argue, correct; this meeting is justified in those terms although the Chancellor's office has asked that there be no common press conference afterwards

Events in the unfolding eurodrama are perhaps clearer if seen as European events,  not as nation state-bounded events.  To look, as it were, from the possible future; this constant harking back by media commentators to the 1930s is so unhelpful and without explanatory power; for the politicians and institutions of the 1930s the long run has arrived.  They are all dead.  The economic analyses of what is the matter with the eurozone are done and dusted but the political analyses are crying out for fresh thought and approaches.


A report on the meeting at the Elysee palace is here.

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