Normal Germans, Nervous Europeans

The saga of Europe’s debt crisis can be dispiriting for anyone interested in the future of the Old Continent.  There is, however, another, perhaps larger story lurking beneath the tales of billions and bond yields, and that is the story of Germany’s changing role.  Although French President Nicolas Sarkozy gladly rushes toward any camera or notebook to present France in her traditional role as the leader of Europe, the truth is that the real power is in the hands of the woman so often seen by his side these days.  No, I do not mean his rock-star wife (and more recently the mother of his daughter), Carla Bruni, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  La Grande Nation, whose own financial rating is shaky and whose banks are holding disconcertingly large amounts of potentially worthless Greek bonds, is far too weak and economically exposed to play the decisive role.  Rather, it is Germany, with her more balanced budgets and healthy trade surplus, that is expected to deliver more than a quarter (and counting) of the total funds cobbled together in the infelicitously named European Financial Stability Facility.

Thus is it Mrs. Merkel’s government that bears the greatest responsibility in organizing the bailout.  It was the German parliament’s vote in late September that attracted so much attention as the German people’s representatives voted...

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