Last Saturday, the phantom of Wolfgang Schaeuble, the hawkish German minister of Finance, overshadowed the gathering of the 27 EU leaders in the Italian capital, without him having left Berlin. The heads of EU states or governments, at the exception of British MP Theresa May, went there to celebrate the 60th anniversary after the signing of the Treaty of Rome. This is the birth certificate of the European Union, which was reconfirmed by the 27 leaders, four days before Britain officially asks for a divorce.
Only hours ahead of this special occasion in Rome though, planned by the Brussels bureaucracy to strengthen the unity of the club, Schaeuble advocated loudly the need for a ‘multi speed’ governance of the EU, upsetting the four eastern, the three Baltic democracies and some southern member states. Finally, all the 27 undersigned the 1000 words Declaration, despite many expressing severe reservations going as far as threatening to boycott the whole thing. Let’s start from the new divisive EU strategy, for a closer Union of the willing.
Advertising ‘multi speed’ EU
The ‘Multi speed’ EU strategy is to be employed in the future, actually not by those who want more Europe but by those who don’t want less. Currently though, this is still a threat for those who are not willing to transfer more sovereignty to Brussels. The four Visegrad countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) are skeptical or even Euroskeptic, and strongly oppose the transfer of more powers to Brussels, jealously guarding their newly quarried independence following the fall of the communist Warsaw Pact, under the iron hand of the ex-USSR.
As a result, the wording of the Declaration of Rome which the 27 EU leaders signed last Saturday had already become a very difficult crosswords, without the intervention of Schauble. He turned it into a puzzle. In the end, more than a thousand words were needed to make it tolerable by all. Ten years ago, the analogous Berlin Declaration was more or less half lengthy as the last one. Understandably, such a text aspiring to be a historic landmark, had to be brief and to the point. Instead, it had to go into details to soothe the reservations and the fears of some member states, Poland and Greece especially.
The extreme right-wing and Eurosceptic Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo, the voice of her impossible master Jarosław Kaczyński, the President of their Law and Justice party, had stated she would not sign a Declaration, containing the option of a ‘multi speed’ EU. To alleviate Poland, the Declaration incorporated strong references to ‘unity’ and NATO affiliation. Around one hundred words were needed for that. It seems that Schauble’s intervention advertising ‘multi speed’ EU enraged the Poles. Thus, the need for more words in the Declaration.
The old German fox didn’t stop there. He took it on his colleague, Foreign Minister and Federal Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel. The latter, until recently was the President of the Socialist Party (SPD), which is the junior partner in Christian Democrat Angela Merkel’s governing coalition. The ‘grand coalition’ of CDU-SPD has been ruling Germany for the last fifteen years. Last Thursday, Gabriel on official visit to Athens, when delivering a joint Press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias, said that Germany must give more money to Greece and the EU. H also tweetted that in the “In the next debate on Europe’s finances we could do something ‘outrageous’ – namely signal willingness to pay more.”
What Greece needs
It seems that the German socialists have decided to drastically change their fifteen years ‘secondo’ tune in Merkel’s austere orchestra. They have been supporting a strict economic policy, inspired by Schauble, which has sent many EU countries and Greece ‘par excellence’ to over-indebtedness. At the same time, it offered immeasurable wealth to Germany, through record trade surpluses. However, the new leader of SPD, the long time European Parliament President Martin Schulz, has greatly raised the party’s prospects to win the next legislative election in September, by simply telling his compatriots that the austere times are over.
A stout European Schulz says that the unity of the EU cannot be served with Shauble’s austerity. In some respects, this was mainly at stake in Rome last Saturday. Greece threatened to boycott the Rome Declaration from quite a different perspective than Poland. Athens, after seven years of severe austere policies and more indebtedness, is currently under pressure to go deeper into the same swamp. On top of that her creditors, and particularly the International Monetary Fund, demand that basic labor rights, like collective bargaining of wages and salaries, to be indefinitely inactive, as is currently the situation. Last Friday, Tsipras addressed a letter to his 26 counterparts pointing out the contradiction between what the creditors’ request and the EU legislation.
The truth is that the problems with Greece are far from over. Tsipras finally decided to undersign the Declaration, after a phrase about ‘fighting unemployment’ was added to the text. However, the bailout mix offered to the country by her creditors, the EU partners and the IMF, doesn’t seem to change, despite the straight seven years of mammoth failures. The country is at the verge of social and political collapse and the Grexit has again appeared in the news.
Seemingly, Gabriel is finally convinced that Germany has to change its policies towards Athens, if Greece is to stand on her feet in the foreseeable future. The same is true for the entire EU. Gabriel’s ‘outrageous’ willingness of Germany to pay more, is the only solution to contain the centrifuge forces, which gain momentum all over the Union.
Can an election save EU?
The defeat of Geert Wilders in Holland didn’t solve the problem of Eurosceptisism. The South and the East cannot continue being molested by Germany. The ‘Schauble method’ will sooner or later lead to more exits. If Schulz and Gabriel win the September election, this may change.