The Division of Europe EU Summit Paves the Way for a Split Continent
Last Wednesday's summit in Brussels took important steps toward saving the European common currency. But it also made it clear that the European Union is being divided in two. Germany is the new Europe's leader -- for better or worse. By SPIEGEL Staff
At 7:45 p.m., European Council President Herman Van Rompuy could no longer avoid the embarrassing and unpleasant task of throwing out 10 people. Friendliness was called for, of course, and nice words. But so too was firmness: Their presence was no longer required, and they were asked to leave the assembly hall of the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels.
They were all proud people, the sort who usually do the throwing out themselves: national leaders like British Prime Minister David Cameron and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk -- all from the 10 countries that are part of the European Union but don't use the euro.
They met last Wednesday with their 17 counterparts from the euro zone to discuss the future of Europe. In reality, though, they complained that the 17 euro-zone nations were embarking on their own path and not involving them sufficiently.
There was no shortage of grievances. Indeed, the full, 27-member session had already taken much longer than planned when Van Rompuy braced himself and asked Cameron, Tusk and the other eight leaders of non-euro-zone nations to leave. He thanked them for the "positive" discussion -- a choice of words which belied the heated atmosphere which characterized the session -- and went about his extremely unpleasant task.
There was a break, and then dinner was served. Now the 17 heads of state and government of the euro zone could finally tackle the important part of the meeting. Over dinner, they discussed how to save the euro.
It was a memorable meeting, and when it finally ended in the early morning hours of Thursday, a program to rescue the euro had emerged. It revealed the contours of a new Europe -- a divided Europe, with a new border running between those countries which belong to the common currency area and those which do not. In the future, there will be two Europes within the European Union.
One could very well be called Merkel's Europe. The German chancellor played an essential role in creating it, and now the euro zone is the kind of entity she envisioned.
This new Europe has a nearly hegemonic leader, namely Germany. It has a goal, the stability of the euro. And it has a principle that reads: Those who botch their finances stand to lose a portion of their sovereignty. It also has a central administrative body, the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF), which manages the bailout fund.
Merkel's Europe is a sober, rational creation. As such, it bears a resemblance to its creator, a person with no great vision or passion about matters like peace or culture. Numbers count more than words in this new Europe, which is not a community of fate but one of convenience. And yet it is also true that if the euro zone turns out to be a success, it could help make Europe more effective overall.
The financial markets reacted positively at first. But everyone knows how volatile the situation is, which is why the German government's initial reactions to the outcome in Brussels were skeptical. "There will be no single solution during this process," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said in an interview with SPIEGEL. "We still have a long way to go before all problems are solved."
But there is a general sense, if only temporary, of satisfaction. At the moment, it looks as if Merkel has done a relatively good job.
The chancellor supported a national strategy from the start. She didn't want to be Europe's savior. She wanted to protect German money to preserve Germany's competitiveness on global markets -- while perhaps saving Europe in the process.
If she had said from the beginning that the Germans, with their financial clout, would support the rest of the euro zone unconditionally, she would now be a celebrated European, and the events of the last few months would have unfolded more harmoniously. But that wasn't an option. Over a year ago, Merkel said that EU member states would not make enough of an effort if Germany proved to be too generous. And it is a motto she has stayed consistent to since.
That was her strategy: To encourage the other nations to make an effort. The Germans would intervene, but only if the problems still remain unresolved. The strategy has led to several achievements. For one, the Spaniards, Greeks, Portuguese and Italians have introduced austerity programs, some of them painful, to clean up their government finances. The German stability culture is gradually becoming dominant in Europe.
What Merkel demonstrated most of all this year is her stubbornness and rigidity. When it comes to votes, Merkel is as pliable as wax. She doesn't like to demand much from Germany's voters. But when it comes to demanding sacrifices from others, she can be relentless.
Stragglers and Second-Tier Nations
There were periods in this process when Merkel was sharply criticized abroad -- in both the United States and Europe -- as well as at home by the opposition and the media. Everyone, it seemed, wanted Germany to finally take a leadership role, which, for some, really meant that it was time for Berlin to pay up. But Merkel remained persistent. She is less fearful of someone like US President Barack Obama than of German voters.
But the price of her success in Brussels is the division of Europe. Those countries that are not part of the euro zone are now no longer part of a core Europe, and are now being asked to leave the room when the truly important issues are being debated. While the 17 euro-zone members walk at the front of the pack, the 10 non-euro-members are forced to walk behind, like stragglers and second-tier nations.
And now they have it in writing. In the closing document of last week's summit, euro-zone member states grant themselves the right to work together more closely without having to wait for the non-euro countries. The EFSF also deepens the divide. It is a facility set up by the 17 countries in the monetary union for the 17 countries in the monetary union.
Indeed, the European flag, the symbol of the European Union, doesn't fly in front the EFSF headquarters on John F. Kennedy Avenue 43 in Luxembourg. Only the blue-and-yellow colors of the logo indicate the relationship between the EFSF and Europe.
The 17 euro-zone leaders decided to make the bailout fund and its director, Klaus Regling, even more important in the future. Regling will receive more power and influence, as well as more money. He will become the nucleus of a new Europe driven by fiscal policy.
- Part 1: EU Summit Paves the Way for a Split Continent
- Part 2: Germany Takes the Lead