The Chancellor’s confessional

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The chancellor inherited an old Christian Democratic tradition. He extracted all its potentialities and multiplied it as a mechanism to make big decisions.

It is the famous Merkel method —The parsimonious merkeln-, composed of scientifically recounting the data, systematically listening to the other protagonists, glimpsing a line of agreement (at least minimal), adding a slight bias pro domo tua, and … decide.

It was the eternal and controversial Italian Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti, who invented the rudiments of this “confessional” method in the then European Communities. Actually, the ABC of mediation.

When it was his turn to preside, which was many times, he sat with one and the other; he traveled to all the capitals; I found the common thread. In the Vatican language, they proliferated confessions and conclaves and retreats, which in part was transferred to Brussels, with the benign tolerance of the discreet but active Central European Freemasonry.

Jacques Delors, a Christian but leftist, was also an active cultivator of the confessional, something typical of the mediating and catalyzing role of the Commission. If this hegemonized the legislative initiative – as today – it was logical to first count on the contributions, discreetly exposed, of the partners. The mediator pretended they were homegrown, the guarantee of success.

The negotiators’ manuals say that such preliminary tests are used to take the temperature; project the extreme points to avoid, and explore the most probable, or at least possible, areas of agreement.

Merkel has been a shrewd student of these teachers. With an advantage, which he took advantage of. The failed European Constitution – due to French disaffection – was eventually converted into a fairly acceptable Treaty of Lisbon, which saved its essential content.

He consecrated his own and ideal space for the ecstasy of the confessional: it solemnized the European Council, which had been invented by Giscard d’Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, as an institution, no longer only guiding, but directly leading the European construction.

So the chancellor used her capacity for sober empathy at will (everyone felt respected by her, but none were entirely sure); of age-old consensus-making techniques (and of what was acceptable, or unaffordable, for each party); and of the power that gave the first European power (with staggering France) its economic power, to forge decisions that could not be postponed.

The laborious method, however, was neither smoothly deployed nor cost-free, as is the case with the slow pace of democratic decision-making: dictatorships tend to be always faster. Taxatives. And suicidal.

The tidy ripening, waiting times, clock stops, extensions and consultations at the bottom of the abyss passed a sour social bill to the rescue of Greece and other southerners. Although late, defectively and with too much pain, the worst was saved.

The frequent result of the inescapable lowest common denominator used to be far from the desirable highest common multiple. Only with the Economic Recovery Plan in the face of the pandemic, the Next Generation program and the consequent mutualisation of debt, did Merkel live up to expectations.

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She had promised no Eurobonds “as long as I live.” But he fitted them gently, even passionately, against his hawks of ordoliberal thought and its increasingly nationalist Constitutional Court.

The basic litmus test of a leader is to make the followers themselves uncomfortable. Helmut Kohl did so when the euro was introduced at the turn of the century, against all domestic polls. The most sophisticated test is to rectify oneself, because the situation has shown that things were not going where you suspected. Angela did it. I respect. And admiration.

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