Friday 19 October 2012

Merkel and Barroso's Speeches to the EPP Congress

I haven't had the time to look at much of the European People's Party's Congress this week, but I saw the speeches of Merkel and Barroso.

Angela Merkel's speech echoed some of the "strivers" rhetoric of David Cameron's speech, though EPP parties in general seem to be able to carry off compassionate conservativism a bit better by integrating the "social market economy" into their rhetoric.

I have to take issue with Merkel's approach on democracy, however. It's not just about demonstrations or press freedom (not that all EPP parties have had a spotless record on the press), but about influencing policy. The calls by Merkel and Schaeuble for rigid budgetary rules and therefore dilution of national democracy is not the way to handle the crisis: Eurozone solutions should focus on preserving national democracy, and deepening European democracy where there needs to be common policy.

Barroso, who could throw his hat into the ring to be the EPP's candidate for a third Commission Presidential term, also spoke at the Congress:

Barroso stressed that the crisis was caused by a lack of regulation in the financial sector and public debt (only partially right when it comes to Ireland and Spain), and pushed for more integration. He pitched for the EU institutions to retain their current structure and not be divided because integration should be seen as a way to deepen solidarity, "...and not as a way of creating new walls because in Europe we definitely need no more walls".

Barroso used the opportunity to drum up support for the current Commission programme on EMU reform. He also called for support for the EU budget as a way for investing in growth, and tried to portray EU spending not as welfare, but as money for common objectives. He'll have a hard time building his "coalition for growth"...


  1. I don't think its much of a surprise that "social market economy" rhetoric seeped into Merkel's speech. After all, she hails from a country that didn't experience neoliberalism on the scale of the UK or America and she's an avowed Christian Democrat who's entire ideology is built upon helping others and bettering society as a whole. Bettering society is no simple task and Merkel understands that very well. Therefore, it comes to no surprise that she is a strong advocate of a strong, yet prudent state that helps the poor but also keeps its own fiscal house in order.

    So in other words, despite her strong austerity push, there's little doubt that Angela Merkel's own mindset and the mindset of her Christian Democratic Union is far from libertarian. Rather, she is a proponent of active government and uses the moral underpinnings of a Christian mode of thinking to justify a strong state. Still, she realizes that a strong state is prone to inefficiencies that will ultimately doom her goal of bettering society if it becomes too powerful to sustain itself. The PIGS of Europe are glaring examples of these excesses, and Merkel isn't the first to realize this.

    Like her Christian Democratic counterparts, she has again turned to morality, or rather the immorality of burgeoning amounts of debt, to justify austerity. In her eyes, debt has destroyed order and stability and with it any chances of bettering society. Thus, while public spending may be a valuable tool for lifting people out of poverty and building an inclusive society, it can also be a destructive force. When it becomes a destructive force like it did in Spain, Italy, Greece, and so many other fiscally troubled countries, governments must resort to austerity as the only means of restoring balance to their beleaguered countries. Only then will moral governance of the Christian Democratic sort be possible.

    When it comes to the Sovereign Debt Crisis as a whole, I've actually just written a nice little piece on my blog detailing a number of Euro-wide solutions, such as Euro-bonds and continent-wide financial regulation, which you might find interesting.

  2. I agree that Christian Democracy provides that type of moral/philosophical background to Merkel's/the CDU's thinking. Sadly, this perspective that Merkel is advancing runs counter to many of the possible policy options and solutions you describe in your post, and is based on an incredibly simplistic and moralistic reading of the crisis in general, and the crisis in the bail-out countries in particular.