The Germans have yet to fully spell out what they mean by a political union, but it largely involves the surrendering of more national authority to the region’s administrative capital in Brussels. Merkel’s influential finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble
, last week reinforced calls for a directly elected president of the European Commission, as well as a new finance minister for Europe capable of overruling national governments. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle called a forum of his peers together last week to float notions including the integration of European defense into a single, standing army.
“Only a long-term perspective for Europe will restore the confidence that we also need to come out of the debt crisis now,” Westerwelle told the Financial Times.
But to a large measure, countries such as France, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain see the surrendering of power to a central authority as living under a German diktat by a different name. If, for instance, the region ever embraces a parliament or president elected by proportional representation, Germany could, by nature of its size, have the biggest say.
In the Netherlands, for instance, a poll this month by Maurice de Hond found that 64 percent of those asked were opposed to Merkel’s calls for a political union. In Paris, where Merkel was meeting Wednesday evening with France’s new president, Francois Hollande, there is still strong skepticism of ceding national powers. Hollande, a socialist, has warned Merkel that a quid pro quo would be required, balancing steps toward integration with more willingness from Germany to put cash on the table.
“Integration as much as necessary, solidarity as much as possible,” Hollande said Wednesday night in Paris in a joint news conference with Merkel.
Increasingly isolated and under pressure from other leaders, Merkel has held firm to her line on short-term fixes to the crisis: Countries that overspent and overborrowed must now endure lean times. The chancellor is set to agree this week to only a modest new growth plan pumping a relatively small amount of new cash into Europe’s moribund economy.
But that position is also based partly on a deep sense in Germany that the 21
2-year debt crisis is simply not as bad as the rest of Europe thinks it is. If the situation takes a sharp turn for the worse — say, if Italy spirals into a deeper crisis — many think the Germans will feel boxed into a corner and will ultimately accede to more and quicker concessions on short-term measures.
“I have some sympathy for the German position,” said Karel Lannoo, head of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. “Angela Merkel is being forced to sell bailouts to her own population that has lived within its means. We have to be careful in Europe not to alienate the German public, because Europe really needs Germany now.”
Birnbaum reported from Washington. Staff writer Edward Cody in Paris contributed to this report.