Only as Germany became overwhelmed did the Chancellor’s presumption become clear — as did the consequences. Just as Europe had in her view shared the burden during the financial crisis, so should fellow member states split the bill that Merkel had run up alone in Berlin, in her one heady moment of moral intoxication. But the rest of Europe turned away. From Westminster to Warsaw, nobody wanted to share the burden for decisions that they knew their own electorates would not forgive.
Overnight, Merkel turned from a force of stability into a wild gambler with her country’s future. And in election after election, the rest of Europe began to pull away from her. The Hungarians were at first the most vocal. But Berlin, like Brussels, could cope with the souring of relations with the Visegrad countries, condescending to them as trainee Europeans who had not quite grasped how things are done. This narrative was harder to sustain once Britain voted to leave the EU. It became impossible once Italy, a founding member state, started heading in another direction. Five Star had been boosted by the decade of outside-imposed austerity, while the Lega was catapulted by Italy’s first-hand experience of Merkel’s invitation to the world to come to Europe.
We see this crisis playing out still, with the EU recently rejecting Italy’s proposed budget and sending the Italians back to do their maths again — with threats of billions of euros in fines if they don’t cooperate.