On this, the public shows more sense than the intellectuals who are lining up to kick the German government. While Merkel’s handling of the crisis has not been faultless, she has one big achievement to her name. She has prevented the political extremes from gaining a foothold in Germany.
Anybody who thinks that is a phantom danger should take a look at Germany’s neighbours. In France, one-third of the electorate recently voted for a far-right or a far-left candidate for the presidency. In the Netherlands — like Germany, a creditor nation sick of bailing out southern Europe — the far right and the far left are running first and second in the opinion polls. In Austria, the far right are at nearly 30% in the polls.
Germany has all the conditions for a similar backlash. The country’s voters have every reason to feel misled about the euro. They were once promised that the single currency involved a no-bailout clause that would prevent German taxpayers having to support other euro-zone countries. But Germany has already had to accept potential liabilities of €280bn to fund Europe’s various bail-outs — and there will be further demands to come. Simply funding Germany’s capital contribution to the European Stability Mechanism will increase the country’s budget deficit this year from €26bn to €35bn.
And yet, despite the burdens and risks that Germany has already taken on, the country’s government finds itself abused for not doing even more.