“If the euro fails, Europe fails.” This dictum must be the most frequently quoted sentence from Europe’s most powerful politician, a figure otherwise hardly known for making straightforward statements or clear commitments. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s success over the past ten years (she is already the longest-serving German chancellor after Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl) is often attributed to her uncanny ability to let political developments and debates take their course—and only to stake out a position when she can be sure that her position will be on the winning side. However, in the eyes of her German critics, her apparent commitment to saving the euro no matter what has made her vulnerable to blackmail. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in particular has been betting that, for all German elites’ moralizing, the country will not, in the end, want a Grexit. And so, as is so frequent in the EU, a great policy fudge will be found that will allow all concerned to somehow save face. But Tsipras should not be so sure. A number of developments—not least profound transformations within German political culture that Germany’s partners have barely begun to understand—make it risky to bank on Germany keeping Greece in.
As with all EU leaders, Merkel’s primary concern is her domestic electorate—and, ultimately, her own party. The Christian Democrats were once the main force for European economic and political integration; Kohl risked his political life for it. But today, there is little idealism left. The only major figure who still openly advocates for a “United States of Europe” (without ever spelling out what that would mean in practice) is Germany’s defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen. And arguably, she is doing so mainly to sharpen her profile as a major rival to Merkel, who has remained conspicuously silent on Europe’s final shape.
Peripheral Europe would be made up of states that are sometimes genuinely unwilling and sometimes simply unable to
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