Bill Jamieson: Has Merkel succeeded where Napolean failed?

A NEW, more resilient European Union? Or a Germanised Europe? Where Napoleon and Hitler failed, has Angela Merkel succeeded?

If the hairshirt economics of the “new Europe” isn’t daunting enough, the politics may prove even tougher to swallow. There is already widespread resentment at what is seen as an effective German take-over.

The placards of Merkel daubed with swastikas are of course as absurd as they are deeply offensive. She is no German aggressor or triumphalist. If historical examples are looked for, Prince von Metternich (1773-1859), the German-born Austrian statesman may be the better though far from perfect fit. Metternich succeeded by diplomatic means to secure Austrian hegemony over Europe through various congresses. He used international diplomacy to prevent major wars in Europe – critics put it down to an unerring ability to bore – and was chancellor of Austria for a brief period. He deeply disliked liberalism and nationalism.

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The historian AJP Taylor never had time for him. When it came to choosing a set of sound principles, wrote Taylor, “most men could do better while shaving”.

Merkel’s Germany was forged by a re-unification at too high an exchange rate. But it overcame this to become the strongest economy in Europe. It is Germany – not without its debt problems at city level – that holds the euro purse strings. And it is to Germany that the debt-stricken Club Med economies have turned for help. The words “piper” and “tune” spring to mind.

If this is indeed a new treaty that redefines the EU and the sovereignty of countries within the 17-member eurozone, then fiscal and political union on terms and conditions insisted on by Germany will have taken a massive step forward.

Under a slow, deliberative manner, Merkel has played her hand with the steely determination of “it’s our money” Margaret Thatcher: Papandreou toppled, Berlusconi buckled and Portugal brought into line: patient determination has paid off. She has withstood Sarkozy’s antipathy to treaty change and his preference for carrying on with summitry that has clearly failed.

Her manner may be stodgy but the results electrifying. Many admire the way she has stood her ground against ferocious pressure to give in. Opponents overlooked one key fact: if the German chancellor didn’t hold her ground, the German government – and the country’s constitutional court – would almost certainly have done.

• Bill Jamieson is Executive Editor of The Scotsman