July 10, 2012
Germany and France exist in two different universes, apparently: France, safely ensconced in a Eurozone without bailouts and with nary a debt crisis on the horizon, debates its economic and social model. Germany sees a Eurozone ravaged by a debt crisis with mind-boggling bailout costs and risks that stir up a furor on all sides, and everything is getting questioned, even the euro itself.
But there was a moment of repose on Sunday: French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in the French city of Reims to commemorate a French-German handshake. Reims was occupied by the Prussian military during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. During World War I, it was heavily damaged by German bombardment. During World War II, it was occupied by Germany. Then, on May 7, 1945, Germany signed its surrender there. And on July 8, 50 years ago, President Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer shook hands to put an end, once and for all, to the wars between the two countries.
So, perhaps it was a bit strained: Merkel had campaigned against Hollande on French soil during the presidential election. In return, Hollande had promised to undo every single one of her save-the-euro policies. Since becoming president, he’d formed a triumvirate with Italy and Spain to counter Merkel—while Germany is questioning the entire euro bailout debacle. But at the Cathedral of Reims, the veneer of their friendship had been polished to a semi-gloss.
Merkel talked about the “herculean” challenges ahead for the Eurozone, and Hollande proposed to deepen the friendship even more. After reaffirming the importance of their unity, they departed; and Monday morning, they were back in their different universes.
And the report ventured into what had been euro blasphemy: it discussed the pros and cons of the reintroduction of national currencies including … gasp … the “reintroduction of the D-Mark.” That the words came from the Council of Economic Experts in an official manner is another step towards what appears to be more and more the inevitable—though they labor to explain why it would be better for German industry to hang on to the euro, and though they warn of the high risks of an “uncontrolled break-up” of the Eurozone.