German Economic Minister and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Der Spiegel magazine that due to the widely unpopular austerity budgets forced on most of Europe by Germany, the breakup of the European Union is no longer impossible to imagine.
“I once asked the chancellor, what would be more costly for Germany: for France to be allowed to have half a percentage point more deficit, or for Marine Le Pen to become president?” he said, referring to the leader of the far-right National Front.
“Until today, she still owes me an answer,” added Gabriel, whose SPD favors a greater focus on investment while Merkel’s conservatives put more emphasis on fiscal discipline as a foundation for economic prosperity.
The SPD is expected to choose Gabriel, their long-standing chairman who is also economy minister, to run against Merkel for chancellor in September’s federal election, senior party sources said on Thursday.
Asked if he really believed he could win more votes by transferring more German money to other EU countries, Gabriel replied: “I know that this discussion is extremely unpopular.”
“But I also know about the state of the EU. It is no longer unthinkable that it breaks apart,” he said in the interview, published on Saturday.
“Should that happen, our children and grandchildren would curse us,” he added. “Because Germany is the biggest beneficiary of the European community – economically and politically.”
Brexit has certainly contributed to EU instability. But a more basic problem is the perception all over Europe that the EU is being run to benefit Germany and German banks. Fairly or unfairly, Germany is blamed for the stagnant economic growth and high unemployment in many EU nations, especially along the southern tier. This discontent has given rise to anti-EU parties all over the continent.
It’s not likely that Marine Le Pen will win the presidency of France, or that Gert Wilders will become prime minister of the Netherlands. But they have already upset the political apple cart in Europe by vastly increasing their support and forcing the mainstream parties to run further to the right.
For the moment, the EU appears able to withstand Brexit without melting down. But what about 5 years from now? Unless there are drastic changes in Brussels and Berlin, there may not be an EU going forward.