Sócrates sem crédito
José Sócrates reportedly begged for help last week as Portugal became the latest eurozone country tipped for a bailout. But the cynical response reveals rising tensions within the bloc.
Angela Merkel was locked in talks about the euro crisis when the phone rang in the gleaming chancellery in Berlin.
The Portuguese prime minister, José Sócrates, was on the line from Lisbon with a plea for help. Portugal is tipped to be the third of 17 eurozone countries to collapse under the weight of its sovereign debt, needing a German-led bailout. Sócrates sounded desperate and eager to please, according to witnesses.
He asked Merkel what he should do, promised to do anything she wanted, with one big exception. He would not ask for money – for a eurozone bailout with extremely tight strings attached.
According to accounts circulating in Berlin, Merkel left Sócrates to wait while she sought the views of her high-powered visitors – Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the French head of the International Monetary Fund, and Giulio Tremonti, the highly regarded Italian foreign minister who has recently been lobbying for the introduction of “Eurobonds” as part of a solution to the year-long crisis.
Merkel asked Strauss-Kahn about Sócrates’ dilemma. The German-speaking IMF chief was dismissive. The Portuguese plea was pointless, he said, because Sócrates would not follow any advice he was given.
The exchange, which occurred last week in Berlin, highlights what a senior German official describes as “Europe’s big communication problem”.
In the midst of one of the EU’s worst ever crises, its leaders seem to have a problem talking to one another. The level of trust between key policymakers and decision-takers is very low, hugely complicating the quest for a way out of the euro’s existential challenge.