Wolfgang Schäuble (1942-2023)

27/12/2023 by

Wolfgang Schäuble was the embodiment of the political project of buttressing a monetary union in which he himself did not believe. To do so he had to impose violent austerity even in Germany and to dismantle democratic institutions in countries like Greece. In other words, Schäuble personified the explosive contradiction that gave birth both to the Euro Crisis and to the policies to combat it – policies that led, on the one hand, to the impoverishment of Greece and, on the other, to the current de-industrialisation of Germany and Europe’s slide into geopolitical insignificance. History will judge him harshly, but no more harshly than those who succumbed to his disastrous project and policies.

The following two extracts from my ADULTS IN THE ROOM (2017, London: Penguin) may throw some light on the man:

  1. “Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy”

As he spoke, Schäuble directed a piercing look at Sapin. ‘Elections cannot be allowed to change economic policy,’ he began. Greece had obligations that could not be reconsidered until the Greek programme had been completed, as per the agreements between my predecessors  and the troika. The fact that the Greek programme could not be completed was apparently of no concern to him. What startled me more than Wolfgang Schäuble’s belief that elections are irrelevant was his total lack of compunction in admitting to this view.

2. “As a patriot, no!”

Only a move beyond reasoning and rhetoric could break the vicious cycle, I thought, a human gesture. ‘Will you do me a favour, Wolfgang?’ I asked humbly. He nodded warmly. ‘You have been doing this for forty years,’ I said; ‘I have only been doing it for five months. You know from our earlier meetings that I have followed with interest your articles and speeches since the late 1980s. I need to ask you to forget for a few minutes that we are ministers. I want to ask you for your advice. Not to tell me what to do. To advise me instead. Will you do this for me?’

Under the watchful eye of his deputies, he nodded again. Taking heart, I thanked him and sought his answer as an elder statesman, not an enforcer. ‘Would you sign the MoU if you were in my place?’ I was expecting him to give me the predictable answer – that, under the circumstances, there was no alternative – along with all the usual, senseless arguments. He didn’t. Instead he looked out of the window. By Berlin standards, it was a hot and sunny day. Then he turned and stunned me with his answer.

‘As a patriot, no. It’s bad for your people.’


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