German Presidency Offers Moral Compass on Europe: The Ticker

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By David Henry

Another president, another bailout. The resignation of a German president seems to be a harbinger of Greek fortunes.

Not even a week has passed since Christian Wulff announced his resignation as German president, and now Greece has received a second bailout, this time worth 130 billion euros ($173 billion). The Hellenic Republic was awarded its first rescue package of 110 billion euros in May 2010, just weeks after Horst Koehler resigned the German presidency.

While there's no causal link between the two events, they serve as a reminder of the political wrangling that hampers the euro area's transition to a supranational entity and the plight of the region's weaker members. Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to drop her opposition to the nomination of Joachim Gauck as the next German president when it became clear that her Free Democratic Party partners in the coalition government weren't going to back her. The FDP's support for Gauck threatened to destabilize the government and will surely cause a lasting rift during the Merkel administration's remaining time in office.

Gauck, who isn't affiliated with any political party, is seen as a moral authority who can help repair the damage that Wulff inflicted on the presidency amid allegations of corruption. The Protestant pastor who helped organize the protests that led to the fall of East Germany's communist regime is already enjoying a honeymoon in the German press. Die Welt newspaper described him as "an impartial friend of party democracy,'' while the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung said Gauck's popularity among the public means "his re-election is as good as certain.''

The largely ceremonial post of president is supposed to be a source of moral guidance through carefully worded speeches. Gauck's acknowledged prowess as a public speaker and his political impartiality may be just what Germany needs to revisit the country's role in the euro crisis. A president who doesn't have one eye on voter opinion polls is more likely to speak for the nation's place in Europe than to protect a party's political interests.

"Now Germany has a president who has already experienced a situation like the euro crisis,'' Die Welt wrote. "Joachim Gauck should travel to Greece soon. He knows how it feels when a society is reeling. He can find the right words.''

(David Henry is an editor for Bloomberg View.)


-0- Feb/21/2012 15:14 GMT