Italy's Prime Minister Mario Monti did it. With a single quotation he managed to unnerve the entire German parliament. In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, the former EU commissioner said, "If governments were fully bound by the decisions of their country's parliaments, then Europe breaking apart would be more likely than further integration."
In the times of the euro crisis it takes little to cause hysteria. Member of Parliament Michael Meister, of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), told the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, "We don't need less, but more democracy in Germany." Joachim Poss, deputy parliamentary leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party, told the Düsseldorf paper Rheinische Post that in the years under controversial Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy had lost its understanding for what a parliament actually stands for.
Caution from Berlin
Even the German government sought to distance itself somewhat. "It is the opinion of the chancellor that in Germany we've done quite well with the involvement of the parliament," deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter said, pointing out that Germany's highest court has recently strengthened the involvement of the parliament in eurzone rescue decisions. Foreign Minister Guide Westerwelle added, "Parliamentary control over Europe policy is beyond discussion."
Monti had made his controversial comment in the context of a warning over the disintegration of the European Union. "The tensions that the eurozone has experienced in recent years, already show the symptoms of a psychological disintegration of Europe," he said. And with his concern about a reversal of EU integration, Monti is not alone; German politicians have also warned of a trend.
Strong criticism from Bavaria
But German politicians have also contributed to heating up the debate across Europe. Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's CDU, responded to Monti by saying that "the craving for German taxpayers' money has driven Mr. Monti to making a rather undemocratic statement."
Earlier, Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder had called for Greece to be thrown out of the eurozone. Greece could be used to "set an example that the eurozone has got some teeth after all." His Bavarian colleague and economy minister, Martin Zeil, added that "who can not fulfill their obligations have to leave the eurozone."
The fact that the harshest criticism is coming from Bavaria can easily be explained by domestic policies. There are regional elections coming up next year and the CSU is facing its first defeat in 50 years.
And the latest polls show that fringe parties with an anti-European platform have managed to make significant gains and so the governing coalition of the CSU and the free-market Free Democrats might hope to win back voters if they take the same route.
A matter for Greece alone to decide
But in the European Union, such tough language is not being perceived as Bavarian but rather as German, and it draws the expected reactions from abroad. And even from within Germany, criticism as drastic as Söder's is not exactly welcome. Merkel's Christian Democrats pointed out that it was a matter for the Greeks to decide whether or not they wanted to stay in the eurozone. "The last thing they need is advice from Germany," the party's finance expert Michael Meister said.
Angela Merkel is on vacation and her spokesman did not criticize the CSU directly. But it was still clear what he meant when he pointed out that "most such opinions do not come out of Berlin."