Merkel's subprime blame game

Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown’s new best friend, has lashed out in all directions since it became clear that some German state-owned banks were among the most serious casualties of the subprime crisis.

by Howard Davies
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

She has blamed the ratings agencies (everybody’s punch bags these days), the regulators in the US and Germany, and the investment banks. 'It is not acceptable,' she solemnly told us on Friday, 'that wrong risk assessment in one place has to be paid for by the entire global community.' 

Maybe this reads more meaningfully in German. But all of her complaints ignore the fact that Sachsen, the worst affected bank, is 100% owned by the Sate of Saxony, and has been punting German taxpayers' money on risky investments thousands of miles away. Blaming the people who packaged and sold the debt is like suing the barman who served you that last drink which lost you your licence. And why should the regulators know more about the bank's investments than its owners?
A welcome dose of reality entered the debate on Friday when Horst Metz, the finance minister of Saxony, resigned. There ought to be more where that came from. And rather than shifting the blame across the Atlantic the lesson Frau Merkel ought to learn is that state governments have no business owning commercial banks. A point the European Commission, to its credit, has regularly made to the German government.


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