December 5, 2023

German Paper Finds Draghi Not So Bad After All

FRANKFURT — Bild, a racy German daily that is easy to ridicule but hard to ignore, on Friday improved Mario Draghi’s chances of becoming the next president of the European Central Bank by dropping a campaign that depicted him as a feckless Italian who can’t be trusted with money.

“On second thought,” the newspaper said in its Friday edition, after noting how it had ridiculed Mr. Draghi in the past, “he is actually rather German, even Prussian.” The newspaper conferred honorary citizenship on Mr. Draghi, who is president of the Bank of Italy, and ran a doctored photo of him wearing a spiked helmet. “It looks good on him,” the caption said.

The newspaper’s faux naturalization of Mr. Draghi may have real political significance, as it gives Chancellor Angela Merkel more space to endorse Mr. Draghi without worrying about a public backlash stoked by the country’s most widely read newspaper.

Despite its focus on sex, scandal and football, Bild — which in apparent deference to the royal wedding did not run its usual Page 1 photo of a bare-breasted woman Friday — is taken seriously in political circles. Political leaders often grant exclusive interviews to the newspaper, which is based in Berlin but distributed nationally, when they have something to say to the German people.

Quoting unidentified sources, Bild also reported that Mrs. Merkel had decided to support Mr. Draghi as successor to Jean-Claude Trichet, whose term ends in October. The chancellor’s office denied Friday that she had made a decision. But Mr. Draghi’s candidacy looks increasingly inevitable after he won the backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France this week.

Bild’s clout is often overestimated, said Gero Neugebauer, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin. “Ordinary people have absolutely no interest in who will be the next president of the E.C.B.,” Mr. Neugebauer said.

Still, Bild’s turnaround means “it’s easier for Mrs. Merkel to support this candidate,” Mr. Neugebauer said. “She won’t have any resistance from this important newspaper.”

German leaders had expected that Axel A. Weber, the Bundesbank president, would become the next E.C.B. president. But he unexpectedly took himself out of the running this year and resigned his Bundesbank post. Coincidentally, Friday was his last day in the job.

Top officials in Berlin had been careful not to criticize Mr. Draghi but seemed to still harbor hopes that they could find another German candidate. But there appeared to be no one else with the stature and experience needed to steer the euro zone through the crisis created by debt problems in Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

In revising its opinion about Mr. Draghi, Bild noted that he is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and has often clashed with Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister facing charges that he paid an underage girl for sex.

Bild described Mr. Draghi as strict, down to earth, determined and loyal. “As Italy’s top banker, he has since 2006 preached economic reforms, debt reduction and spending discipline,” the paper said. “Bild therefore grants him honorary citizenship.”

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