German Election First Analysis

This was quoted in Die Welt’s report on British reaction to Angela’s Merkel’s 3rd term victory in the Bundestag elections held on 22 September 2013

This article was published in the Social Europe Journal 23 September 2012

More Of The Same From Germany Or New Directions For Europe After Merkel Triumph?

Denis McShane
Ten questions…
1) Angela Merkel is as utterly triumphant as any European political leader has been in recent years. Unlike Tony Blair in 2005 or Margaret Thatcher in 1987 when both leaders won a third victory but on a smaller vote her third election victory has seen her win an extra 3.5 million votes. Even so the CDU/CSU total share of the vote is lower than the combined Union vote won between 1949 and 1994. And as with Thatcher in 1987 or Blair in 2005 it is a third time win for Mrs Merkel but will it be the last time? Voters love her don’t rock the boat, continuity, no change style. Like the do-not-much British Conservative prime minister, Arthur Balfour, a century ago Mrs Merkel believes that ‘Nothing matters very much and most things don’t matter at all.’ Like early 20th century England, early 21st century Germany is rich, ordered, well-run, socially one of the fairest EU member states, confident in its democracy, freedoms and rule of law and not a little self-satisfied. Why buy new shoes when the ones you have are comfortable, water-proof and look OK?
2) Germany is giving up on the classic post-war liberalism embodied by Ralf Dahrendorf, the German-British liberal politician and intellectual. He sadly is dead and his Weltanschauung was buried with him as a 20th but not 21st century politics. Cultural, gender and social liberalism has won overall and pure economic liberalism is less and less attractive. Merkel does not challenge the Social-Market model with its full acceptance of employer-union Partnerschaft. She let Gerhard Schroeder do the heavy lifting on reforming the German labour market to bring in low-pay, disposable jobs. She has allowed organized white metalworker wages to move up in line with recent profits and unlike British Conservatives Mrs Merkel is utterly unobsessed with reducing trade union rights or status. Why should Mrs Merkel adopt neo-liberal economic and labour market policies when the German variant works better?
3) Merkel is a post foreign-policy leader. Foreign affairs played no part in the election. Germany under Merkel refused to back the Sarkozy-Cameron adventure in Libya and has kept away from Syria. She does not challenge Putin. Russia both as a supplier of energy and a market for German investment and industrial goods is essential. She has criticized but not vehemently attacked US cyber-imperialism. Germany has no enemies and no longer needs US security protection. Germany’s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, much courted as a fellow Liberal by the German-speaking Nick Clegg, has seen his party humiliated and booted out of the Bundestag. The role and status of the foreign minister in a German government is now demoted as is the case elsewhere as foreign policy decisions become the prerogative of the head of government. Will a new coalition partner seek the Foreign Minister position or demand a key domestic and EU portfolio like finance or economics?
4) Merkel’s abandonment of nuclear power caught the Greens bathing as she walked off with their clothes. The soft de-industrialisation of Germany and the serious efforts to make sense of a sustainable ecologically friendly modern economic policy also chimes with voters who are nervous of high science after Fukishima and yearn for more of a nature-friendly Gemeinschaft (community) than a risk-taking scientific Gesellschaft (society). Is Merkel’s Nein, danke to nuclear power definitive and can wind and sun supply all Germany’s energy needs?
5) As after 1982, it will be a long march back to the Chancellorship for the social democrats. Once a CDU chancellor is dug in – Adenauer (1949-63), Kohl (1982-1998), Merkel (2005-2013) they are difficult to dislodge. It seems to take at least a decade and a generation change in the SPD before they find not so much the ideas but the right person (Brandt, Schmidt, Schroeder) to front them. The SPD candidate, Peer Steinbrueck, was yesterday’s minister who had compromised himself by going off to make millions out of speaking fees after 2009. The SPD meet on Friday to discuss forming a Great Coalition. Will they say Ja to being junior partners or stay in opposition waiting for 2017?
6) As in the Dutch election 2012 there is a reconsolidation of the two main centre-right and centre-left parties as newer identity or single issue parties lose traction. The big loser in the Dutch election was Wilders anti-immigrant party. It is always exciting to begin with when a fluent speaker manages to blame a nation’s woes on one specific problem or promise that more green politics, or less Europe, or more internet libertarianism (the Pirates) will radically improve lives. In fact, government is complex, full of compromises, and competing priorities. Millenian generation voters have been weaned off the 1968 politics of denying compromise and rejecting consensus. Merkel seems to have scooped up voters who want a real world rather than a utopian politics. Will the anti-Euro AfD sustain itself as a party for the European Parliament elections and regional Landtag parliament elections or dissolve?
7) Merkel campaigned for ‘more Europe’ and France’s President Hollande was the first leader to congratulate her, and invite her to Paris to discuss the next stages of EU construction. If she stays in office until 2017 she and Hollande face re-election that year. Both will need some better EU economic growth news by then. Both know that an open, enforceable rules-based EU is essential for their respective national interests. Both France and Germany see themselves as victims of the Anglo-American derivatives, hedge-fund banking crisis, bubbles, and private and public debt style of economic growth boosted by Clinton, Greenspan, Brown and the City that caused the crash of 2007-8 and subsequent Euroatlantic recession. If Poland moves to the nationalist right with the election of a PiS Kaczynski government in 2015 and Britain stays marginalized waiting for an In-Out EU referendum can Paris with its German-speaking prime minister create a new Franco-German axis?
8) She won on the absolute guarantee promised almost daily from Finance Minister, 71-year-old Wolfgang Schaeuble, that Germany would send no new money to southern Europe. So the Eurozone crisis is likely to get worse unless she can wriggle out of that promise. But she now has the mandate to tell the truth to the Germans that if they want to keep exporting someone has to import. If all of Europe adopts the German model who will import made-in-Germany goods? A trade surplus in Germany needs a trade deficit in other countries like Greece to exist. All EU member states cannot become creditor nations. Of course better supervision of national budgets is needed and as in 1950 with the Coal and Steel Community there will be new agreements to transfer some sovereign power to supra-national bodies. The ECB is recruiting 1,000 more banking specialists to Frankfurt for the EU financial stability and banking supervisory bodies created in response to the crisis. As these are consolidated Merkel can turn to Germans and say that loans or credit guarantees to the southern Euro state are necessary for German economic interests?
9) Having seen in the GDR how absolute power corrupts Merkel is unlikely to use her new powerful position to dominate or throw her weight around. She will develop a new concept of Bescheidenheitsmacht (modest or humble power) not dissimilar to that which obtains in Japan. This will require other democratic powers to do the heavy lifting on geo-political security questions. Last year Mrs Merkel torpedoed the merger between BAE and EADS to create a genuine European defence industrial capability. Will she continue to protect smallscale German defence industry firms or transfer German capability in this area to a European dimension? Will there be more Vorsicht (caution) than Vorsprung (a leap forward)?
10) David Cameron may need to rethink his opportunism on offering an In-Out EU referendum in order to attract Eurosceptic voters to the Conservative fold. Mrs Merkel made no concessions to the anti-Euro AfD (Alternative for Germany) party. In fact, it appears she won 300,000 voters from the AfD supporters who preferred a stable centre-right EU-friendly Germany rather than indulge the anti-Euro whimsy of the AfD founders and supporters. Her victory will be cheered by all other centre-right governments grouped in European People’s Party from Poland to Spain, Sweden to Greece. The one big exception is David Cameron who petulantly walked out of EPP in 2009 in order to boost his anti-EU profile. Mrs Merkel was not impressed and while she does not want the UK to quit the EU the mood in European capitals is changing to thinking this might happen and not caring overmuch. If she forms a grand coalition with the SPD, the chances of the next German government offering any presents to British Tories on social policy or other EU derogations are not great. Her only other possible ally is the Green Party and they are even more hostile to English elite Toryism than the SPD. Thus Mrs Merkel’s victory though good news for the EU-integrated centre-right does little to comfort David Cameron’s hopes of Berlin helping him along a Eurosceptic path to win in 2015 and then provide help to win a referendum in 2017. How does Cameron respond?
In conclusion Mrs Merkel has every right to savour her triumph which in recent European political history has no precedent. Her cautious approach has won German endorsement. But Germany needs to grow faster and find answers to its demographic problem. Above all Germany needs to answer its own European question. The challenges for Mrs Merkel are just about to begin.

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