Sep 26th 2017

Germany’s Grave New World

by Joschka Fischer

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 until 2005, was a leader in the German Green Party for almost 20 years.


BERLIN – The outcome of Germany’s federal election on Sunday was unexpected and disturbing, at least by German standards. The two main parties, the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), along with its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), were punished at the ballot box, after having governed as a grand coalition under Chancellor Angela Merkel for the past four years.

The SPD’s performance was its worst in any federal election since the Federal Republic’s first, in 1949. Similarly, the CDU/CSU alliance turned in its second-worst showing since 1949, and the CSU suffered the worst federal-election loss in its history. This is particularly important, given that Bavaria will hold state-level elections next year.

All told, the election was a landslide against Merkel’s grand coalition. And, to a large extent, it can be seen as a protest vote against Merkel herself. Internationally, she is appreciated as an effective stateswoman and the guarantor of stability and moral authority in the West. But at home, that is clearly no longer the case.

Merkel’s greatest mistake in this election was to rely on the same defensive strategy that she used in the last two elections, when she won resoundingly. She seems to have assumed that avoiding controversy and keeping quiet about the key issues confronting Europe would work once again. This showed poor judgment, given the 2015 refugee crisis and its implications for Germany, to say nothing of the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which captured around 13% of the vote.

Many Germans have been wondering what lies ahead for their country, and for German national identity. Merkel did not provide sufficient answers to these questions. And while she remained silent, populists such as AfD Vice Chairman Alexander Gauland filled the airwaves with loud appeals to ethnic and nationalist nostalgia.

Indeed, the big winner in this election was the AfD, whose members include neo-Nazis and other extremists. The party’s success is a disgrace for Germany. After 72 years, the far right is back in the Bundestag – and with the third-strongest bloc. And the AfD is now the second-largest party in the Länder (federal states) comprising the former East Germany.

Germany is not the only European country where right-wing populists have made electoral gains in recent years. But nowhere is the resurgence of the far right more disconcerting than in Germany, owing to its particular history. To prevent the right from doing irreparable damage to German democracy, the parties that still stand for democratic values must take seriously their responsibility to form a new government.

Merkel will almost certainly remain chancellor in the next government. As CDU and CSU members debate the matter in the coming days, they will find no credible or equally popular alternative to her. Electoral losses or not, you can’t overthrow your chancellor without having a convincing replacement waiting in the wings. Merkel is lucky: the knives haven’t come out yet; and even if they do, they probably won’t draw blood – at least for now.

Another unexpected outcome of the election is that the SPD’s leaders are now arguing for joining the opposition – as if participation in the government were a curse to be avoided at all costs. This will make the process of forming the next government long and painstaking, which is unusual in German politics.

With the SPD refusing to participate in a grand coalition, the only mathematically viable option that remains is a “Jamaica” alliance – named for Jamaica’s black, yellow, and green flag – comprising the CDU/CSU, the liberal Free Democrats, and the Greens. But getting there will not be easy: while the parties will not have much trouble arriving at the necessary policy compromises, they differ markedly in governing mentality and leadership style.

Moreover, the domestic political calendar will most likely prolong the coalition talks. Party leaders will posture and try to save face in the eyes of their constituencies, and not much will happen until after the state elections in Lower Saxony on October 15. And even then, a new government will not be formed quickly.

The only alternatives to a Jamaica coalition are a CDU/CSU minority government or a new election next spring, which would probably only strengthen the AfD’s position. Both outcomes would be bad for Germany, which is widely perceived – and relied on – as an anchor of stability in Europe.

That means the future of German democracy and European stability will depend on whether reason prevails among the remaining smaller parties. The Jamaica parties have a responsibility to get behind Merkel, and to compromise as necessary to form a government. Their leaders, one hopes, will be smart enough to work together in good faith, rather than seeking only narrow partisan advantage. They can start by making security, economic reform, and ecological and digital modernization the three pillars of a new kind of coalition.

As for Merkel, failing to form a stable majority government would probably spell the end of her chancellorship. And, more broadly, it could usher in a new period of political chaos. No one should wish that on Germany – or on Europe.


Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

May 16th 2019
Iraq’s population when invaded was 26 million. Iran’s population today is 81 million..........Whereas Iraq’s neighbors– Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia in particular– had been mauled by Saddam and so did not strongly oppose Bush’s invasion, Shiite Iraqis, many Syrians, the Hazaras of Afghanistan, and the some 40 million Shiites of Pakistan would support Iran.
May 15th 2019
It’s time that economists, pundits, and politicians start looking holistically at life in our times, and take seriously the long-term structural changes needed to address the multiple crises of health care, despair, inequality, and stress in the US and many other countries. US citizens, in particular, should reflect on the fact that many other countries’ people are happier and less worried, and are living longer. In general, those other countries’ governments are not cutting taxes for the rich and slashing services for the rest. They are attending to the common good, instead of catering to the rich while pointing to illusory economic statistics that hide as much as they reveal.
May 8th 2019
"........Meanwhile, Trump is leaving the door open for Russia to come to his aid again in 2020. The White House and congressional Republican leaders have been blocking a bill to secure US elections against foreign attacks. And administration officials have been instructed not to raise the issue of Russian interference with the president, lest it cast a shadow on his legitimacy.  The next phase in this affair is already coming into focus. Barr, with the help of Trump’s golfing buddy Lindsey Graham, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now enlisted in peddling the president’s fantasy that the Mueller investigation was a “witch hunt” orchestrated by “deep-state” supporters of Hillary Clinton. Once again, current and former FBI agents will be targeted, either because they expressed criticism of Trump or because they opened a national security investigation into a hostile power’s meddling in the US presidential election (which continued in the 2018 midterms). FBI director Christopher Wray, commenting on the Mueller report, said that the Russians are “upping their game” for 2020. "
May 7th 2019
We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.
May 4th 2019
Accusing Iran of being a rogue country bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting extremist groups and terrorism, persistently threatening Israel, and destabilizing the region in its relentless effort to become the dominant power may well all be justified. The question is, what would it take to stop Iran from its destabilizing activities and help make it a constructive member of the international community, and avoid military confrontation with either the US or Israel or both?
Apr 29th 2019
Some of the most famous scientific discoveries happened by accident. From Teflon and the microwave oven to penicillin, scientists trying to solve a problem sometimes find unexpected things. This is exactly how we created phosphorene nanoribbons – a material made from one of the universe’s basic building blocks, but that has the potential to revolutionise a wide range of technologies.
Apr 28th 2019
Easter visitors to London have found some streets and buildings occupied by “Extinction Rebellion” activists, warning of climate catastrophe and rejecting “a failed capitalist system.” Followers of central bank thinking have seen the governors of the Bank of England and Banque de France warning that climate-related risks threaten company profits and financial stability. Both interventions highlight the severity of the climate challenge that the world faces. But warnings alone won’t fix the problem unless governments set ambitious but realistic targets to eliminate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions, backed by policies to ensure the targets are achieved. Zero net CO2 emissions by 2050 at the latest should be the legally defined objective in all developed economies.
Apr 25th 2019
LONDON – Russian efforts to influence European elections have received plenty of media attention. But the same cannot be said of interference by conservative Christian groups based in the United States, some with links to President Donald Trump’s administration and his former adviser, Stephen Bannon.
Apr 24th 2019
.............the version of the report released is only the start of wide-ranging and intensive House investigations.
Apr 17th 2019
On the night of April 15, 2019, in Paris, the emotions were raw. “Notre Dame is burning, the whole of France is crying, the whole world is crying,” said Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris. “It’s terrible, frightening, painful, a tragedy, a nightmare.” “This place leaves no one untouched. When you enter this cathedral, it inhabits you,” said Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, in front of the burning monument. “We will rebuild,” said the Rector of Notre Dame, “we will rebuild.”
Apr 15th 2019
High-level political purges are gathering pace in Russia. The latest evidence came in late March, with the arrests of Mikhail Abyzov, a former minister for open government affairs, and – two days later – Viktor Ishayev, a former Far East minister and ex-governor of Russia’s Khabarovsk region. Unsurprisingly, the arrests of such senior figures is having a chilling effect among the country’s elites. The authorities have now arrested or imprisoned three former federal government ministers and a supporting cast of regional officials
Apr 8th 2019
The reaction to this type of paternalism, sensible and well-meant as it usually was, came in the form of petulant populism. Like a child who refuses to eat his spinach, just because his mother claims it is good for him, supporters of Trump, Brexiteers, or Baudet want to give the finger to the politics of virtue. That is why Nigel Farage, the chief promoter of Brexit, likes to be photographed with a glass full of beer and a smoldering cigarette: if the virtuous elite want us to drink less and quit smoking, let’s have another and light up.
Apr 8th 2019
Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to be on a roll. He has sent a rocket to the dark side of the moon, built artificial islands on contested reefs in the South China Sea, and recently enticed Italy to break ranks with its European partners and sign on to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s unilateralist posture has reduced America’s soft power and influence. China’s economic performance over the past four decades has been truly impressive. It is now the main trading partner for more than a hundred countries compared to about half that number for the United States. Its economic growth has slowed, but its official 6% annual rate is more than twice the American rate. Conventional wisdom projects that China’s economy will surpass that of the US in size in the coming decade. Perhaps. But it is also possible that Xi has feet of clay.
Apr 2nd 2019
"......as prime minister, May called a snap election in the name of helping her deliver Brexit. She openly dismissed anyone opposing Brexit – which at the very least meant the 16.5m who had voted remain – as “playing games with politics”. In hock to the hardline Brexiteers within her own party, May pushed a for a version of Brexit that would make this small group of around 100 or so individuals happy, regardless of what millions out in the country thought."
Apr 1st 2019
The financial crisis occurred in 2008 because deficient regulation allowed huge risks to develop within the financial system itself. But the depth of the subsequent recession, and the long period of slow growth that followed, was the result not of continued financial system fragility, but of the excessive leverage in the real economy that had developed over the previous half-century. Between 1950 and 2007, advanced economies’ private-sector debt (households and companies) grew from 50% to 170% of GDP and adequate growth seemed attainable only if debt grew far more rapidly than nominal GDP. After the crisis, loan growth turned negative and remained depressed for many years, not because an impaired financial system lacked the capital to extend credit, but because overleveraged households and companies were determined to pay down debt even if interest rates were zero. The same pattern was observed in Japan in the 1990s.
Mar 28th 2019
The American people should have known that something was awry when President Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, announced on Friday, March 22, that he had received special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and would provide a summary of its findings to certain congressional leaders over the weekend. We should have asked: Why Barr’s summary and not Mueller’s? Presumably, Mueller had attached one to his report. It turned out there was a propagandistic reason for this unusual arrangement: Barr issued the best possible interpretation of Mueller’s report – from the president’s standpoint – including perhaps even a twist on what Mueller had said and intended. This allowed the president and his backers to propagate and celebrate what Mueller didn’t say: that the report’s conclusions were a “total exoneration” of Trump. In fact, even Barr’s brief summary, quoting Mueller’s report, said, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Mar 26th 2019
"The 2020 campaign could easily devolve into street violence at Trump’s instigation."
Mar 26th 2019


 

BEIJING – The global economy is weakening, in no small measure because of a deep, widespread sense of uncertainty. And a major source of that uncertainty is the ongoing Sino-American “trade war.”

Mar 19th 2019
Last week, a far-right extremist killed at least 50 people – including a three-year-old child – worshiping at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Neither white supremacy, nor racially motivated terrorist attacks carried out in its name, are new phenomena. Yet the response to far-right terrorism remains thoroughly insufficient.