German election called off
...well not really. But this blog has been. Michael Naumann got sick of the election, got married, and sailed away. Call it real-time political disenchantment if you will, brought to you exclusively by openDemocracy.
For those not yet disenchanted, normal coverage resumes here
-Becky Hogge, Managing Editor
Germany's black comedy
No, the Germans are not very interested in this election campaign. The alienation of citizens from politics goes on: a phenomenon with many faces.
On 28 August, Angela Merkel - candidate of the conservative opposition CDU - presented herself at a convention in Dortmund (once a stronghold of the governing SPD) to a carefully selected band of admirers, party delegates and brigades of young cheerleaders. It was reminiscent of the staged, sycophantic events of East Germany’s political past. The main difference - instead of proletarian slogans there was a constant waving of posters with the simple message "Angie".
Yes, the Rolling Stones’s Angie - performed during the Merkel roadshow by a measly cover-band. True, Angela Merkel lacks, through no fault of her own, thirty years’ life-experience of western pop music. Little does she know that the Rolling Stones were anathema to the conservative parents of the kids who are now waving "Angie" posters in her support; in the 1970s mom and dad sided (at the utmost) with those sweet Beatles - who never showed any sympathy for the devil, let alone for revolution.
On the other hand, the marketing of Merkel’s CDU with second-hand rock’n’roll and squeaky-clean cheerleaders is a good indication of cultural flux in Germany. Angela Merkel, the future chancellor, is a divorced Protestant, a woman, childless; her own activists recently denounced the leader of her likely partner in a governing coalition, the Free Democrats’ (FDP) Guido Westerwelle, as a bachelor from Bonn (he came out as a homosexual a year ago).
Thus, Germany might be conservative at heart, but that does not imply the moral rigidity personified by that other German, the new pope. It is hard to imagine that the Catholic church, which not so long ago used to support the CDU wholeheartedly - Sunday blessings included - will return to its old partisan habits with these new leaders.
Meanwhile, Angela Merkel’s political presentation of her plans for Germany remains as opaque as ever - with two exceptions. First, she wants to raise value-added tax (Vat) by 2%, which would put Germany on the median level in Europe. The FDP opposes this as strongly as does Gerhard Schroder’s SPD. Indeed, considering that the true weakness of Germany’s present economy is caused by its citizens’ continuing reluctance to open their wallets and consume, the inevitable price rises following a Vat increase would not help.
Germany’s saving rates have reached record levels. For Schroder and his party, Merkel’s dubious plan (which they call plan Merkel-taxes) comes just in time to add spice to their own lukewarm campaigning.
Then came Merkel’s second joke-proposition: she introduced the former supreme-court judge, Paul Kirchhof, as her future finance minister. He is an eccentric and avid fan of flat taxes who advocates a top income tax rate of 25% for everybody. The last prominent proponent of this rather loony idea in a country used to progressive income taxes for an entire century was Ronald Reagan. But that was in America; and he just talked about it.
The idea which has caught on in several of the smaller east-central European states in the past two years emanates from the utopian writings of Massachusetts author Edward Bellamy in the 1880s. Its implementation in modern Germany would guarantee a state deficit of at least 40 billion Euro, and bring state operations to a complete standstill within a few months.
The absurdity of Paul Kirchhof’s proposals has not been lost on the grandees of Angela Merkel’s party and while the candidate strongly supports her own man, her party peers are publicly, though subtly, dismantling him.
None of this seems to be influencing the voters. Recent polls suggest that, whatever happens on the public stage of party conventions or TV talk shows, the majority of voters polled want a new government. Do they want a new Germany as well? Angela Merkel keeps on quoting the federal republic’s heroes of the past, Ludwig Erhard and Konrad Adenauer, as if she had sat on their laps half a century ago. The implication is that Germany should rekindle the spirit of 1949, when it started anew after its colossal moral, economic and historical defeat and downfall. Yet even when drawing this absurd comparison in Dortmund, she was interrupted by hysterical chants of "Angie, Angie!" (which, after all, is pretty much an old song as well - 1973).
No, nobody in this country really wants to return to those years of a miserable nation run by a conservative political and economic elite. Try as she might, "Angie" will never become a "Maggie" (Thatcher) for Germany lacks radical trade unions to serve as a punchball on the route to a nation defined by flat taxes and the abolition of labour laws. These laws, in any case, were extremely helpful in moving the country out of the doldrums of the post-war years.
Moreover, some of the changes in Germany’s social-welfare system introduced by Schroder’s government in the last two years have been moderated after they provoked trade union wrath. It is hard to imagine that the unions will also allow the dismantling of their basic negotiation rights. Radical the German trade unions are not (there is no Arthur Scargill here), but they are more and better organised than any trade union movement in the world. To change their ways, Angela Merkel will first have to change her own. Change, of course, is the main theme of her campaign. Though change, by definition, has never been the forte of conservatives.
Next weekend, Schroder and Merkel will meet in a TV debate lasting ninety minutes - the length of a soccer game. This author will not watch it. He is going sailing.
between Iran and utopia
At last, there is some serious political debate in Germany’s election campaign. On 13 August, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder denounced George W Bush’s “last option” - regarding Iran’s stubborn stance over its nuclear-energy policy - as “highly dangerous”. A serious topic. Finally, the public wakes up.
What does the opposition say? Well, first it bemoans another breach of Atlantic loyalty by Schröder; on second thoughts, it agrees: Europe should continue negotiating with the mullahs, but not under the threat of military intervention.
The end of the debate? Not really. The sad truth is: Iran’s nuclear bomb will become a reality, whether in five or in ten years time.
Germany’s blind date
Germany’s supreme court in Karlsruhe has heard an appeal by two members of parliament from the ruling coalition - Jelena Hoffmann of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and Werner Schulz of the Greens – against the federal president, Horst Köhler’s, decision to allow the dissolution of parliament after Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had finagled the Bundestag into a vote of no confidence in his government on 1 July 2005.
The two parliamentarians claim that in reality Schröder does or did have an unwavering majority on his side, and that the president must have known this. It follows that Horst Köhler should not have sent parliament home simply because the chancellor had asked him to.
If these sound like the uninteresting and obscure details of an ordinary divorce procedure, it should be added that what is being separated – or not – is a marriage between the chancellor and his 304 spouses: the “red” and “green” members of the Bundestag. And the courtroom drama has been getting complicated: it soon became clear that the second chamber of the constitutional court is split on the issue. If it finds (after the two weeks it has requested to make up its mind) that Horst Köhler did not base his decision on Germany’s constitution, the president would have to step down in an act of political remorse – and a new president would have to be elected in the coming months.