IN DEPTH: Germany’s political crisis
Part I: Origins of Germany's 'Merkel' crisis
It was at the end of September 2017 when the people of Germany voted in the last Bundestag Election. It is fair to say that quite a large number of citizens expected these elections to bring political changes, at least to some degree, after 3 long terms of various coalition flavours of an Angela-Merkel-dominated government. These are the equivalent periods of 12 long years since 2005, which an increasing number of Germans perceive as a time of stagnation and increasing inner unrest due to inconsistent energy- and refugee policies on one side and remarkably consistent policies of trans-Atlantic butt-crawling and anti-Russian war propaganda on the other, as well as economic bullying of neighbouring European Countries and other pro-NATO foreign policy blunders in the matters of Ukraine and Syria.
The German Grundgesetz (the equivalent to a constitution) requires the elected parties to assemble in the new Bundestag within a period of 30 days after the election day. In case no party could achieve the absolute majority and no coalition agreement could be negotiated, the existing government would remain active until the new government is formed. It took Germany’s elected party officials nearly half a year now to form a government coalition. For a German understanding this process took on such outrageously ridiculous twists and turns of party politics and power poker, that the author ought to share it with a wider audience here with the help of FR. This German Crisis in forming a new government goes beyond just being an expression of the usual decadent and corrupt party power-poker, but rather is an indication of a very fundamental problem of today’s declining Western Democracies. People’s votes don’t matter a lot any longer. In the following paragraphs, we shall look at some preceding electoral history and shall attempt to derive from it what the implications for the near and mid-term future may be.
Some Preceding History – Merkel and the Start of Social Democratic Decline
Angela Merkel started off her first term as Chancellor in a so-called Great-Coalition-Government, a coalition of the 2 biggest German People’s parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, in the year of 2005. At this time, such a coalition combination only existed once before in the entire German post-war history, namely from 1966 – 1969. The 2005 Great Coalition came about because no other feasible coalition combination, i.e. a black-yellow coalition between the Christian Democrats and the Liberal democrats or the red-green coalition between the Social Democrats and the Greens could achieve an absolute majority. At the time both, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, where leading equally strong in the votes with around 34% and 35%.
The incumbent Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of the Social Democrats was coming under pressure due to his controversial social Hartz IV reforms and the lost regional elections in North-Rhine-Westphalia and reverted to political maneuvering by calling for the confidence vote and subsequent early elections. This did not stick well with the voters at the time, who subsequently gave the Christian Democrats a tiny 1% lead, which was enough to oust Gerhard Schröder as a Chancellor and brought us Angela Merkel.
For the political process a great coalition government always means that almost the entirety of the decision making on vital and important economic and social issues for the future of the country are transferred from parliamentary debating and voting mechanisms to a coalition contract negotiation between the coalition parties at the very beginning of the legislative period. This, in combination with a nearly 70% voting majority power of the Great Coalition seats in the Bundestag reduces the entirety of the parliamentary opposition to an insignificant pile of rubble. This literally spells “STAGNATION” as a sign on the wall. The question, whether this still has anything to do with the principle of parliamentary democracy, can be rightfully posed and it justifiably caused a lot frustration among voters, who saw many of their voting topics and promises, which actually caused them to vote for a particular party in the first place, evaporating before their very eyes during the coalition contract negotiations. This kind of frustration has not become less and accumulated over the years.
Merkel and the Liberal Frogs in the Boiler
In 2009 Angela Merkel was defending her chancellorship against the SPD contender Frank-Walther Steinmeier, whom she appointed to be the German Foreign Minister earlier in the previous legislative period. Naturally, Steinmeier as Head of the Foreign Ministry had to work closely coordinated with Chancellor Merkel during the preceding four years. Whether or not his appointment and the close working relationship had some loyalty effect on him toward Merkel, the fact remains that it was very very obvious that he had serious trouble attacking her on an electoral campaigning level with the necessary rigor and aggressiveness. The Germans coined the word “Cuddling-Election-Campaigning” (Kuschelwahlkampf) for his campaign performance and subsequently punished him and his party with a remarkable 11% drop in votes compared to the last election, and surprise surprise…, Merkel won again.
The punishment of the Social Democrats may largely also have been due to various affairs of misconduct in Steinmeier’s Foreign Ministry in connection with the handling of the cases of the german-lebanese individual Khalid el-Masri and the german-turkish citizen Murat Kurnaz, both of whom were imprisoned and ostensibly tortured under partly german jusristiction. Also, many Germans still did not forgive the Social Democrats for their barbaric Hartz IV social reforms, which meant poverty by law for those, who already belonged to the lower income brackets. Already back then, the voter sentiment that the Social Democrats were too quick and easy in making opportunistic compromises with the actual political opponents for the sake of maintaining political power may have played a significant role in the massive voter drop, which the Party should not really recover from to this very day.
That year, the government was formed by a black-yellow coalition between the Christian Democrats of Angela Merkel and the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats, who historically always were the favourite coalition partner of the Christian Democrats in the past, were running on a platform of health and education reform, as well as the widening of civil liberties. Their gain in votes by nearly 5% compensated the slight losses of the CDU. New young figures like Christian Lindner and Philipp Roesler were widely regarded as new hopefuls back then. After the coalition negotiations, the party leader of the Liberals, the now deceased Guido Westerwelle, quite a fierce campaigner and neo-liberal hardliner, became Foreign Minister after he quit as a party leader and the field of daily parliamentary politics was mostly left to the new young guard, including some more experienced but rather unfortunate figures like Rainer Brüderle, Wolfgang Niebel and Wolfgang Kubicki. Rainer Brüderle, who was striving for the Finance Ministry was not successful in achieving it and became Minister of Economic Affairs and Technology instead.
Brüderle, a sometimes a bit trivially articulated character, had a special talent of making a fool out of himself by making public statements or gestures sometimes with a double meaning, of which he himself was not quite immediately aware of, because he appeared to have had a sip too many on some occasions. All in all, the Liberals were displayed a Combo of politicians that was not exactly radiating an image of excess competence in the fields they were supposed to cover. In the aftermath of the Financial Crisis, which broke out in 2007/2008 major decisions had to be made like the Rescue of the German Car Producer Opel, which was financed with money from the State and was still sold to the French Consortium of Car Manufacturer PSA a few years later. Or the financial Rescue of Greece by German public funds, which actually rather was a rescue of excess exposure of a number of German Banks in the Greek Property Market. And much more important, the general Euro-Crisis, which to this day has not really been solved, but rather just swept under the rug and delayed.
While the Liberals did their limited best to provide answers to the questions, which the numerous crises were exposing them to, the dubious benefit in terms of popularity was somehow always sticking with Chancellor Merkel for some strange reason. The origins of the Financial and Euro Crisis were widely rooted in the excesses of a neo-liberal agenda, which was easily associated with the Liberal Democrats. Through very inexperienced and clumsy acting on the political scene and with the help of a massive anti-liberal media campaign, the Liberal democrats became the projection board of all the neo-liberal failures that led to the crisis, even though their coalition partner was as much and even more involved in the bad decision-making processes during the various moments of crisis management and containment on a European Level.
A really indicative example of the Liberal’s fatal combination of excessive arrogance paired with utter incompetence was Philip Rösler’s so-called “Frog Tale” speech. In this speech, which Rösler held at a Party Summit of the Liberals in 2011, he tried to hint that his way of dealing with Angela Merkel would be comparable to killing a frog in a boiler by slowly increasing the temperature. The thing only was, that he did not realize at the time, that it was actually himself and the Liberals, who were thoroughly treated this way by the Christian Democrats. Months later the Liberals lost the elections in a landslide and Rösler also had to step down from the party leader position.
Geo-politically, the Liberals are not homogeneous and rather can be classified as opportunists. Some welcome better relations with Russia and China and others don’t. Their perspective is determined by liberal economics. While their mindset does not allow any other form of society than a liberal one, their economic determinations often allow themselves to neglect this in favour of an own better political standing.
Merkel and the 2nd Nail in the Social Democrat’s coffin
The Liberals paid a high price for their clumsiness and naive political arrogance. In 2013 their votes dropped below the 5% threshold, which meant that they were kicked out of the Bundestag. This must have been the darkest moment in their entire party history. Yet somehow, Christian Lindner, or rather some smarter people around him, must have anticipated this development already around half a year before the 2013 election, since it became obvious that the party was trying hard to take him out of the spot light. Lindner was laying rather low for the rest of the time, while all others like Rösler and Brüderle continued to make complete fools out of themselves until the very end of the 2013 elections. A few months after the election, when the period of wound-licking was passing by, it became clear why. Lindner was the only prominent liberal figure, who did not entirely discredit himself and he was to become the Liberal’s leader for a new start-over. Retrospectively, one must give Lindner the credit of having done this job fairly well, but more on that later.
The SPD party, which made slight gains from 23% to almost 26% on votes in 2013 compared to 2009, still could not recover their old levels of popularity beyond the 30% mark, but it was enough to enter ANOTHER great coalition government with the Christian Democrats. The Social Democrat’s as well as the Greens persistent refusal to form a coalition with the German Left Party, due to questionable accusations of the type that the Left carries the same ideology as the former Socialist Unity Party of the State of former East-Germany, made a red-red-green coalition of Social Democrats, the Left and the Greens impossible.
The top candidate of the Social Democrats at the time was Peer Steinbrück, a Hanseatic Character, who served as a Finance Minister during the time of the “first” great coalition government from 2005 – 2009. It may have been his crisis acting back then during the Financial Crisis in 2007/2008 when unpopular and in-decent decisions in terms of financial banking rescue policies were made, which stuck to him in a bad way more than they did to Angela Merkel. He did not stand a chance against Merkel, but given his position, he managed to get enough votes for his party to be able to enter coalition negotiations again with the Christian Democrats. Interestingly, Steinbrück himself did not benefit from his election campaigning (at least not politically), as he more-less retired shortly after the election and just acted as a Member of the Bundestag instead of getting some ministerial post in the government. Interestingly, beside this marginal occupation of his, he began the typical hypocritical after-parliamentary life of a German social democratic politician: giving talks and speeches on public occasions for ridiculously large sums of money and taking on the role of an advisor for various Private Banking Institutions. Something, which does not necessarily improve the trust relationship between the Party and its voters, as it shall be seen later.
Beneficiaries of Steinbrück’s campaigning were other people. First of all, the once-already failed Frank-Walther Steinmeier, who once again became Foreign Minister, and secondly, the former Ministerial President of Lower-Saxony, and Opposition Leader Sigmar Gabriel. Steinbrück’s efforts catapulted Gabriel to the role of Vice-Chancellor, in which he made various very precarious decisions that should contribute to the bad image, which his party is suffering from today. To these belong i.e. the appointment of the staunchly anti-russian former east-german vicar and former head of the investigating body for the documents of the deceased east-german secret service, the STASI, Joachim Gauck as a new President of Germany, after the previous President Christian Wulff had been ousted by a very dirty media-campaign, in which he was falsely accused of bribery and corruption. In this case, as well as in numerous others, the social democrat’s background political hitman Thomas Oppermann was playing a not insignificant role.
Furthermore, Sigmar Gabriel had no problem to oversee Germany’s incoherent Energy Overhaul after Merkel decided from one day to the next to have all German Nuclear Power-Plants switched off within a period of 20 years. Also, Gabriel was not shy to defend German arms deals with Saudi-Arabia at the time, even though the Saudi’s war crimes in Syria and Yemen already had been widely documented by then. Gabriel is a role model of a typical opportunist politician with little sense of moral decency.
With the passage of the 2013 – 2017 legislative period, many changes due to earlier decisions, as with the Overhaul of Nuclear Energy Policy, or due to spontaneous decisions as with Merkel’s Refugee-Policy, were taking effect in Germany’s society. Due to Merkel’s opportunistic reaction to the Fukushima-Accident, the oldest nuclear power plants in Germany were shut-down rather immediately without any significant debate or parliamentary discussion. This measure turned Germany from an Energy-Exporter to an Energy-Importer overnight, because the heavily promoted alternative “Renewable” Energy-production forms of Wind- and Solar-Energy could not compensate the created lack of production capacity, that the shut-down nuclear plants represent. This lead to rising Prices for electrical power consumption at least in the short run causing additional distress for mostly already troubled households within the lower income-brackets for some time. Only indirect non-market subsidiary measures could make the prices come down again in order to avoid social distress.
But there were also good things, which unfortunately did not make it prominently into the headlines. When the Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Germany in 2014, Sigmar Gabriel, together with former SPD Ministerial President of NorthRhine-Westphalia, Hannelore Kraft, attended an occasion where the Chinese Delegation reviewed a Logistics Port (logport) in Duisburg. Many people probably did not recognize the significance back then, but Gabriel and Kraft, two established high-ranking German politicians were posing with the Chinese President behind a banner, that depicted the concept of China’s New Silk Road, a mutually beneficial development project attempting to logistically and therefore economically connecting most of the Nations of Eurasia for the purpose of combined economic development outside of the current geo-strategic paradigm. Whether or not Kraft’s and Gabriel’s acting on this occasion was of genuine character or whether they were simply giving in to Chinese diplomatic power is not known. However, this kind of good stuff did not stick with the voter, because most of them were simply not able to recognize the significance of such gestures or simply were not made aware of it enough by the mainstream media.
SPD figures with Xi Jinping
1) March 2014, Sören Link, then Mayor of the City of Duisburg, Sigmar Gabriel, then Federal Minister for Economy and Energy, Xi Jin-Ping, President of the People’s Republic of China, Hannelore Kraft, then Ministerial President of NorthRhine-Westphalia, Erich Staake Chairman of the Duisburger Hafen AG (Source: http://presse.duisport.de/newsroom/chinesischer-staatspraesident-von-logistikdrehscheibe-logport-beeindruckt-14.html)