Home > General > The Centre Fails to Hold

The Centre Fails to Hold

As my cherished fellow Charioteers will know Germany’s federal election was held some two months ago. It resulted in the most unstable and unpredictable Bundestag in the 70-some-year history of the Federal Republic. Perhaps my cheeky vote for Howling Laud Hope and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party wasn’t the most absurd thing to come out of that election.

The two parties that have dominated German politics since the end of the Second World War — the CDU/CSU and SPD received their worst results. There was really only one viable coalition — a third “grand coalition”. Yet… In a rare moment of political clarity, Martin Schulz urged against that. Merkel has developed the reputation of political black widow. Her two coalition partners: the SPD and FDP both suffered severe reductions in their support. Christian Lindner, the FDP leader who has led his party out of the political wilderness, is loath to enter government for the sake of entering government. Realising that his party would have no real influence but would have to accept a great degree of blame that would come out of a “Jamaica Coalition” — CDU/CSU-FDP-Green — he chose to walk away. “It’s better not to be in government at all than to govern poorly” was his view.

With snap elections looming — something that nobody wants — pressure is growing on the SPD to back down and accept a third grand coalition for the sake of political stability in Germany. Schulz might not like the idea, but much of his party don’t like the idea of his being leader and are distinctly underwhelmed by his “performance” so far. Sigmar Gabriel, the former SPD leader and Frank-Walter Steinmeir, the President of the Federal Republic — big beasts both — are increasingly open in their goading for a continuation of the former Bundestag arrangement. There is a real risk that the SPD would fare worse yet in any new election.

In macro-political terms, this means that Germany might well have a zombie grand coalition. Even if they hold a safe majority of seats, they would be dying parties with an emboldened opposition on the right and left. Merkel has little political capital left, the SPD might not even have a future. As the most recent Dutch election showed, a party that once dominated politics for decades can be all but wiped out. Any sort of European “reform” would be hard to effect, if not impossible.

As for what this holds in store for our beloved sceptred isle… Germany is trying to poach jobs and industry from Britain. German business lobbies are quietly pressuring the government to give way and allow for a decent trading relationship to be negotiated. Germany is one of the biggest losers in the spat with Russia as Russia had become one of Germany’s largest export markets. Losing ready access to the United Kingdom — Germany’s most important trading partner — would be a bigger blow yet. For now, Britain will be left to blow in the wind as Germany attempts to make itself relevant in finance, insurance and start-ups. Never mind that Germany doesn’t have the infrastructure of London or Paris or even a proper legal system.

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Categories: General
  1. Boadicea
    November 25, 2017 at 11:08 am

    I clearly need to go away and learn more.

  2. November 25, 2017 at 11:30 am

    Boadicea: Well, if you want to be depressed German politics is a good place to start!

  3. November 25, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Boa, it’s hard because the British meeja don’t give a tinker’s cuss about Europe’s strongest economy, unless they fail in their endeavours.

  4. November 26, 2017 at 7:24 am

    Christopher, could you help me understand your “or even a proper legal system” comment please?

  5. November 26, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Leck: Germany’s “legal system” is a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It is inflexible, often arbitrary and hardly fit for purpose. There is no room for allegory. Should the unexpected come to pass — when does it not? — German magistrates find themselves at a loss as to what they can do. Common law legal systems allow for a degree of flexibility. There is a reason why most international business law disputes are settled under English and Welsh Law and why London is the preferred venue for that. Even the Chinese, the arch pragmatists, have started to gradually adopt and adapt the common law for business purposes finding it vastly superior to the Germanic bilge that they had used before.

  6. November 26, 2017 at 9:08 am

    The Germans are victims of their own culture ( aren’t we all ). They are highly organised which is fine for some things. I have no knowledge of German Law but I bet it tries to codify everything and that just doesn’t work because reality is too complicated.
    Before we get too smug there is a good example in this country – The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Hand(?)Book http://www.handbook.fca.org.uk is, if printed out something like 7ft thick * !!!! Of course I haven’t tried to print it out. I have barely read any of it, it is virtually incomprehensible although, no doubt, providing a lush pasture for lawyers and compliance experts. In fact I believe we are approaching a situation where the number of people employed in compliance in all areas is approaching that of those who actually do anything. No doubt we will reach a critical ratio where things fall apart or, as Christopher quotes ‘ The Centre Fails To Hold’.

  7. November 26, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Jazz: Your supposition is correct. Absolutely everything and anything has to be codified and laid out. Even penalties must be codified. There can be no special cases, exceptions or diversions from that arbitrary norm — save for those that are explicitly laid out. This worked in the past more often than not. After all, German was relatively homogeneous and virtually everyone knew what the rules were — and overwhelmingly played by them. Recently, however, more and more problems have been arising because many new situations are emerging and the laws that exist — as they’re written — are simply unable to be applied. A recent case was in Bavaria when a man wanted to marry a 13-year-old girl from somewhere in the Middle East. (Big surprise, innit?) Under German law that marriage would not be valid as it’s below the legal age for marriage in Germany. However, German law also requires that all marriages be treated as valid. It took years for magistrates to finally have the marriage deemed invalid based on the supremacy of the marriage age law. Another example involved a man from Iraq. He beat his wife like a rented mule. Under German law, people have the right to be free from physical harm and assault & battery are illegal. However, people have the right to carry on as they see fit in the privacy of their own homes. As he always beat his wife at home, it took a long time for magistrates to determine that the right not to be beaten into a pulp trumps the right to carry on as one pleases in one’s home.

    China has adopted Germanic law for civil cases. There is another good example from that country. A “teacher” had been luring and trapping teenage male students for several years in his flat. He would repeatedly assault them sexually. He chose the wrong boy one day and his parents reported him. The police duly arrested him and the prosecution launched a case against him. Ultimately they could only get him on false imprisonment and kidnapping. All the boys were over 14 which is the age of consent in China. Until that time, rape was defined strictly as a sexual assault on a woman. That law was changed, but the Chinese were thoroughly disgusted by the situation.

    The saving grace of the common law tradition is that laws can become unenforceable. Over time, the worst excesses are either watered down to tolerability or done away with. Remember there are still laws governing the driving of oxen through the City of London, for example, or burning Scotsmen at the stake in York.

  8. November 27, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Thanks Christopher that helps a lot. As Jazz points out we all have our little odd bits of legalese, mainly because politicians love creating new ones that are not always particularly well worded. In the UK for instance if you ever get convicted of leaving a vehicle unattended with the engine running, you will also be convicted of failing to set the handbrake because the wording of the act was “leaving vehicle unattended and failing to set the handbrake” instead of ” leaving vehicle unattended or failing to set the handbrake”. My personal favourite was under the Town Police Clauses Act of 1841 which made it illegal ” to beat a mat, other than a doormat, before 8 am”

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