I had intended to write this sooner, but real life proved to be less than amenable.
Merkel is gone. The person who was the global face of Germany for 16 years is out of power and out of the Bundestag. The most noticeable thing is that there is nothing of note. Life carries on and her legacy, to use that awful term, has evaporated within days. That seems to be the norm; now more than ever. A prime minister like Cameron, a president like Obama, a Kanzler like Merkel can hold office for years, dominate discussion and public focus and then disappear as if they had never existed at all. If a legacy does exist, more often than not it’s toxic. Tony Blair left the UK worse for the wear, far worse. Turnbull left little of value, but planted a toxic crop that still hunts the Liberal Party. He’s not so much “the Ghost” as he is “the Fart”. Macron is creating a climate so toxic that even if he is forced out of power in April, the French state has become so heavy-handed and brutal that already strained relations between the people and the government will take years to heal if the French state makes few major mistakes.
So Merkel is gone. Her party is in tatters, rudderless, leaderless and in desperate need to find itself. Is it a centre-right, Christian Democratic party, the legacy of Adenauer? Is it a centrist party a la Merkel, reliant on Bavaria’s CSU to hold the line? After all, the only reason why it didn’t collapse entirely is that Bavaria, albeit by a reduced margin, once again supported the CSU. Without it, the theoretic centre-right would have been reduced to a rump opposition in the way that they were in Western Australia or the Northern Territories.
Germany has a new government. It is a complicated piece of political machinery. The Social Democrats stand at the centre of a three-party coalition that includes the Greens and the Free Democrats. The old party of labour, the party of activists and student union demagogues and the party of the polite middle class now need to hold together for four years. Is it possible? Quite probably so. The SPD haven’t led a government since 2005 and this is their chance to prove that they are still capable of that. For the Greens, it’s their first taste of power since 2005. For the FDP, it’s their first time in power since 2013 and their first time in a coalition with a party other than the CDU/CSU since Helmut Schmidt, some 40 years ago. It’s not that one can expect much from them, but being in power is its own aphrodisiac and it’s doubtful any of the three are keen to risk losing it (and electoral credibility).
5 thoughts on “The Fall of Merkel”
I think Merkel will be remembered for flooding Germany, and by extension the EU thanks to Schengen, with hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of them undesirable.
I can’t say that I have followed German politics all that assiduously recently – or maybe ever.
Merkel seems to have been there forever – although when I really think about it I do recall a few others – most notably Kohl – who also seemed to have been there forever too.
My impression of German Politics has always been that it has been pretty stable for a long time and that whatever their leaders want to do – they do it – regardless of whatever or however it might affect any other ‘so-called-allied’ country.
Do I blame Germany? Not really, since I have this very strange idea that those who are elected by their citizens have a duty to do what they think is best for their people – rather than consider the peoples of other countries.
So I understood Kohl.
I’m probably wrong (please correct me Christopher) but it seems to me that Germans liked stability and don’t like rocking the boat for what they consider trivial matters. In the EU they had a prominent position – and that was fine because it reinstated Germany as a World Power.
Merkel continued that tradition – until, as Sheona says, she opened Germany’s borders to hundreds of thousands of immigrants – mostly single males, and many undesirables.
The World has changed – and, I believe, so have many Germans – they no longer carry the guilt of the Holocaust and why should they?
I think Sheona is absolutely right that many Germans will remember Merkel as the person who opened up their country to millions of people. And many European Countries will not forgive her for demanding that they pay the price of her decision.
Sheona: That was, strangely enough, the one time she took dramatic action by herself. She did not coordinate with her cabinet, she did not discuss it with anyone. She simply decided, by herself, to do that. The new Swedish PM, Magdalena Andersson, acknowledged that Sweden’s decision to take so many in at once was a grave error. There simply wasn’t sufficient housing or employment for that many people, generally young and unskilled. It’s one reason why I’ve developed such a fondness for Sweden. They acknowledge their mistakes and try to learn from them.
Boadicea: The political history of the Federal Republic has been mixed. Three chancellors have held power for 46 of the 72 years since the Federal Republic was established in 1949. Adenauer was chancellor for 14 years, Kohl and Merkel were chancellor for 16 years each. All three were from the same party. By and large, the centre-right has been able to find at least West Germany’s political “sweet spot”: pragmatic, non-ideological, firm but fair on crime and social issues and focused on business and economic growth. You are absolutely correct that Germans have been nearly obsessed with stability. It has become such an obsession that Germany has become, strangely enough, unstable because Germans are too afraid of trying new things or acknowledging that serious reforms and change are needed.
Germany’s regional politics have been just as stability-obsessed as its domestic politics. Rather than seeking raw dominance, Germany has sought to become part of Europe’s regional economic, political and diplomatic network. The current chaos and imbalances are the fault, primarily, of France. When West Germany annexed East Germany (reunification is a loaded term and most in the former East Germany have serious and legitimate grievances about how the West handled the process) Germany became the largest country by far in Europe outside of Russia. If, indeed, one considers Russia to be truly European. Since then, Germany has largely stagnated and entered into moderate decline. The problem is that France and Italy, formerly stronger performers and major powers, are shadows of their former selves. Countries like Spain and Poland have struggled to truly fulfil their potential in the European framework. Things have improved in some respects, but the EU has hurt them as much as it’s helped them. The system that France constructed to constrain Germany has, perversely, put Germany at the top and forced all others into subservience. Italy, formerly a close French ally, has of late adopted an attitude closer to “a pox on both your houses” towards Germany and France.
The War still plays a role in the German psyche, but not in the same way it used to. All those who had some say during the War are long dead. Very few who remember much at all about the War are even around. My grandmother is now 90. She was 13.5 when the War ended. Her sisters were younger still. Obviously, a child has no say at all and cannot be held responsible for decisions that adults, much older adults, make. The personal connexion to the war that existed even in my generation has been severed. My younger cousins do not have the personal memories of those who lived through the War that I do. It’s something that should be remembered, but it’s no longer a cultural focus. The problem now is that Germany is quickly reverting to type. It’s overbearing, destructive, rigid and seemingly incapable of understanding the world around it. It cannot hold the failed European project up, but it’s so dependent on it that it can’t let it go, either. Germany has once again destroyed Europe for its own benefit.
Thank you for your very well-informed post, Christopher. Looking back, it seems that France has been responsible for every problem in Europe since the Treaty of Versailles. And a leader such as the pernicious Macron is getting backs up and doing no good whatsoever.
Thinking back to Merkel’s “legacy” reminded me of the former Liberal leader Sir David Steel. His legacy of the Abortion Act is humane, well-intentioned and something to be proud of.
Sheona: France’s perniciousness goes back well before the Treaty of Versailles. Since 1871, the only reason why France has been redeemed is because the Germans have taken such an awful, tone-deaf approach to statecraft, diplomacy and economics. When Germany was first united, there was a great deal of fondness for it. After France, with its centuries of reckless histrionics, was displaced as as Europe’s main power, people were relived that pious, scholarly and diligent Germany had replaced it. The third Kaiser took Germany down a dark road, however. France’s horrible diplomacy under Napoleon III and the Napoleonic Wars left a bad taste in Europe’s collective mouth. Likewise, France’s poor behaviour during the Seven Years War and the War, the War of the Austrian Succession and the War of the Spanish Succession before it made life uncomfortable to say the least. France’s support of the Ottoman Empire against Poland, Hungary and Austria should not be forgotten. Had Germany not been, for the lack of a better word, utterly stupid the world would have been a far better place. If the First World War was an inevitable consequence of Europe struggling to find a new balance of power after the rise of Germany and Italy, then perhaps it would have been far better if Britain and a liberal Germany had been allies. The teetering Russian Empire was as much a powder keg as Austria-Hungary and France had neither learnt nor forgotten a single thing.
I am hoping that the rise of Valérie Pécresse will come to something. While I don’t think expecting much of her is a good idea, Macron is pure poison and France is suffering terribly under his reign of (t)error. As are we all. She seems in the strongest position to oust Macron.