Auntie Merkel


Looking ahead at the upcoming German elections on Sunday, one might think that everything is in auntie Merkel's safe hands. She is the auntie of Germany and of Europe. Merkel is now riding the same electoral high as ´Einheitskanzler´ Helmut Kohl at the start of the 90s. Merkel is feeling sure of her position. But is that on the mark?

Merkel is the embodiment of German euro-politics. In 2010 she pointed out that it is possible to expel a country from the Eurozone, following widespread anger in Germany over Greek budget fraud. But Merkel, born and raised in the DDR, performed a U-turn because she was convinced by West-German politicians who still carry war guilt, like Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble. Merkel converted: ´Scheitert der Euro, dann scheitert Europa´. In other words: 'If the Euro fails, Europe fails.' That’s the curse of those who criticize Merkel´s Euro policy: to criticise is equated to wanting war.

But among the German people there is a feeling of euro scepticism. 55 % of Germans think that the Eurozone should be reduced to a smaller group of countries with like-minded policies. 60% thinks that any new bailout should be subject to a referendum in Germany. Only 30% is in favour of a European Banking Union. Such voices are rare within the German Parliament. Some Members of Parliament dared to openly criticize the euro policy, like Christian-Democrat Wolfgang Bosbach and liberal Frank Schäffler.  They were chastised by the party leadership and consequently marginalised. For 2 years I have been visiting Berlin looking for euro-critical voices, but I only found some professors and middle-class entrepreneurs. Scepticism about the Euro lacks political representation in Germany.

Why is that? The German political system is protecting the establishment because of past experiences like the disorder of the Weimar Republic. Political parties in the German Parliament receive a total amount of €650 million, according to the Constitutional academic Hans Herbert von Armin. Of that total, €300 million goes to foundations like the Christian-Democrat Adenauer Foundation and the Social-Democrat Ebert Foundation. These foundations also have offices abroad. And there is also the 5% threshold for getting into Parliament. At first it was only the Christian-Democrats (CDU/CSU), Social-Democrats (SPD), and Liberals (FDP). These parties also received an amount of private donations from companies like BMW, Daimler AG, Deutsche Bank and Allianz. For new parties, it feels like there is a virtual ´Berlin Wall´ around the German Parliament. The protest culture stemming from the 60s and 70s only manifested itself with the Greens, who made it into Parliament in 1983. Die Linke also managed to be elected to Parliament, but they are just a leftover of old DDR socialism.

It was only last April that euro-scepticism became a political issue, with the emergence of the ´Alternative für Deutschland´ party, under the leadership of Professor Bernd Lucke. Lucke is not against the EU, but a proponent of a smaller and closer Eurozone. He also opposes the Greek bailouts and euro emergency funds. All those who are part of the establishment made a pact with each other: we will talk as little as possible about the euro. Auntie Merkel is working on a sedative for German scepticism. The CSU took a nationalistic turn in Bavaria, which according to party leader Horst Seehofer is "die Vorstufe zum Paradies" - "the entrance hall to Paradise". The SPD started a battle against high-income earners in Germany, until suddenly it turned out that their party leader, Peer Steinbrück, is actually one of those high-earners in the German parliament with additional earnings of €1.25 million. ´Pannen Peer´ then made a comeback during the debates. The Greens came up with overregulation reminiscent of the DDR, advocating for one vegetarian day a week; and that in a country famous for its ´Schweinebraten´ (roast pork). The liberal FDP is having an identity and leadership crisis. Ex-party leader Guido Westerwelle won the 2009 elections with free market narrative in the tradition of Otto Graf Lambsdorff. But when he became Minister of Foreign Affairs, the story was thrown overboard and he played the self-proclaimed statesman like ex-minister Hans-Dietrich Grenscher always did. Die Linke are having their permanent revolution within their own ranks with Sahra Wagenknecht as the new Rosa Luxemburg.

But not a word about the euro! The political elite are deliberately concealing the core issue. It would mark a political revolution if the AfD would make it into the German Parliament. Tom Thumb is causing problems: Merkel must puzzle over a new coalition. The FDP are in for a slap in the face. The stumbling SPD will have a leadership battle. Are the Greens going to get their plate of sour lentil soup? In the end, it doesn´t matter what coalition auntie Merkel chooses: it will be internally shaky. Her sedative is rapidly running out.