Saturday, August 31, 2013

Germany "has never before seen such an election campaign"

"The country has never before seen such an election campaign."

So writes Albrecht von Lucke of the current national campaign in Germany for the Parliamentary election on September 22 in Angela Merkel, sicher ist sicher Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik 9/2013. ("Einen derartigen Wahlkampf hat das Land noch nicht gesehen.")

He's complaining that the opposition - primarily the SPD, also the Greens and the Left Party - has been able to put any distinctive stamp on the campaign.

Von Lucke discusses the current conventional wisdom about a Second Biedermeier, a period of apathy and depoliticization among the German voters. I've discussed this concept in Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel and the neoliberal depoliticization of politics: "asymmetrical demobilization" in the German case 06/05/2013 and German siesta? Or neoliberal demobilization? 08/05/2013. And as I said in Merkel, unified Germany and the future of Europe 08/02/2013, the Second Biedermeier is starting to look more like the Second Sarajevo, in terms of decision-making failure, though with less violent consequences."

Jürgen Habermas wrote earlier this year that an "unspeakably Merkel-loyal media landscape" in Germany was facilitating a "clever-evil game" on her part, progressively undermining German democracy on behalf of the neoliberal ideology that now dominates the EU political elites. Including the SPD in Germany.

Von Lucke argues, "Tatsächlich erleben die Bürger seit zehn Jahren nicht Stillstand, sondern die permanente Veränderung und das definitive Ende der alten, Bonner Republik." ("Actually the citizens {of Germany} have been experiencing for the last ten years not stagnation, but permanent change and the definitive end of the old Bonn Republic.") Georg Dietz connects this change in no small part with the heritage of depoliticization in the DDR (Communist East Germany), "The heritage of the DDR has changed Germany more than we want to admit, not always for the better - and Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of this change."

Von Lucke thinks that the SPD should be making a clear election theme of the decline in social security in German society over the last decade, not just the "safety net" but the quality of jobs. The problem is that Peer Steinbrück has so committed himself to the neoliberal vision is that he's really not in a position to make that case. Von Lucke notes, not with a hint of bitterness, that even though public opinion in Germany has moved more toward SPD-type positions on issues like nuclear power and same-sec marriage, they have not been able to take advantage of it.

Despite Merkel's brutal Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning economic policies toward southern Europe, she's actually been flexible on nuclear power in particular, adopting a hardline position to phase out all nuclear power for electricity in Germany in the relatively near-term. And because Germany is actually benefiting from the euro at the expense of the southern European countries, the German public hasn't experienced anything like the full cruelty of her Hoover/Brüning policies. During the election campaign, she has been announcing new government programs to sweeten her electoral chances. Up until now, the Hoover/Brüning policies have fallen on those nation's Angela the Great regards as inferior ones.

Steinbrück and the SPD have also been loyally supportive of Merkel's euro crisis policies, so they haven't even begun to lay the groundwork for a meaningful criticism of the high risks of Merkel's euro policies to Germany.

Steinbrück has also stubbornly refused to entertain any possibility of forming a red-red-green coalition government after the election, a coalition of the SPD, the Greens and the Left Party. But without that, he has little possibility of forming an SPD-headed government after September 22. And that means any voter selecting the SPD has to be concerned that they are "throwing away their vote," as we say in the US. Because they can have little hope that the SPD will have a reasonable chance to implement whatever program they are offering. Which in itself isn't a lot to get excited about in the current context.

As Von Lucke also notes, "da Steinbrück bereits vollmundig angekündigt hat, nicht erneut unter Angela Merkel dienen zu wollen, entpuppt sich der Spitzenkandidat vollends als lame duck und „Nulloption“" ("because Steinbrück has already given a full-throated declaration he has revealed himself as a lame duck and 'zero option'").

I was surprised to see in this column by Wolfgang Münchau, who writes for the Financial Times and co-founded the (now defunct) Financial Times Deutschland and served as its co-chief editor that he says bluntly here the Left Party, the "postcommunist" party partly descended from the old East German ruling party, has straightforwardly the best analysis of the euro crisis of the five German parliamentary parties. The lineup of German parties from right to left is FDP, CDU (Merkel's party), Greens, SPD, Left Party. And he winds up emphasizing that a red-red-green coalition after this election may be the last chance to save the euro in anything like its current form. From Rot-Rot-Grün ist die beste Lösung für Europa Spiegel Online 28.08.2013:

Die Linken hingegen verstehen die Krise ökonomisch als eine Krise von Ungleichgewichten. "Die Politik der Regierung Merkel hat die Finanzmarktkrise zur Staatsschuldenkrise umgedeutet. Das verkehrt Ursache und Wirkung." Genauso ist es. Es ist eine Krise exzessiver Kapitalströme vom Norden in den Süden, deren abruptes Ende einen ökonomischen Schock auslöste, der in steigenden Haushaltsdefiziten endete. Da haben die Linken wie auch die Grünen völlig Recht. Wer das nicht versteht, wird diese Krise nie lösen.

Was mir an der Position der Linken besonders gefällt, ist die konsequente Umsetzung ihrer Analyse zur Krise auf ihr Abstimmungsverhalten im Bundestag. Im Gegensatz zu SPD und Grünen haben die Linken konsequent im Bundestag gegen die Krisenpolitik der Bundesregierung gestimmt. Bei den Grünen liest sich die Unterstützung der Regierung wie eine Entschuldigung. Man habe nur widerwillig zugestimmt, um eine noch größere Krise zu vermeiden. Ich halte das Argument für widersinnig.

The Leftists on the other hand understand the crisis economically as a crisis of imbalances. "The policy of the Merkel government has redefined the crisis of the financial markets as a crises of public debt. That reverses cause and effect." That exactly how it is. Is is a crisis of excessive capital flows from the North to the South {of the eurozone} whose abrupt end set off an economic shock that ende3d in rising budget deficits. On that the Leftists and also the Greens are completely right. Whoever doesn't understand that will never solve this crisis.

What I especially like about the position of the Leftists is the consistent implementation of their analysis of the crisis in their voting behavior in the Bundestag. in contrast to the SPD and the Greens, the Leftists have consistently voted against the crisis policy of the Federal Government {Merkel's Administration}. With the Greens, their support of the government can be read as shamefaced {more literally, reads like an apology}. As though they agreed to it against their will in order to avoid an even bigger crisis. I regard that argument as ludicrous.
Münchau isn't convinced on other aspects of the Left Party's program. But he's focused on how close the EU is to cracking apart under Merkel's Hoover/Brüning policies. His conclusion:

[Aus makroökonomischer Sicht wäre eine rot-rot-grüne Koalition die beste Lösung und die einzige Variante, die eine Chance hätte, die Krise mit Erfolg zu bekämpfen. Schon allein deshalb, weil eine solche Konstellation eine andere Narrative der Wirtschaftspolitik bietet.

From the macroeconomic point of view a red-red-green coalition would be the best solution and the only variant that would have a chance to deal with the crisis successfully. If only because such a constellation would offer another narrative for economic policy.] {my emphasis}
Von Lucke also includes an important reminder: "Konservative Parteien sind in Deutschland immer nur so sozial, wie starke linke Parteien sie dazu zwingen." ("Conservative parites in Germany are always only so social as strong left parties compel them to be.") In this campaign, the SPD has pretty much copletely dropped the ball in that regard. This may really be the most incompetent political campaign in the long history of the SPD.

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