Monday, September 23, 2013

The "Merkel feeling" - can it make a political marriage?

German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel is being understandably hailed for her clear victory in Sunday's national elections in Germany.

Building a governing coalition out of her victory, though, is still going to be a challenge, as Germany and Austrian cartoonists have been noting. Thomas Wizany of the Salzburger Nachrichten 09/23/2013:

Merkel to potential coalition partners: "Well, boys, who's got the nerve?"

Klaus Stuttmann 09/23/2013:

Merkel to potential coalition partners:  "Does anyone there want to help me carry it?"

The Merkel Feeling that Stefan Reinecke writes about in Das Merkel-Gefühl taz 22.09.2013 is a variation of the much-used imagery of German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel as "Mutti," the kindly, Warren G. Harding-esque figure who makes conservatives and people who just want to live in peace and quiet and not think much about politics feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Das Erfolgsrezept der Kanzlerin ist relativ einfach. Alles bleibt im Ungefähren. Die Politik, die sie präsentiert, hat keine hoch gesteckten Ziele. Und fühlt sich nett, hübsch und samten an. Und wenn wir uns alle anstrengen, geht es immer so weiter. Immer weiter bergauf. So in etwa funktioniert das Merkel-Gefühl.

[The Chancellor's recipe for success is relatively simple. Everything stays a more-or-less. The politics that she presents has no grand goals tucked away. And it feels nice, pretty and velvety. And when we all exert ourselves, it will go on the same way. Always onward and upward. Something like that is how the Merkel Feeling functions.]
All of which is a fluffy way of saying that Germany has done well during the depression relative to the southern eurozone countries because Frau Fritz has made sure that Germany gets short-term benefits that are directly derived from the economic distress in Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal. It's an unsustainable political and economic model that will cost Germany dearly in terms of its internal economic well-being and its external influence. And I stress relative benefits, because Merkel has made use of the monumentally ill-conceived Agenda 2010 program of the red-green coalition that preceded her to substantial reduce the incomes and job security of many Germans.

But the taz description of the changes in the Union (her CDU/CSU party) under Frau Fritz' leadership is considerably more plausible than the lavish praise she's getting from some of her fans in the press. Taz:

Die Basis für den Erfolg der Union ist die Verwandlung von einer weltanschaulich verankerten Traditionspartei in eine Organisation, die an nahezu alles anschlussfähig ist. Merkel hat die kulturelle Modernisierung der Union übrigens nicht erfunden, noch nicht mal besonders gefördert. Sie hat nur die Tür offen gehalten für das, was früher oder später sowieso fällig war.

[The basis for the Union's success is the metamorphosis of a tranditonal party anchored in a world-outlook {Christian Democratic conservatism} into an organization that is ready to adopt nearly anything. Merkel did not invent the cultural modernization of the Union, and didn't even particularly encourage it. She just held the door open for that which sooner or later would have happened anyway.]
Again, this has to be qualified with the reality of Merkel's dogmatic adherence to the hard-line austerity program of "ordoliberalism," which is also very much a part of the tradition of the German Christian Democrats.

The taz editiorial also states straightforwardly one of the political realities resulting from Sunday's election:

Und die politische Linke? Rot-Grün ist endgültig tot. Das einst „Neue Mitte“ getaufte Bündnis von Bildungsaufsteigern und Facharbeitern mit dem exalternativen Neobürgertum ist im Bund nicht mehrheitsfähig. Das war auch 2005 und 2009 so. Nichts spricht dafür, dass sich dies ändern wird. Rot-Grün wird es in Zukunft, wenn überhaupt, nur mit der Linkspartei geben.

And the political left? Red-green is finally dead. {What is meant here is the credibility of an SPD/Green coalition as a competitive alternative to a conservative one.} The once-christened "new middle" alliance of career climbers and technical workers with the formerly "alternative" neo-citizens is no long able to build a majority at the national level. That was also so in 2005 and 2009. Nothing indicates that that will change. Red-green in the future will only be possible, if at all, with the Left Party.]
Which brings us to the question of why the kindly "Mutti" figure may face such a problems building a coalition.

Well, it's lonely at the top. Despite the fawning of her admirers in the press, other politicians regard her more as a shark. The SPD was in a coalition with her for four years and lost lots of votes, recovering some after being in the opposition for four years. The FDP was in her coalition the last four years, and didn't even make it into the Bundestag this time, putting their future existence in doubt. Roland Nelles says she has a reputation as coalition-partner killer (Roland Nelles, Merkels Machtoptionen: Stell dir vor, es war Wahl, und niemand will mitregieren Spiegel Online 23.09.2013) She's earned it. Nelles makes the point rhyme in German, "Wer mitregiert, verliert." ("Whoever governs with her, loses.")

When it comes to fawning on politicians, though, American columnists make a specialty of it. Roger Cohen floats off into the ether in praise of Frau Fritz in Merkel the Great New York Times 09/23/2013:

Yet she is the face in the crowd rather than the face that stands out. Rumpled, awkward, with her de rigueur blazer and slacks (the former often just a touch too tight), Merkel can seem a study in orchestrated ordinariness, a brilliant creation of election strategists attuned to the post-traumatic German psyche. Perhaps it costs a lot of money to look this plain. But over time it becomes clear that she just is who she is, unchanged by power; a woman, like Margaret Thatcher, who is "not for turning."

Merkel is a phenomenon. She has captured something in the zeitgeist. In this look-at-me age of image traffickers and spin merchants, she is the sobering antidote. She works hard and is humble. "Power to the Imagination," went the slogan of the 1968 revolutionaries in Europe. The chancellor is the diametric opposite of that. She is a study in predictability. In the words of Rainer Stinner of the ousted Free Democratic Party, she is "the ultimate incrementalist." For a post-ideological age, that works.
That is just sad. If he has a clue about what Merkel's euro policies mean for the rest of Europe and what a high risk they are for Germany, it sure doesn't come across in this column. He even claims he had "a tour as a correspondent" in Germany. Did he spend the whole time hanging out in bars with Americans tourists sounding off about things they didn't know anything about? No, that's really unfair to drunk American tourists.

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