Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Merkel's nationalism and social-democratic failures

German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel isn't waiting to form a new government before she starts trying to strengthen her power over other countries.

She's proposed increasing the authority of the European Commission over the budgets of individual countries. (Mehr Rechte für EU-Kommission: Merkel will europäische Verträge ändern Spiegel Online 19.10.2013). In practice, it would give Germany more power to impose perpetual austerity policies on the EU nations.

It sounds internationalist at first glance, German Chancellor Angela "Frau Fritz" Merkel wanting to enhance the authority of the European Commission over the budgets of individual countries. (Mehr Rechte für EU-Kommission: Merkel will europäische Verträge ändern Spiegel Online 19.10.2013)

Her government is also getting serious pushing on a plan she and her outgoing Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) have been promoting. As Matthias Gebauer et al report in Reform: German Plan Faces Broad Opposition Spiegel International 10/22/2013:

Two weeks ago, German officials in Brussels and other European capitals sounded the alarm. France was trying "to discredit" the German proposal to reform NATO, according to a presentation given to de Maizière on Oct. 9. Paris was "making a huge effort in the capitals and at NATO headquarters to pull over to their side those countries that have remained open, but had not yet clearly backed the plan," said the officials. Their conclusion: "We have to count on France's fundamental opposition."

The resistance of the French is directed against de Maizière's reform proposal, which the defense ministers will first address at the meeting on Tuesday. The German concept envisages that the alliance in future be divided into "clusters," which will each be led by one of the larger NATO member states.

This principle has already been applied to foreign missions on a case-by-case basis, such as when Germany took the lead for other allies in northern Afghanistan.

But going forward, Berlin wants such groupings to be firmly anchored within NATO's infrastructure. "What is new is the extent, the intensity and the scope of its application," says the paper that de Maizière distributed to other NATO members. The plan is that that these states pool their military capabilities and even join together to procure new weapons systems and equipment.

France is not the only NATO member state that sees such a step as potentially infringing on its national sovereignty. Spain and Slovakia have also expressed caution in the NATO council. Even countries that welcome the German proposals, including the United States and the United Kingdom, are pushing the question of how smaller member states, which lack certain military capabilities, can rely on Germany's solidarity if joint missions abroad must be approved every time by the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. [my emphasis]
It's not surprising that the Obama Administration's worry as reported here is that Germany won't be enthusiastic enough for future wars. European NATO partners are also concerned about the increased influence it would give Germany in their own military planning and purchases.

I have to wonder if Frau Fritz doesn't realize that her nationalistic policies in the euro crisis are undermining the basis of European international cooperation built up over decades. Why should NATO partners like Italy or Spain whose economies are being crippled by Merkel's austerity policies want to give her more power over their militaries?

Nikolaus Blome und Björn Hengst report that the Social Democratic grouping in the Eurpean Parliament is also opposed to her proposal for new powers to the EU Commission, which in practice mean new powers for Germany and Frau Fritz. (Mehr Macht für Brüssel: Widerstand gegen Merkels Europa-Pläne Spiegel Online 21.10.2013) The changes she is proposing would require changes in the EU treaties, which doesn't seem to be anything other EU countries want to undertake right now.

I would be amazed if the Angie-compliant German SPD, which has supported her EU policies including the austerity requirements like faithful puppy-dogs, would offer any serious resistance to that or any other of her euro policies. If they were prepared to do that, EU policies would have been a major point of contention in the coalition discussions. In reality, they seem to be an area of easy agreement.

French philosopher Alain Badiou in Was unsere Feinde am meisten hassen Der Freitag 22.10.2013 laments - in a vague way and a pessimistic tone - that the "left" hasn't done more to effectively challenge EU dictates. He makes a good point that the legacy of Cold War anti-Communist ideology still hampers the efforts of left activitists and parties to counter the neoliberal consensus. But Badiou seems to think that nothing of significance can be accomplished until the workers of the world can reconstruct some version of the First International that will be acceptable to French academics. How this differs in any essential way from total cynicism and apathy is not clear to me.

Fortunately, in the real world that will always be too lowly for the Badious of the world to bother to much notice, there are new left-leaning parties emerging and/or increasing in strength, such as the SYRIZA group led by Alexis Tsirpis in Greece and the Five Star Movement in Italy, both of them parties with realistic chances of taking power in the next elections in their countries. Elections which are likely to come sooner rather than later.

The German SPD's decision to go into another coalition headed by Frau Fritz, and their disgustingly compliant behavior in the process of forming a government, could be something like a suicidal decision. It offers a great opportunity for both the Green Party and, even more so, the Left Party to grow their vote and surpass the SPD.

The SPD just celebrated their 150th anniversary as a party. They've had a good run. But their determination to once again become junior partners in a coalition headed by Frau Fritz could wind up reducing them to minor-party status.

Alexis Tsirpis last month addressed the question of the European social-democratic parties' positions in the euro crisis (Alexis Tsipras at the Kreisky Forum, Vienna (the complete speech/address to Austrian social democrats Yanis Varoufakis Blog 09/24/2013):

Today’s PASOK [Greece's social-democratic party] is in eclipse because it failed to perceive the consequences both of the crisis per se and of the neoliberal management of the crisis for a deficit country, such as Greece, participating in an architecturally flawed monetary union subjugated to an symmetric shock.

There is a lesson to be learned from the crisis for all of us but especially for the social democratic parties[.]

Dear Friends,

In the 1990s, most European social democratic parties gradually divorced themselves from policies that try to regulate capitalism.

However, there were times post-World War II and courageous and inspired European socialists, like Bruno Kreisky, marched on the road of of social democratic values, principles and policies.

In a recent Spiegel article, the Financial Times columnist Wolfgang Munchau argued on the issue:

"The SPD finally gave up on Keynesianism when the last Keynesian in the party, Oskar Lafontaine, quit in 1999, and left the field open to Gerhard Schroeder, who later pursued his supply-side reforms.

Today, the SPD is just another conservative supply side party, where the differences with the CDU are reduced to discussions about distribution, but no longer about fundamental issues. This is why the debate between Merkel and Steinbruck has been so lame – a duet as some newspapers called it".

I absolutely agree with this view. If social democrats had followed the legacy of statesmen, such as Bruno Kreisky, Willy Brandt or Olof Palme, Europe would not have turned into today’s neoliberal desert. [my emphasis]
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