Friday, November 27, 2015

Snowballing crises for Merkel and the EU

The euro crisis began in 2009 and has become a chronic condition, with periodic acute phases.

The refugee crisis has also been going on for years, entering an acute phase in 2015.

The Paris terrorist attack of November 13 was understood in the EU as a new crisis, interpreted especially by the French government as a reason to escalate military operations against ISIS in the complicated situation in Syria. And this week the Syrian situation got even more complicated with Turkey shooting down a Russian fighter under circumstances that are disputed, as one would expect in such a case. (Robert Perry flags a notable discrepancy in Turkey's account in Turkey Provokes Russia with Shoot-down Consortium News 11/24/2015.)

Now the crises are converging in a way that highlights the serious flaws in the EU, the construction of the eurozone and especially in the leadership of Angela Merkel and her fondness for extend-and-pretend short-term fixes instead of substantive solutions.

Dan McLaughlin reports (Refugees in Balkan limbo as crisis deepens EU divisions Aljazeera America 11/27/2015):

The Nov. 13 attacks in Paris transformed a huge political, economic and humanitarian challenge into an acute security crisis and widened already major divisions between European Union states over how to handle an influx of refugees that the onset of winter has failed to halt.

The suspicion that one of the Paris attackers was a Syrian who came to Europe among refugees deepened distrust of the new arrivals and turned more EU states against German-led efforts to welcome people fleeing the world’s war zones.

In the week after the carnage in the French capital, which left 130 dead, several countries on the so-called Balkan route into Europe closed their borders to all refugees other than Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis, who have the best chance of receiving asylum in the EU.
McLaughlin also notes, "Not for the first time in this crisis, however, states took drastic action without warning or coordination with each other; they left thousands of people stranded on remote frontiers with inadequate facilities, no idea of what to do next and a rising sense of panic as the first snow of winter fell."

In that context, this story is as interesting as it is odd, Flüchtlingspolitik: SPD tadelt Juso-Chefin für Merkel-Lob Spiegel Online 27.11.2015. Johanna Uekermann, the head of the Young Socialists (Jusos) group of the SPD, made a public comment defending Angela Merkel on the refugee crisis, "In dieser Frage muss man echt sagen, dass sie zum allerersten Mal in ihrer zehnjährigen Kanzlerschaft so etwas wie Rückgrat zeigt" ("In this matter, one must really say that finally in her 10-year Chancellorship, she has shown something like a backbone.")

It's not unusual that an SPD leader would endorse Merkel's position on the refugees. That's part of the larger political Kabuki Merkel and her CDU/CSU have been playing on the refugee crisis: some party leaders bitch and moan about the scary foreigners, Merkel plays the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter, and the SPD presents itself as supporting their Chancellor on the refugee problem against the cold-hearted Christian Democrats. No one who has been following the course of the SPD over the last several years should be surprised that they are more eager to appear as Angie-bots than Angie's own party. Cartoonist Klaus Stuttman saw this development in full swing when the SPD fell all over themselves after the 2013 election to become junior partners yet again to Merkel's CDU/CSU in a Grand Coalition, aka, GroKo:

But to make it weirder, several prominent figures in the SPD blasted Uekermann instead! Hubertus Heil, the deputy leader of the SPD Bundestag parliamentary caucus (Fraktion) was pretty harsh: "Juso-Bundesvorsitzende geht CDU-Vorsitzender auf den Leim und fällt eigener Partei in den Rücken. Unlogisch, unsolidarisch, unklug." ("The national Juso chairperson is out of line with the CDU Chairperson {Merkel} and hurting her own party. Unlogical, unsolidarish, not clever.") The head of the SPD Fraktion joined in the criticism along the same lines.

But, wait, you may say, wasn't Uekermann praising the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter?

Spiegel Online quotes the SPD General Secretary, Yasmin Fahimi, from the Rheinische Zeitung, Viel Ärger für Juso-Chefin Johanna Uekermann 27.11.2015. It's a bit confusing. Spiegel is apparently quoting verbatim and indirect quote from the RZ, without clearly identifying it as such. Anyway, the indirect quote in question is:

Sie lobten damit die Frau, die die Transitzonen von CSU-Chef Horst Seehofer unterstützt habe, die den Familiennachzug für Syrer nicht wolle und die schwangeren, minderjährigen und behinderten Flüchtlingen keine angemessene medizinische Versorgung geben wolle.

[Thereby she {Uekermann} is praising the woman {Merkel} who supported the transit zone of CSU head Horst Seehofer, who doen't want family unification for Syrians and don't want to provide pregnant, underage and disabled refugees proper medical treatment.]
Here it sounds like the leadership is criticizing Uekermann for not being critical enough of the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter!

Johanna Uekermann, Chairperson of the Young Socialists (SPD)

We have to allow for the fact that being in the mouth of the crocodile can lead to some confusion. Here's my best guess how to read this particular burst of criticism against the Juso Chair.

First, it's Uekermann has been a critic of the SPD Angie-bot course since late 2013, when he was first elected Juso chair. As I wrote at the time (The SPD and a possible new Grand Coalition government in Germany 12/08/2013):

The Jusos formally voted against the coalition agreement and elected as their new leader a Bavarian social democrat, Johanna Uekermann, who is vocally opposed to a new Grand Coalition. ...

The Jusos' opposition is scarcely decisive. But it's also significant. Opposing a key national national policy of the SPD leadership like this is no small thing for ambitious young SPD politicians. (Wolfgang Wittl has a biographical sketch of Uekermann, Adams Zankapfel Süddeutsche Zeitung 25.10.2013) And Christoph Hickmann writes, "Die Jusos sind der harte Kern des sozialdemokratischen Widerstands gegen die große Koalition." ("The Jusos are the hardcore of the Social Democratic resistance to the Grand Coalition.") (Im Herzen des Widerstands SZ 07.12.2013)

In a Juso Blog post, Andro Scholl warns, "Europe is going kaput and the Grand Coalition will do nothing about it!" (Stell Dir vor Europa geht kaputt und die Große Koalition ändert nichts dran! 25.11.2013)
So the Angie-bot leadership has never much liked Uekermann in her current role. I'm thinking the criticism from two sides - she criticized the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter! She didn't criticize the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter enough! - is also political Kabuki. The main irritation is that the SPD leadership is so subservient to Merkel that they wanted to take a whack at Uekermann and snivel to the Compassionate Pastor's Daughter in response to Uekermann's clearly backhanded comment. "In this matter, one must really say that finally in her 10-year Chancellorship, she has shown something like a backbone" clearly assumes that it's obvious that she hasn't shown any backbone before, which is really the core of Merkel's EU critics more generally. Her extend-and-pretend approach to critical problems has involved avoided describing them as they are and backing away from confronting the nationalist element in her own party over European unity. We've seen that clearly in the euro crisis, in the refugee crisis, and now in the latest military escalation in Syria.

I'll give Uekermann credit for some perceptive political theater of her own. Her comment the SPD honchos singled out for attack pinpoints the key flaw in Merkel's leadership that may already have doomed the EU to more weakness or even disintegration. But it's not as though Merkel has failed to show "backbone" against her enemies, as her ruthless position against the elected Greek government in the first half of the year showed dramatically.

Yasmin Fahimi's criticism of Uekermann's statement quoted above is actually correct. But the SPD has been more supportive of Angie than the CDU/CSU on the subject, so phrasing her comment that way may well have been designed to put the SPD leadership on the spot over their defense of Merkel. It looks to me like it had that effect, anyway.

Timo Lokoschat responds to the anti-Uekermann criticism in Blanke Nerven Abendzeitung 27.11.2015; Uekermann herself retweeted it. So the attribution in the Abendzeitung may be an error, although it speaks of Uekermann in the third person. He uses the term "Genossen," the SPD word for "comrade," which they use on official occasions:

Es gehört zu den Forderungen jeder ordentlichen Sonntagsrede, dass in Krisenzeiten „Parteipolitik“ außen vor gelassen werden solle. Wie weit hier Anspruch und Wirklichkeit auseinanderklaffen, zeigen gerade wieder die unverhältnismäßig harten Attacken auf die Juso-Vorsitzende, die es gewagt hat, der Kanzlerin „Rückgrat“ zu bescheinigen.

Rückgrat! Liest man die hysterischen Reaktionen von Fahimi, Oppermann und Co., könnte man glatt denken, sie habe gefordert, der deutschen Sozialdemokratie selbiges zu brechen.

Der bizarre Streit zeigt vor allem eines: wie blank die Nerven bei den Genossen liegen. Seit Monaten dümpeln sie abgeschlagen und ohne Machtperspektive hinter der Union – und das, obwohl durchaus Akzente in der Großen Koalition gesetzt wurden. Trotzdem können viele Wähler den „Markenkern“ der Partei nicht mehr erkennen, beklagen ein gefühltes Desinteresse an ihrer Lebenswirklichkeit.

Das kann man ändern – aber sicher nicht durch Desavouierung der eigenen, immer etwas rebellischen Jugend.

[One of the requirements for every proper Sunday speech that in times of crisis, "partisan politics" should be left out. How far the demand and reality differ has just been shown again in the disproportionally harsh attacks on the Juso Chairperson {Uekermann}, who has dared to acknowledge the "backbone" of the Chancellor.

Backbone! Reading the hysterical reactions of Fahimi, Opperman & Co., one could easily think that she had called for the breakup of the German Social Democracy itself.

The bizarre conflict show one thing above all: how raw the nerves of the comrades are. For months, they bob around as though beheaded and without a perspective for power behind the Union {CDU/CSU} - and doing it, even though it clearly establishes accents in the Grand Coalition {i.e, provides visibility for the SPD}. Nivertheless, many voters can no longer recognize the "core branding" of the Party, {and} complain about a perceived disinterest {by the SPD} in their real lives.

One can change that - but certainly not be disavowing their own, always somewhat rebellious youth.]
In other words, Uekermann's criticism and the confused backlash from the leadership it provoked has illustrated the fecklessness of the current party leadership. They are comfortable being in the mouth of the crocodile, so comfortable that they freak out at straightforward criticism of the crocodile's disastrous failures.

Martin Schultz is a German SPD leader, President of the EU Parliament, and a shameless Angie-bot. So when he sounds like he's criticizing the GroKo, it's worth looking at his words closely. (EU-Parlamentspräsident: Schulz gibt Schäuble Mitschuld an Spaltung Europas Spiegel Online 27.11.2015) Schultz has gone so far as to publicly acknowledge the obvious, that Germany's domineering, nationalist handling of the euro crisis has damaged trust among EU partner nations, which has massively contributed to the lack of cooperation in the 2015 phase of the refugee crisis. "Es mag zynisch sein, aber es ist gerade Payback-Time in Brüssel," he says. ("It may sound cynical, but it's finally payback time in Brussels.")

Yes, it's too good to be true. Because Angie-bot Schultz doesn't blame Merkel's disastrous Herbert Hoover/Heinrich Brüning austerity economics. Or her nationalist posturing over it. And certainly not the SPD's disgraceful backing of those policies to the hilt. No, it turns out that Angie's Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, is the problem! Despite his being the Finance Minister, Schäuble was one of Merkel's political mentors who she cheerfully stabbed in the back as soon as she got the chance. Lately, he's been a pain in the rear to Merkel over the refugee crisis, even though his positioning has fitted well into the CDU/CSU's political Kabuki play over it. So Schultz' criticism of Schultz is just a continuation of the SPD's subservience to Merkel.

Another word on the euro crisis. Wolfgang Münchau continues his Cassandra warning to Germany and its leaders Währungsunion: Deutschland zahlt - oder das System explodiert 27.11.2015 that unless they abandon the spectacularly failed Hoover/Brüning policies, the eurozone's problems will continue to worsen. And he again points to the stagnation of Italy since the beginning of the eurozone as as major possibility to bring the next acute phase of the crisis. He worries "that it won't take much longer until Italy has a tangible interest in leaving the euro area" ("dass es nicht mehr lange dauert, bis Italien ein handfestes ökonomisches Interesse daran hat, den Euroraum zu verlassen").

He also recites basic facts about the euro currency zone that most of the German leadership and mainstream press seemed to have been strenuously attempting to avoid since forever. Including:
Deutschland hatte enorme Vorteile von der Währungsunion. Ohne sie wäre der deutsche Wechselkurs deutlich höher und die Warenausfuhren geringer. Ohne eine Währungsunion hätte Deutschland nie nahezu Vollbeschäftigung erreicht. Die Hartz-Reform hätte es möglicherweise gar nicht gegeben, denn die gesteigerte Wettbewerbsfähigkeit wäre wahrscheinlich durch einen höheren Wechselkurs wieder ausgeglichen worden.

Germany had enormous advantages from the currency union. Without it, the German exchange rate would have been distinctly higher and export of goods smaller. Without the currency union, Germany would never have reached near-full employment. The {neoliberal, anti-labor} Hartz-IV reform would possibly never have been, because the rising competitiveness {of Germay} would probably have been balanced by a higher exchange rate.]
Heck of a job, Angie, heck of a job!

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