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[AK] Facts About Germany – Angela Merkel’s Legacy

This note will discuss the long lasting impacts of Angela Merkel, former Chancellor of Germany.

Background: A triple minority in CDU → Protestant, Eastern German, and women. Rose to power via full pragmatism; Firstly by turning Helmut Kohl (her political mentor) over for financial scandals, secondly by not participating in public debates before public opinion sways strongly in a certain direction. Lacks clear political vision.

People vote Merkel because they see Merkel as an eminently reliable and highly analytical civil servant, but not as a politician who has ever systematically staked out a vision for the country. She could govern smoothly, because for most of her time in office, public coffers were full.

Merkel’s sharp policy turns, for example on nuclear energy and the draft, could only have been pulled off by someone who was seen as more of a civil servant-in-chief, someone who simply chose the most seemingly reasonable course of action, quite beyond partisan commitments. In fact, she raided the policies of her competitors, the Social Democrats in particular, thereby systematically demobilizing the party’s voters. At the same time, the decision to abandon nuclear reactors after the Fukushima Danish disaster opened the possibility of coalitions with the Green party—thereby increasing the room for strategic maneuver of the CDU.

Merkel could get away with such radical changes partly because she tightly controlled her own party, sidelining potential competitors in a Machiavellian manner. But the other reason was that she convinced many Germans that there was a reasonable center over which she presided, where partisan differences did not matter all that much.

A less polite way of saying this is that Merkel’s default way of governing was something like technocracy. Especially during the euro crisis, she claimed that there was no alternative to her solutions to policy challenges. All who disagreed effectively revealed themselves as irrational—and bad Europeans, as well as, by implication, bad Germans to boot, because the definition of a good German is being enthusiastic about European integration.

As in other countries, technocracy actually paved the way for populism. It is not an accident that the far-right party that was created in response to Merkel’s leadership is called Alternative for Germany (AFD). Populists can (correctly) claim that democracy without choices makes no sense; there is always an alternative, and it is up to voters whether they prefer it or not. In retrospect, the initial reaction of many centrist politicians to the AFD, then still mostly led by respected conservative professors and businesspeople, was probably a mistake: All criticism of measures to rescue the common European currency was condemned in highly moralizing terms, which arguably contributed to the radicalization of the AFD.

Failures: She has failed to mount a satisfactory response to the three major crises Europe has faced over the past decade. Her reluctance to reform the European Union in response to the euro crisis prolonged Southern Europe’s economic pain and leaves the single currency vulnerable to future economic crises. Her failure to explain her course in the refugee crisis to her fellow citizens has amplified a xenophobic backlash and allowed an extremist party to take hold in Germany’s political system for the first time since the end of World War II. And her unwillingness to confront authoritarian populists in Poland and Hungary has weakened democracy in Central Europe, posing an existential threat to the survival of the European Union.

Euro crisis diploma: More united fiscal and monetary policy (will be opposed by EU countries) or dispelling weak member states (causes their suffering)? She did neither (because public opinion didn’t swing strongly in either direction). Instead, she gave bailout packages to bankrupt countries (Greece, etc.) → saves them from crashing, but artificially reduces Southern Europe’s economic performance via austerity (rather complex explanation, look it up) and creates a sense that Germany is creating economic decisions on behalf of those countries & creating resentment.

Refugee crisis: Initially full open borders, but refusing to comment over xenophobic attacks. After worry increase about massive refugee coming and molesting incident in Cologne, she reversed the policy. BUT, again, due to complex nature of the crisis (and thus no option is more popular than the other) she refuses to publicly engage in refugee policy discussion, leaving the far-right to do it for her. Had she explained that CJS reform is possible, and refugees are good for the country, AFD wouldn’t rise as strongly?

It was Merkel’s inability to explain her conduct in 2015—and the fact that all parties represented in parliament at the time supported her, alongside many in the media—that probably helped to solidify the image on which all populist parties crucially depend: that of a homogeneous elite that is in all likelihood corrupt, but at the very least not acting in the interests of ordinary people. To this day, many Germans find it hard to understand whether the temporary opening of the borders was a matter of hard-nosed strategy to prevent a collapse of the European Union or humanitarianism. The answer that there was no alternative proved insufficient then and is insufficient today.

Rise of authoritarians in EU: Refuses to attack Viktor Orbán who seeks to dismantle liberal democracy in Hungary, expel Hungary out of EU & stopping EU aid there, and even let his party be in the same faction as CDU in the European Parliament. Now he made alliances with other authoritarian EU states and makes it harder for EU to vote him out.

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