Merkel forever? Let's hope not
There’s been no official confirmation yet, but Merkel has already hinted that she would seek re-election.
This autumn she celebrates her 10th anniversary as chancellor, and if she is re-elected in 2017 and serves her full four-year term, she will tie with Helmut Kohl - who was also from the CDU party - as the longest-serving chancellor in the history of the Bundesrepublik.
There are no term limits for German chancellors, meaning that Merkel, who is still only 61, could even go on beyond 2021. If you’re not a fan of 'Mutti', then I’m afraid she could be around for quite a while yet. Which prompts the question: How is that that she has come to dominate German politics in the way that she has?
Merkel’s ‘moderation’ often given as a reason for her popularity. She is the pragmatic middle-of-the-road conservative who doesn’t go too far. But is she really that moderate?
Her politics may not be quite as extreme as David Cameron‘s, but that still doesn’t mean she occupies the ‘center ground’.
She did after all support the blatantly illegal neocon war against Iraq when in opposition - and criticized then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroder for his stance - which at least kept Germany out of that disastrous conflict. “Ms. Merkel supported the war in Iraq and even went to Washington to say so just before it started,” the BBC reported.
Despite the fact that Germany is powerful enough not to have to kowtow to the US, or indeed any other country, Merkel’s foreign policy remains staunchly Atlanticist - even after it was revealed that her American ‘friends’ were tapping not only her phone, but her ministers’ phones too.
Like all good lapdogs of Uncle Sam, she has supported sanctions on Russia, even though they are clearly damaging to the German economy.
In March, the neocon Wall Street Journal lauded her “firm” stance on sanctions and her calls on Europe to “maintain sanctions pressure on Russia.”
Merkel ‘moderation’ was hardly on display either in her hardline, uncompromising stance on Greece and its debt repayments. Greece was one of the countries that ‘forgave’ 50 percent of West Germany’s enormous WWII debt in 1953, a move described by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras as “the strongest moment of solidarity in Modern European history,” but there was no such solidarity from Merkel when the roles were reversed.
A genuinely ’moderate’ chancellor would be looking to preserve the progressive mixed economy model under which Europe did so well in the post-war years, but Merkel has done the opposite. She has worked to destroy all the good things that made the continent such a great place to live.
“Angela Merkel’s vision is of a Europe of shriveled public ownership and a minimal welfare state. The overarching conception of European integration here is competition among member states for the lowest wages, pensions and benefits. There can thus be little doubt about what is in store for all Europeans if the current German government is not thrown out in September,” wrote Gabi Zimmer in a prophetic article entitled ‘Europe can’t take four more years of Merkel’s Thatcherism’, published in the Guardian in 2013.
Alas, the German government was not thrown out in September 2013 and Europe has paid the price.
Anti-German feeling in Europe is probably at its highest since the 1940s and Merkel is much to blame for this. She’s not only alienated people in Greece, but elsewhere too. Take her crass comment regarding Hungary and the changes to its constitution, of which she did not approve (as if they were anything to do with her). Merkel vowed to “do everything to put Hungary on the right path. But we won’t be sending in the cavalry straight away.”
It’s worth remembering the destruction that Germany brought to Hungary when it invaded in 1944 to understand why Hungarians - despite having good senses of humor - did not think Merkel’s joke was very funny. “The Germans have already sent the cavalry to Hungary - they came in the form of tanks. Our request is that they don’t send any. It didn’t work out,” was the response of Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Imagine the feigned outrage from Western neocons if Putin had made a similar ‘joke’ about not sending the Russian cavalry to Poland ‘straight away‘. It would no doubt have led to calls for even more sanctions to be imposed. But Merkel made the joke, so it’s alright.
Whatever she says, however hardline her stance, Mutti keeps getting away with it. If a leader not in the good books of the US came out against same sex marriage, we can rely on elite Western media commentators to portray that person as a ’reactionary homophobe‘. There’d be manufactured ‘outrage’ as there was over Russia’s passing of a law prohibiting the banning of the promotion of homosexuality to minors in 2013. But Merkel can oppose same-sex marriages and all we get is the sound of silence - proving that it‘s not your stance on gay rights that really matters, it’s whether or not you have the ’right’ (i.e. pro-US) foreign policy.
Merkel’s domestic dominance tells us much about the fragmented opposition to her rule in Germany.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) has a lot to answer for. Apart from a nine-day period in 1976, SPD chancellors led West Germany from 1969 to 1982 and the party had much to be proud of during this period. West Germany was a good place to live and its foreign policies - particularly the Ostpolitik pursued by Willy Brandt - were constructive.
But the party lost office in 1982 when the Free Democrats (FDP) switched sides and joined in with the CDU/CSU, and has never really recovered. When the SPD returned to power in 1998 under Gerhard Schroeder, it embraced neoliberalism and the genuinely socialist Finance Minister ‘Red’ Oskar Lafontaine - labelled ‘Europe’s most dangerous man’ by the British Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid the Sun - was sacked after less than five months in the job as he upset too many powerful people.
Lafontaine - a brilliant, impressive man who would have made a wonderful chancellor - later became co-leader of Die Linke, a progressive party with policies that both Germany and the EU would benefit from. But the SPD’s refusal to support a progressive coalition with Die Linke and the Greens has betrayed ordinary people in Germany and across Europe. Rather than work with Die Linke and the Greens, the SPD prefers to collaborate with the German right.
The SPD has been in government with the CDU/CSU in a ‘Grand coalition’ since 2013 and although they have blocked some bad policies such as plans to sell Germany’s excellent state railway, as well as helping to get the country’s first ever minimum wage introduced, Germany would still have been best served if the Social Democrats had fiercely opposed Merkel and not decided to work with her.
The attitude of the SPD towards Merkel has been shamefully defeatist. Last week Torsten Albig, SPD state governor of Schleiswig-Holstein, said his party didn’t have a chance of beating Merkel in 2017.
“She is doing an excellent job, she is a good chancellor,” Albig said. He even hinted that the SPD ought not to even put up a candidate to challenge Merkel for the chancellorship.
Going into bed with Merkel certainly hasn’t been good for the SPD, as the party is down to 24 percent in the polls - 20 points behind the CDU/CSU. Meanwhile Merkel‘s government, while criticizing other governments for restrictions on freedoms, has been clamping down on domestic dissent.
It was reported this week that Germany’s justice minister has sacked the country’s top prosecutor, Harald Range, after he had accused the government of interference in a treason investigation.
Again just imagine if this had happened in Russia. Or Belarus. Or Hungary. But it’s happening in Merkel’s Germany, so let’s not make too much of a fuss about it, shall we?
Germany - and Europe - deserves much better than a reactionary, mediocre politician like Merkel who has done so little good, but much harm.
Consider: If leaders in Western Europe do manage to stay in power for a long time, usually they have some real achievements to their name. Bruno Kreisky, the outstanding and charismatic Socialist Chancellor of Austria from 1970-83, raised living standards, further developed his country’s welfare state and its excellent healthcare system, while internationally he pursued détente and justice for the Palestinian people.
Charles de Gaulle, president of France from 1959-69, rescued his country and again had many economic achievements to his name. Like Kreisky, he stood up to the US-taking his nation out of NATO’s military command, and was also a strong critic of Israel. De Gaulle was a conservative, but he didn’t genuflect like Merkel does to the forces of finance capital and wealthy elite interests. “He was a man who did not care for those who owned wealth; he despised the bourgeois and hated capitalism,” wrote his biographer, Jean Lacouture.
Then there’s Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden from 1969-76 and again from 1982-86. Palme made Sweden one of the best countries in the world to live in, and pursued a positive, truly internationalist foreign policy.
In contrast with Kreisky, de Gaulle and Palme, three giants of post-war Western European politics who are still much missed in their countries today,what will Frau Merkel’s ‘achievements’ be? A Europe more subservient to the US than it was before she arrived on the scene; one which tamely imposes sanctions on a country – Russia - which it is in Europe’s economic interest to work with and not against. A Europe where solidarity has been destroyed and where austerity has wiped out the chances of a decent life for millions of ordinary people.
And a Germany where economic inequality and poverty have grown, with over 12.5 Germans living below the relative poverty line.
The sooner we can say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ to Angela Merkel the better - but for that to happen, the center-left in Germany needs to stop collaborating and start fighting.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Neil Clark, for RT