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Germany: The Case for Angela Merkel

Germany: The Case for Angela Merkel
 Dominique Moïsi
Distinguished Senior fellow

"Old-fashioned politics" and its little calculations have attained Germany. If the country comes across as weakened by its inability to build a first coalition, Angela Merkel should remain at the head of Germany. According to Dominique Moïsi, Special Advisor to Institut Montaigne, Europe’s immediate future depends on it.

For the first time since the creation of the Federal Republic in 1949, Germany is enduring an unprecedented political crisis, which is quite a common thing for most of its European neighbours. Following legislative elections, most parties have proved unable to form majority governments. But the German case is specific and is perceived differently. 

The uncertainty of Germany’s political situation calls for attention for at least three reasons: the country’s status in Europe, Angela Merkel’s personal status and the inevitable but excessive mention of the Weimar Republic. Over 70 years after the World War II, Germany remains different from other countries in Europe’s unconscious mind. We are concerned of her excess of strength when she appears stable and prosperous, and anxious for her weakness when she comes across vulnerable in her domestic politics. Certain hasty comments on the "fall of the Merkel House" testify of this ideology. Merkel’s incapacity to succeed to herself constitutes a warning to all those who would willingly place ethics above politics. By opening Germany’s doors to a million refugees, Angela Merkel may have closed herself the doors to the Chancellery… Although this scenario is not the most likely, it cannot be ruled out. And this for an essential reason that can be summed up in one name: Stenmeier. He is the only one who may convince the SPD to reopen negotiations with the Chancellor. 

The President - whose role, according to the German Constitution, is mainly formal and representative - has turned out to be a key to the system. Before Stenmeier, Richard von Weizsäcker was President from 1984 to 1994. His speech on 8 May 1985, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II and celebrating the defeat of national-socialism, may be, at the time of a renewal of the extreme right through the rise of the AfD, among the most important moral contributions of the past decades, a "German Enlightenment" warning against the risks of a barbarian resurgence.

Today, Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s role is no longer merely symbolic, but directly political. As Richard von Weizsäcker was in his time, Steinmeier is motivated by a sense of moral responsibility in the eyes of History and a sense of State dignity. In some ways, he intends to bail out the Chancellor. Were Angela Merkel to remain German Chancellor tomorrow, which would be the best scenario for Germany and Europe, it will be thanks to him. 

A Shakespearean tragedy

Over the past few days, the world has witnessed the German version of a Shakespearean play, a sort of "Comedy of Errors". It would laughable if it did not concern Europe’s first economic power, which is also one of the pillars - if not the main pillar - of stability of our liberal democratic model, in the times of Brexit and Trump. All the "comedians" of this play seem to have proved, at different times and at different levels, a mix of arrogance, inflexibility and precipitation, or rather, and maybe more simply, proved partisan and/or personal calculations. The SPD Party, behind its President Martin Schulz, bears a part of responsibility, even if it may tomorrow turn out to be the "kingmaker", or rather "queenmaker" in this case. So why claim, following failed negotiations, which were aiming at a "Jamaïca coalition" between the CDU-CSU, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), and the Green Party, that the SPD would never open negotiations with Angela Merkel’s Party? The former European Parliament’s President, unsuccessful candidate in the last legislative elections, appeared momentarily more concerned for his party than for his country, contrarily to the way he presented himself and his partisans within the SPD.

Angela Merkel also seems to bear a part of responsibility. Has she lost touch? Is she lacking the necessary energy? Or is she simply excessive towards other "small parties" in her approach to negotiations, convinced that her international image would place her above ordinary contingencies? Nonetheless, the largest part of responsibility goes, without doubt, to the leader of the FDP, Christian Lindner. Willing to regroup the disappointed of traditional parties, did he not himself act wrongly, by hiding partisan calculations behind great and perhaps slightly nationalistic declarations of principle? Despite his youth, did he not come across as the most caricatural representant of the "old politics"?

The German pillar in Europe

Whatever its outcome, a "Great Coalition" or a "Minority Government", this "Comedy of Errors" will mark the political equilibrium between Germany and Europe. Since the June 2016 referendum, there is not only "less" Britain in Europe, but also less Germany. Putin, Trump, without omitting Orbán, probably rejoiced too early by waiting for the pending end of the Chancellor’s career. However, Angela Merkel is no long who she used to be, and Germany is no longer the utmost pillar of stability it used to be over the past twelve years. 

However, the Chancellor and her country remain, for the good of Europe in general and for Macron’s France in particular, a reserve for the democratic cause. The Germans may remain indifferent to Angela Merkel’s fate, but Europeans won’t. 


With the kind permission of Les Echos (published on November 24th).

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