She sells her strengths abroad, but weaponises her blandness at homeby Kati Krause / August 15, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
“In parliamentary work, ‘standstill’ may appear agonising, yet for voters it doesn’t hold any horror in times of crisis,” the late German journalist Roger Willemsen wrote after witnessing a Bundestag debate in March 2013, six months before the last general election in Germany. “The [Social Democratic] opposition may have found the government’s blockades a hard nut to crack—citizens however desire above all to maintain the status quo. For them, the inertia… isn’t an argument for voting anyone out. ‘Standstill’ simply has too good a reputation these days.”
The subsequent September 2013 election gave Angela Merkel her third term as Chancellor. As it stands, Willemsen’s observation could just as easily apply this summer. Then as now, Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) alliance was the largest party in a coalition government. Some ministers have changed and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), then the main opposition party, is today part of the government—not that it makes much of a difference. Then, the crisis Germans worried about was of the euro and Greek debt; today, it is of refugees and a shifting world order. Then, the man prodding Germans with his visions for the future with signs of increasing desperation, was Peer Steinbrück; today, it is Martin Schulz. We will be forgiven for mixing them up in 10 years’ time. In Germany, 24th September 2017 could just as well be called Groundhog Election Day.
In much of the west, voters have been keen to break things—or at the very least break with the past. The UK has voted to leave the European Union and is dallying with the idea of a radical socialist prime minister; France has given its established parties a good kicking; and the US, of course, has decided to administer that kicking to not only to its own establishment but to the world as a whole, by electing Donald Trump. The Polish, Hungarian and Turkish regimes are moving to undermine liberal democracy. Countries and communities are ever-more polarised.
But while a common refrain among pollsters, pundits and random bystanders after the US election was “we don’t know anything anymore”—the rhetorical equivalent of throwing one’s hands in the air—there is something they all predict with increasing certainty: on 25th September, Merkel will still be chancellor. At the end of July, Merkel’s CDU/CSU union was polling at 40 per cent, leaving her main rival the SPD out of view at a distant 23 per cent. Merkel herself had a 69 per cent approval rating. Granted, campaigning had not yet officially begun—and Merkel may recall that Theresa May had an even larger lead than that before the UK election campaign began earlier this year. But Germany isn’t a country for surprises. The truism that “elections have consequences” is simply less true in Germany.