Is Germany’s political landscape becoming a breeding ground for extremism?

Martin Schulz President of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) addresses the Federal Congress of the party. After three days of intense debate the party decided to discuss with Angela Merkel’s Conservatives the formation of another ‘Grad Coalition’ government. (Snapshot from a video, SPD Federal Congress).

Last Week, the German center left Social Democratic Party (SPD) decided to cooperate once more with the country’s conservatives, the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister Christian Social Union. They are to negotiate the formation of a grand coalition government, understandably under Chancellor Angela Merkel. This development may now seem the only mathematically possible solution left to secure a stable government for the next four years in this dull country.

However, politics is neither a mathematical discipline, nor does it obey the laws of addition and subtraction. At this point, though, one has to follow the main political developments during the past twenty years, in order to be able to understand what is happening in Germany today.

Grand coalitions for Deutschland

It’s the third time since 2005 the socialists are helping the conservatives impose their neoliberal policies in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. The SPD not only helped the center-right in that, but actually espoused its ideology; neoliberalism. Not to forget, at the beginning of the Millennium, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder, leaders of the then governing British Labour Party and the German SPD adopted the ‘third way’ in politics. It was the abandonment of the classic left-right political ideology which reflected the interests of distinct social classes. They adopted a modern ‘laissez faire laissez passer’ dogma.

Unfortunately, this led to economic liberalism (neo-liberalism) but not to political libertarianism. Judging it ex post, it led to the gigantism of the banks, which in its turn led to consecutive financial crises, which were paid for by the hard working and heavily taxed hundreds of millions in the entire old continent and the US. Remember the dot.com crisis in the US and European stock markets (2000), the Asian / global financial crisis (1997) and the great financial crisis of 2008-2010.

It’s the economy, stupid

Coming back to politics, the British Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has recently forsaken ‘Blairism’ and the neo-liberalism of the banks and in this way the party has been revitalized. It won 40% of the vote in last June’s legislative election and now is earnestly attacking the financial leviathans of the London City. However, these latest developments in the UK have to a great extent be attributed to the unique political and economic circumstances of Britain, with the Brexit and all.

In Germany, however, the SPD has remained under the spell of neo-liberalism and cannot anymore understand the problems of that part of society, which used to be its political audience. Today, most people are sick and tired with the immigrant flows, feel insecure and an increasing part of voters experience economic difficulties. Unfortunately, the SPD doesn’t listen to the social malaise. They are happy to co-govern with the conservatives.

Shrinking the SPD

As a result, in the legislative election of last September, SPD lost half of the voters who in 2005 had elected Schröder in the Chancellery. Many political analysts caution that after four more years in a ‘grand coalition’ government under Merkel and the socialists may become a small fringe party. True, the people who strongly disagree with immigration will vote for the extreme right, semi fascist Alterative for Germany (AfD). Those who want standard conservative governance will vote for the Christian parties, while the left-wingers may choose the Die Linke and those who are sensitive with the environmental issues will vote for the Greens.

Who is left there to vote again for the socialists? Such an eventuality will not only destroy the political system of Germany, it will have important repercussions all over Europe. The nationalist, anti-immigration or even racist political parties will gain new momentum.

Happy as they are

For this reason and more so because a number of SPD members feel in their hearts the need for a groundbreaking renewal, the last party conference had difficulties in approving the ‘grand coalition’ option. According to the news group Handelsblatt, Kevin Kühnert, the leader of the party’s youth organization Juno, “met a more enthusiastic response at the convention in a spirited speech rejecting a new coalition. ‘The renewal of the SPD will take place outside a grand coalition, or it won’t happen’ he said to much more vigorous applause than Mr. Schulz received”. .

Yet, the party’s dinosaurs, President Martin Schulz and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a long time leader of, had it their own way. They were not alone though. Seemingly, the largest part of the SPD parliamentary group, presumably made up of the party’s cronies, are in favor of a new ‘grand coalition’. Andrea Nahles, the group’s chief whip championed this option. She proclaimed: “There is no law of nature that being in opposition equals a strong SPD and taking part in a coalition equals a weak SPD.” Obviously, the leading quarters of the party are quite happy tailing the governments of Angela Merkel. It keeps them in the corridors of power even as a second fiddle.

Fanatics ‘ante portam’

However, there is a law in politics which says if a party is losing votes, and continues doing what is has been doing, the losses will accelerate or at least they will continue. Of course, the same is true for Angela Merkel’s CDU. No wonder then, if the aggressively racist, vulgar populist and opportunist AfD continues increasing its penetration in the German society. They just need to touch up their public image and throw away some party members with problems with the penal law, and they can become mainstream.

The vast majority of voters know exactly what the populists represent. Still, they support them because the established political elites don’t confront or even discuss the problems which haunt the average man and woman in the streets. The populists are doing that on a wholesale basis. They accumulate political capital on the fears, the obsessions and the patriotism of the many.

Alas, Germany’s political elites do not seem to worry for the future. France proved to be the political academy of Europe, and produced the Emmanuel Macron phenomenon. He effectively covered the vacuum left by the evaporation of both the French socialist and the center-right parties. So, he managed to block the way of the French extreme right, racist almost fascist National Front. Is Germany able to repeat the French political renewal? Many doubt it.

 

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