Pinning the Blame
German unemployment figures hit a 73-year high last month when the number of jobless passed the 5 million mark. This figure, together with other economic and immigration problems facing the nation, is leading many to draw the obvious comparison between today’s Germany and conditions existing within the Weimar Republic, which saw Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. “The last time Germany posted such high unemployment numbers was in 1932, when the country collapsed, and Germany marched on Europe just seven years later” (Stratfor, February 4).
This “psychologically important” unemployment figure of over 5 million has been seized upon by right-wing opposition parties—specifically Edmund Stoiber’s Christian Social Union and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union—to advance their own cause (bbc News, February 2). In the most hostile attack on the government for some time, Bavarian Premier Stoiber blamed Gerhard Schröder’s center-left Social Democratic Party (spd) not only for the huge number of unemployed, but for the increasing popularity of far-right-wing groups in parts of Germany. “We are in a situation that Germany has not experienced since 1932,” he told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag on February 6. “The economic failure of the government … is laying the groundwork for extremists who are using people’s despair to undermine democracy” (Financial Times, February 8).
It does not take much imagination to see that Stoiber is setting himself up as the one to provide the solution to the nation’s economic woes—and as one who will calm down increasingly vocal right-wing extremists. It is all part of his ploy to appeal to a right-leaning, restless and fearful populace: place all blame on the government—thereby exonerating the neo-Nazi parties and far-right-wing voters.
As premier of the most economically vibrant state in Germany and an ultra-conservative who has stronger views on what Germany’s place in Europe should be, Stoiber could be just the leader that disgruntled voters seek.
Chancellor Schröder’s eight-month reprieve in the opinion polls could well be over. His economic reforms, which include social welfare cuts, are highly unpopular and are not showing results. The German minister for employment has said he expects joblessness to rise still further (European Foundation Intelligence Digest, February 3).
With Schröder’s spd holding only a slight majority in the Bundestag, it “faces the serious threat of losing its majority status in 2006”—which would also mean Schröder would lose his office as chancellor (Stratfor, op. cit.).
Editor in chief Gerald Flurry’s words from May 2002, referring to the economic weakness of Germany—and particularly its unemployment problem—apply even more today: “This crisis is apt to get worse before it gets better. If it does, Mr. Stoiber will be much more attractive to voters.
“He is a man we all should watch.”