The Bavarian Connection
Germany faces a winter of extreme discontent. The six leading economic institutes in Germany have declared that the nation is entering recession. During October, growth forecasts for next year were revised down by 0.3 percent to 1.2 percent. This economic crisis in Germany, exacerbated by its main fallout—escalating unemployment—has evolved as the principal political concern within the nation.
The failure of attempts by former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to gain either political or public support for needed structural reforms in the German economy led him to seek a vote of confidence in his government in May. Realizing that he would lose this vote, the chancellor knowingly forced the German electorate to the polls to vote for a government of their choice.
The result was a stalemate, with opposition leader Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Union (cdu) claiming the chancellorship by an extremely slim majority and Schröder initially failing to step down. With his hand forced, Schröder finally caved in after having closed-door sessions with party leaders. Efforts to assemble a grand coalition of competing political parties followed. This proved to be a debacle.
Relative unknowns were suddenly propelled into the forefront of German politics as party members combed their ranks for any semblance of leadership in attempts to cobble together a workable deal with which to effectively govern the country.
By November, Schröder’s party leader, Franz Müntefering, resigned leadership of the Social Democrats (spd). Merkel’s conservative coalition partner, the Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, then packed his bags, withdrew from the melee and trotted back to his home state of Bavaria to view the outcome of Berlin’s political fiasco, temporarily, from the sidelines.
A day later, Stoiber was in Rome for a previously scheduled audience with Bavarian Pope Benedict xvi. With some media pundits accusing him of political cowardice and others declaring that his federal political career was over, Stoiber must have simply been laughing all the way to Vatican City. Here is one tough politician whose goal is set much higher than the bullring of Berlin. Stoiber’s vision is pan-European, and it has a strong spiritual underpinning.
Pundits may have scratched their heads over why Edmund Stoiber would have left what appeared to be, on the surface, a prime position from which to further his push for leadership in Germany. He was already being touted as the real power behind the throne in any prospective grand coalition. At the very least he could have just bided his time, waiting for Merkel’s first major false political move in the chancellorship, then struck to seize the leadership. With the proposed chancellor having such a slim power base, she would have been easy meat for the Bavarian “pit bull.”
However, such a scenario ignores three very vital facts, each relating very directly to Edmund Stoiber’s vision of his own personal political future.
First, Stoiber had earlier made it known that he coveted the position of foreign minister. Following the closed-door negotiations between the party leaders as they sought agreement on sharing political portfolios, only two ministries were announced as having been decided—the chancellorship (Merkel) and the Economics Ministry (Stoiber). At that point, although the doling out of ministerial portfolios was agreed to in terms of which party got what ministry, no other names were publicly attached to any of them.
At the time, on our website, theTrumpet.com, we wrote that the Economics Ministry was a poisoned chalice. Whoever received that job may face the same end as Chancellor Schröder. Given the moribund state of the German economy, necessary structural reforms to stimulate growth are going to cut deeply into Germany’s high-wage, social-welfare state. As Schröder found out, this is an extremely hard deal to sell to parliament, let alone the public. Reforms to the German economy will cut deep and cause real hurt governmentally, corporately and personally. Germany has grown fat and soft through prior decades of being the mighty engine of the European collective economy. The deep reforms that are necessary will come with a significant political and public backlash.
The question has to be asked: Was the pit bull of Bavaria deliberately saddled with that portfolio in hopes of forcing his political failure and removing any threat to Merkel?
Stoiber is outspoken to the point of accusing East Germans of being less intelligent than their West German counterparts. Merkel hails from the former East Germany. Stoiber has not been beyond powerfully criticizing his conservative coalition partner, even during her election campaign, which she ran with Stoiber as her deputy. (This was a complete reversal of the 2002 election when Stoiber, running with Merkel as his deputy, was just pipped at the post by Schröder for the chancellorship.)
Stoiber is certainly politically astute enough to realize quite early that the way the grand coalition was emerging was destined for failure. Holding a senior portfolio in such a situation does nobody’s political career any good, particularly when handed the portfolio saddled with the most unpopular task in German politics today.
It is also possible that Stoiber may well have remembered that his political mentor, Franz Josef Strauss—also a Bavarian—was, in principle, against such grand political alliances as the opposing parties were trying to put together in Berlin. In recalling discussions with Chancellor Adenauer in 1949, Strauss commented, “In principle I am against this idea of a great coalition. … I came out against it. The arguments I used then are, I think, still valid” (The Grand Design: A European Solution to German Reunification, 1965).
Strauss indicated then that the basic problem inhibiting formulation of a grand coalition was an absence of a common denominator in economic policy. As it was then, so it is today. The words of Franz Josef Strauss may well have rung warning signals in Stoiber’s mind!
A second reason for Stoiber’s withdrawal may well have to do with his wider political vision. A vocal advocate of the return of the Sudetenland to Germany and powerful promoter of the progressive commercial and corporate takeover of Poland by German interests, Stoiber is firmly committed to the grand design for Europe propounded by Strauss, his mentor. Here is a politician molded for this moment in history by one Bavarian who foresaw the future of a German-dominated European continent with powerful global sway.
Strauss shaped post-war politics in Germany like no other politician since. He had massive influence on public opinion during his entire political career. A rabid opponent of liberals, Strauss molded Edmund Stoiber politically into the same ultra-conservative shape as himself. Thus the vision that Stoiber inherited goes far beyond the bounds of his Bavarian home state. It stretches beyond the Elbe, the Danube and the Rhine to the furthest reaches of the European continent. Corporately, it is a global vision—with its political center in Germany and its spiritual heart in Rome.
Thus we may deduce that Edmund Stoiber was far from content when faced with the intransigence of spd Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück. During coalition talks, the cdu and spd parties agreed that Stoiber’s extended economics ministry would comprise large European Union competencies, thus placing him into a more powerful position than just holding a portfolio of domestic nature. This would have given Stoiber considerable clout within the EU on its collective economic policy. However, Steinbrück resisted the shift of policy areas formerly of his own ministry to Stoiber’s. This may have been a straw that helped to break the camel of the grand alliance’s back for Stoiber. If the Bavarian prime minister is to move to Berlin, it will be in an office that carries his power beyond the reaches of Germany.
The Road to Rome
The third reason that may have inspired Stoiber to extract himself from the Berlin melee has to do with his deep-seated Catholicism. A committed Roman Catholic, Stoiber has thumbed his nose at German legislation seeking to ban religious symbols in the nation’s schools and ensured that there is a crucifix in all of Bavaria’s school buildings. He is most aware that the present pope hails from Bavaria. This religio-cultural attachment is a tie that binds the destiny of these two Germans together.
“Pope Benedict xvi paid homage to the cultural patrimony of his native Bavaria on November 3 as he met with a delegation of parliamentarians from the Christian Social Union, led by Bavarian minister-president Edmund Stoiber. Bavaria, the pope said, ‘unites a heritage of generosity and a rich religious harmony: elements which hold real promise for the future’” (Catholic World News, November 3; emphasis mine throughout).
This pope does not treat words lightly. That statement is loaded with a message for the future.
With a mind to Bavaria’s successful high-tech economy, the most economically viable among all states in Germany, the pope continued, “That future … poses ‘difficult social and economic challenges,’ and as science creates new possibilities, leaders must be careful to make the proper choices. … Speaking in German, the pope said that technology should be assessed within the framework of a philosophical tradition that is also a part of the Bavarian heritage. He alluded to his own tenure as a theology professor at the University of Regensburg, and said that the people of Bavaria today should draw on the intellectual foundation of a tradition ‘that reflects the names of Athens, Jerusalem and Rome’” (ibid.).
That tradition, to any student of history, bespeaks one great amalgam that became an empire which has held sway in this world repeatedly throughout the past two millennia—the Holy Roman Empire! Philosophically, that ever-reviving empire welded the pagan thought of Greece and Rome together, under a religiosity borrowed from Jerusalem, to become the most powerful of spiritual and political forces in all civilization.
We declare that this old empire is on the rise again. Even now, as Europe (Germany in particular) appears on the surface to be in great disarray, powerful forces are at work in Brussels, Berlin, Rome and, dare we say, Bavaria, that are destined to continue to shape the geopolitics of Europe and the rest of the world into an order within which, yet once again, the most influential politics will emerge from Germany, and the most powerful spiritual influence from Rome.
Keep your eyes on Edmund Stoiber. Watch his developing relationship with Rome. Germany, and Europe, yet await a powerful leader with the political vision and the spiritual backing to coalesce the Continent’s fractious nation-states into a huge conglomerate that is destined to rule this world just one more time—the Holy Roman Empire!