Aftereffects of an Election

Germany’s September election put a weak and unpopular government back in power. But it also provided a glimpse at where the country is headed.
From the December 2002 Trumpet Print Edition

Had it not been for Joschka Fischer’s Green Party, in all likelihood Germany today would have a right-wing chancellor at its helm. But that was not to be. Germany’s most popular politician, the socialist leader of the country’s “environmentally conscious” Green Party, rallied his troops to gain 55 seats in the Bundestag to help edge Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s incumbent Red-Green coalition back into power.

In fact, Edmund Stoiber, heading the Christian Democratic Union-Christian Socialist Union (cdu-csu) combine, pegged the same percentage share of the total German electorate as Schröder’s Social Democrats, tying at 38.5 percent!

Thus, Schröder barely scraped back into the German chancellorship, courtesy of a good electoral boost from his Green partner, Joschka Fischer.

Eyelash Victory

The Institute for Public Affairs (ipa) published an apt comment on the result: “The eyelash victory of German Chancellor Schröder’s left coalition government in the September 22 parliamentary elections was motored in more ways than one by the Green Party’s leader, Foreign Minster and Vice Chancellor Joschka Fischer, the most popular politician in opinion polls” (In These Times, Oct. 28; emphasis mine throughout).

As the dust settled following the hype of election, it was the ipa that most correctly analyzed the influence behind Chancellor Schröder’s marginal win over his right-wing opponent, Edmund Stoiber. “Fischer is the man who tamed the Greens’ fundamentalist pacifism and engineered the sending of German troops to the Balkans and Afghanistan. But armed with polls showing the U.S.-planned war on Iraq overwhelmingly unpopular, he got credit for persuading the ever poll-sensitive Schröder to make German refusal to participate in any military operation against Iraq a central theme of the campaign—an issue that dominated the campaign’s final weeks to Schröder’s advantage.

“And when devastating floods ravaged Germany in August, it was the Greens—with a record of warnings about flood dangers—whose control of the Environment Ministry gave the government credibility in its response” (ibid.). It was just left to Schröder to call out the tv cameras and stomp through knee-deep water in mud boots. The result? He got the sympathy vote!

Crucial Appointment

Fortune then shone on Fischer, who had coveted a front-line role influencing future EU foreign policy within the German government. Through the vote gained by his party, the Greens, Fischer had delivered the chancellorship to Schröder. It was time for the re-elected chancellor now to deliver. This he did on October 17, announcing that he was naming Joschka Fischer as Germany’s new representative to the European Convention. The convention, established earlier this year, is now drafting a constitution to be published in 2003.

The Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel reported that “Fischer won the post under terms of a new coalition pact signed Wednesday between his Greens party and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrats (spd). Fischer is thus expanding his influence over European Union (EU) policy in the Schröder government” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Oct. 17).

The previous incumbent in the position of Germany’s delegate to the convention, Peter Glotz, stated, “This is an excellent solution. When the biggest member of the EU makes its foreign minister government representative … it shows what great importance Germany accords the future European constitution” (ibid.).

Perhaps the greatest significance of Fischer’s appointment to the convention on the future of Europe is that, in many ways, he is the father of it.

“[A] political mega-star joined the convention in the shape of Germany’s foreign minister, Mr. Joschka Fischer. Mr. Fischer is not only one of the most charismatic politicians in Europe; he can also claim with some justification to be the intellectual father of the convention.

“In a speech at Berlin’s Humboldt University 21/2 years ago, Mr. Fischer called for a constitutional treaty to determine what should be decided in Brussels and what should be left to national governments. He predicted that an enlarged EU would only function properly if there was ‘a constitutional re-foundation of Europe.’

“Regarded as fanciful at the time, Mr. Fischer’s speech now appears prophetic, and he is clearly determined to ensure that the opportunity for radical reform presented by the convention should not be missed” (Irish Times, Nov. 5). Fischer’s appointment to the European Convention will permit him to powerfully influence convention members to sway the new European constitution’s language in favor of German interests.

Influencing Policy

“Gerhard Schröder, the German chancellor, formed a new government yesterday and unveiled an agenda which could lead to new conflicts with the European Union. Mr. Schröder’s Social Democrats and the Greens, re-elected last month on a wafer-thin majority, signed a coalition pact to increase borrowing in defiance of EU rules. They said they would also introduce higher taxes and spending cuts. The 88-page agreement, reached after three weeks of talks, contained a plea to the EU to be ‘flexible’ in interpreting the Stability Pact” (Independent, London, Oct. 17).

The amazing thing is that it was the Germans, under Helmut Kohl’s chancellorship, who put the squeeze on all other EU members to wriggle into the straightjacket of the EU Stability Pact, with its rigid financial and economic constraints and heavy penalties in case of breach of those constraints. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. So the mutable Germans, under extreme domestic pressure to revive an ailing economy, plan to simply break the rules of a pact which they largely created, and to reject the stiff penalties this would normally incur!

Obviously, high on Mr. Fischer’s agenda will be a changing of the rules to allow greater flexibility in the Stability Pact. On this matter Fischer will be on firm ground, as none of the “big three” most influential on EU policy—France, Germany and Italy—are presently able to control their economies within the Pact’s rules. All are presently in breach of them!

But the German government has a strategy to help bail their country out of its present economic woes as the nation slides into recession. One key policy area that Germany seeks to influence within the EU is industrial policy. Schröder sees the extension of German industry (particularly into the new eastern sector which the accession of 10 new Eastern European EU member nations in 2004 will provide) as being crucial to his country’s economic recovery and resurgence. Fischer may now sit in the box seat, able to use his immense popularity back home, his gray-suited professional image and easy grace to win the hearts of his fellow Europhiles within the convention. Whether the coalition government, of which he is vice chancellor, survives to permit him to do so remains to be seen.

German Nationalism Returns

A rocky road lies ahead within the ambit of the foreign-affairs aspect of Fischer’s portfolio, most particularly in relation to the Atlantic alliance. The EU has significantly relied on American largess and U.S. military power for its security since World War ii. But what Washington has failed to see is that, behind closed doors, under the umbrella of the Atlantic alliance, unelected Brussels bureaucrats have been crafting a course for the European Union vastly at odds with the traditional Anglo-American view of the alliance.

A deep divide was created between Germany and America in the run-up to the German elections. This gap is destined to widen. The European Union is bent on a course that will lead, ultimately, to collision with its Western protectors—a collision with the most horrifying of results!

The strongest indications of the new overt German approach to asserting this difference were contained in the verbal cues inserted into Germany’s pre-election debate. Old German invective was dusted off and brought out into the open after 57 years in the closet. A torrent of German anti-American sentiment spouted from the mouths of German leaders, tainted with an all-too-familiar anti-Semitic invective.

“Jurgen Mollemann of the Free Democrats spoke of the ‘intolerant, spiteful style’ of some prominent Jews. His remarks echoed the anti-Semitism already voiced by former Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping when he complained that Mr. Bush was trying to please ‘a powerful, perhaps overly powerful, Jewish lobby’” (National Review, Nov. 11).

These anti-Semitic comments were matched by other German politicians with their scurrilous name-calling thrown at President Bush. “… Socialist Ludwig Stiegler suggested that our president was akin to Julius Caesar—the firebrand who destroyed centuries of republican government and sought to lay the foundations of Roman imperial rule. Herta Daeubler-Gmelin, the minister of justice, trumped that, declaring, ‘Bush wants to divert attention from his domestic problems. It’s a classic tactic. It’s one that Hitler also used’” (ibid.).

As the National Review observed, such choices of vocabulary are particularly perplexing to Anglo-Americans, and they raise the prospect of something palpably evil being resurrected from the ashes of World War ii.

“If even Socialists and leftists are reverting to the nomenclature of a half-century past, has the specter of German nationalism and belligerence really vanished?” (ibid.).

Victor Davis Hanson, who contributed the article in the National Review from which these quotes are taken, wondered whether Schröder’s choice of vocabulary, using terms such as “click their heels” and the “German way,” stressing Germany as a “modern” country (shades of 1930s Hitler), where decisions will be “made in Berlin—and only in Berlin,” might not reveal a repressed nostalgia for Germany’s nationalist-socialist past!

And herein lies the problem. As Hanson astutely observes, “If I were a Frenchman, Pole, Greek or Czech, I would re-examine very carefully the fashionable anti-Americanism of the Continent, dissect it, and determine what, in fact, are its real undercurrents and repercussions—before the spooky German rhetoric is turned on them …” (ibid.).

Weimar Revisited?

The Soviet Union is gone. East and West Germany are united. Berlin is once again Germany’s national capital. Traditional demands for lebensraum (“living room”) are being met by stealth via the institutions of the EU, taking advantage of continuing relationships with the UN, nato and the imf, and of U.S. foreign-policy naivety. It takes little knowledge of the past century’s history to wonder if, with an embattled, weakened chancellor at the helm of an ailing economy, increasing racial and social tension coupled with a political atmosphere within which politicians feel sufficiently confident to spout anti-Semitic rhetoric, we indeed are seeing “shades of a weak and decadent Weimar—with the attendant extreme reaction to it looming on the horizon” (ibid.). It was the weakened economy of 1920s Germany (called the Weimar Republic from 1919-1933) that created conditions ripe for the populous to embrace the rigorous discipline of national socialism.

This same extreme reaction could bring down this government, allowing Edmund Stoiber a second run at the chancellorship in quick time. The release of the latest statistics revealing Germany’s current economic woes “coincided with publication of an opinion poll which showed Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Social Democrat-Green coalition to have dropped in popularity to its lowest level for six months—down 6.5 points from the results it scored in September’s general election …. The government is accused of covering up the extent of the nation’s financial crisis, and has won no favor by breaking a pre-election promise not to raise tax rates” (Daily Telegraph, London, Nov. 14).

As Stoiber opines, this government, re-elected on the thinnest of margins and beset by many domestic policy woes, may be short lived. But its longevity may well depend on whether Schröder allows Fischer to take the high ground on foreign-policy issues, thus subsuming Germany’s present economic and social difficulties into the political background.

However short its reign, Fischer may well be the key to this weakened coalition government’s duration in office; his record indicates that. Fischer crafted the Balkan Stability Pact which has resulted in cobbling the Balkan Peninsula into the European Union’s first colonial gain. Fischer swayed the vote to allow German troops to be deployed in Kosovo, Macedonia and most recently Afghanistan with the prospect that they may soon take over leadership of the peacekeeping force in the still-strife-torn region. Fischer developed a peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians.

The one thing that Fischer has not yet been able to do is mend the post-election rift with the U.S. Last month, when Fischer arrived in Washington bent on issuing the apologies due for Germany’s overt pre-election anti-Americanism, he got the cold shoulder.

As we go to press, with the nato summit looming in Prague toward the end of November, it remains to be seen if Fischer can provide a sop to soothe U.S.-German relations so that some semblance of reasonable diplomacy may be preserved. Even so, from here on, the relationship between Germany and the U.S. will remain, for Germany, barely the last threads of a relationship of convenience.

Regardless of Schröder’s weak domestic political position leading this fragile Red-Green coalition, the fact remains that with Joschka Fischer in the post of foreign minister and now also in the box seat at the European Convention, with Jurgen Storbeck as head of the new European federal police force, Gen. Rainer Schuwirth head of the EU’s new military staff, Horst Kohler as head of the imf and Peter Woicke chief of the International Finance Commission of the World Bank, the modern Germany sits in a seat of power and of increasing political influence, not only within Europe but on the world scene!

The question is, how long can this coalition government continue before Germany’s present position of power on the world scene is compromised? Mr. Stoiber waits in the wings for the explosion.