Guttenberg Is Back
He burst onto the German federal political scene in March 2009, appointed economics minister in Angela Merkel’s coalition government. He was quickly catapulted into the senior post of defense minister in a matter of months. Then, within two years of entering Berlin’s political scene, he was hounded from office by leftists intent on destroying his shooting star political trajectory.
Now, barely eight months from his resignation from all political offices, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire, is back in the public spotlight.
The choice of venue was the Halifax International Security Forum, where Guttenberg was billed as a “distinguished statesman” representing the think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Aware of the huge public following that the Guttenbergs have in their home country and ever eying Karl-Theodor for his next move, German journalists quickly pounced at news of his first public appearance since his resignation. They flocked to Halifax to cover what they billed as Guttenberg’s comeback.
What they saw was a remade Guttenberg public image. Gone were the spectacles. A new, gelled and parted hairstyle was evident, a little extra poundage, and a relaxed, even cool air.
But of greater importance than the physical makeover was what Guttenberg said, and what he refrained from saying, as one of the high-profile speakers at this third annual gathering of eminent persons in Halifax.
Guttenberg originally attended the first Halifax International Security Forum in 2009 as one of its keynote speakers. He is well known in foreign policy and defense circles in America, having built up strong connections over years of traveling across the Atlantic. He speaks English extremely well, exhibiting a broad vocabulary. His choice of venue for his first public outing since his resignation last March was impeccable, allowing him to ease back into the public arena with a minimum of hoopla.
Some news outlets tried to give a false impression of Guttenberg’s performance at Halifax with inflammatory headlines such as “Guttenberg Attacks Former Colleagues.” He didn’t. I viewed the live stream of his panel discussion on Saturday, and he was in fact the acme of diplomacy.
What Guttenberg did do—speaking as part of a three-person foreign-policy panel on the second day of the forum and choosing his words very carefully—was to make no bones about indicating that a leadership vacuum exists across Europe, as well as in Germany, coupled with a lack of vision connecting the public emotionally to the European Union’s primary goals. His approach was broad brush, pointing the finger at no one in particular but nevertheless making a strong point on both the above counts.
Under the headline “There is a lack of political leaders in Europe,” Bilde reliably declared (November 19):
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (39) is back in the spotlight at the gig in Canada!
Elegantly dressed (gray-blue suit, blue tie), Guttenberg was up on the podium 17 hours German time. But he hardly noticed the cameras. It seems almost as if all the attention was unpleasant to him. After his appearance Guttenberg even refused a press conference. The “new” Guttenberg, a member of a “think tank,” discussed in Halifax the future of Europe and the impact of the financial crisis on the security situation. It’s his first international appearance since his resignation. Guttenberg: “There is still no answer to the crisis, not a permanent solution. The political decisions in the EU often only calm the situation only for a few days.”
Focus Deutschland also reliably reported from Halifax that “Guttenberg proved a bad witness for European politicians, saying that they could not handle the current crisis and failed to reach out to people. ‘It is not only a euro crisis or a debt crisis,’ said Guttenberg. ‘It is above all a crisis of understanding and a crisis of political leadership’” (November 19).
The day before, Die Welt reported on Guttenberg’s arrival in Halifax, under the headline “Guttenberg surprised with a new look and title” (November 18):
Roughly eight months after his resignation, former Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is back on the public stage. The csu politician arrived in Halifax, where he was to appear on Saturday afternoon at a security conference …. Besides working in the media think tank Guttenberg has filed a report also on a new thesis . If he really submits a new thesis, this would add to speculation about a political comeback of the former csu rallying figure, giving that party a boost.
Handelsblatt was first to publicize Guttenberg’s appearance at Halifax when it last Thursday mulled a Guttenberg comeback with the observation (November 17):
Even if it all plays out in distant Canada, the attention in Germany will still be high. Ultimately his political supporters, who in March said goodbye, will see this as a comeback.
KTG, as they call him, is to continue as the star of the csu. The real secret is that Guttenberg is seen by many as one who—despite what some saw as his “cheating” by the plagiarism involving his doctoral thesis—has the potential to play a leading role, not only in the party, but also in Germany. Ultimately, though only 39 years old, he embodies what they want the csu to be: not only a grounded regional party, but to be heard internationally with the goal of attaining national government.
When we add Guttenberg’s deliberately understated return under the public spotlight to the cannily timed announcement of his best public relations asset, his attractive, aristocratic wife, Stephanie, returning to the media spotlight in Germany, you know that something’s afoot.
Focus Deutschland reported: “Stephanie Guttenberg returns to tv. In December, she is a guest in the new rtl ii show Tatort Germany. It is Guttenberg’s first appearance since the end of her own, highly controversial program …. Well at least it pushes his wife, Stephanie, back in front of the German public” (November 18).
So! Germany’s own “royal couple” is on the comeback trail and in far less than the two years that certain German pundits declared it would take. Even Chancellor Merkel recently called Guttenberg’s initiative of revamping Germany’s defense forces when he was defense minister “perhaps the most important decision of the governing coalition. Guttenberg had ‘argued very intensively with convincing arguments for it,’ she said” (Handelsblatt, op. cit.).
With his observations on the disconnect between politicians and the public, and his calling for a European vision to connect the masses emotionally with what is, in reality, the European imperialist goal, Guttenberg may well be perceived by elites as providing the very answer for both Europe’s and Germany’s present need for charismatic leadership. Leadership of a kind that can merge their elitist vision of a resurrected Holy Roman Empire with the need to convince the masses to rise to the occasion to meet those extreme challenges that Europe faces in its present state of escalating crisis, and its progressive division into the final 10.
One thing is for sure: The young baron knows that Germany is in charge of Europe, and all he has to do to return to the political limelight is bide his time till the crisis engineered by German elites in Europe reaches the point that they deem the time appropriate to invite him back into a position of influence. There would be no one better suited to provide both a pan-European vision and a strong emotional connection to it. He’s already proven his potential in that area.