Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg Plays Hard to Get

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Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg Plays Hard to Get

Cleverly manipulating the timing, the means and the method of his return to active politics

During his current personally-enforced exile from Germany and its political scene, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is proving that he is becoming a consummate politician.

After carefully adding, by his actions and guarded public statements, to the hype surrounding a possible political comeback by the 2013 German elections, Guttenberg has suddenly conveyed an impression of humbly withdrawing from contention.

Just two weeks ago, the media was anticipating Guttenberg’s return to active party politics in Germany, with indications that a ministerial portfolio could be in the offing. Yet last Thursday, in a carefully choreographed performance, no doubt designed to wrong-foot the establishment in Germany, Guttenberg declared that he was not yet ready to return.

This is brilliant political psychology.

By his latest actions, Guttenberg has left the German electorate with a feeling of unrequited anticipation within an atmosphere where the public are increasingly showing marked disaffection for their current political leadership. This will obviously heighten political tensions in Germany and further add to the frustration of not only his political backers but that of the long-suffering German public.

Guttenberg’s present public stance can only work to increase the cries to invite him back to help fix Germany’s dislocated political process as further fissures develop in its ailing coalition government the closer the nation gets to the 2013 polls. At this point, there’s no one on the political horizon in Germany with the charisma and crowd appeal to match that of the aristocratic Karl-Theodor and his media-savvy wife, the similarly aristocratic Stephanie.

Most Guttenberg watchers will by now be aware of the results of his scheduled meeting with his party boss, Horst Seehoffer, that took place Thursday evening at the Bavarian state chancellery offices in Munich.

According to Seehoffer, during a two-hour meeting at the chancellery, Guttenberg declined to return to active politics at this time. It does not take two hours to make such a declaration. Obviously that amount of time allows for the possibility of a political deal to be tabled, considered, debated and brought to a conclusion. Any deal offered was obviously not acceptable to the baron.

Within two hours of arriving at the chancellery, all deals were off. Guttenberg then met with his closest supporters in his own district of Kulmbach to convey his decision to them. He had come armed with a letter in case he had to use it to prove a point. This he did, releasing the text to the Bild newspaper.

When considering his own political future—which is put on hold for the time being—Guttenberg must consider three factors: the timing, the level of political office on offer, and the prevailing political climate not only in Germany but in Europe and globally as well.

At present, Germany is on the very cusp in Europe. Even with an increasingly weakening chancellor at the helm of a continually fraying government coalition, Germany is accelerating its economic dominance in Europe and forcing its own fiscal demands upon the continent. To this end it has the support of Europe’s present most influential troika of Roman Catholic Jesuit-educated elites—European Council President Herman van Rompuy, Italian President Mario Monti, and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Such support also means that the Vatican is also supportive of the direction that Germany is taking. After all, three sons of Rome in vitally important positions within the European Union does allow for the pope to exert a significant degree of influence in the future direction of that institution.

This club of Romans seems to be faring well at the moment in the fulfilling of its given briefs. But the most glaring weakness within the EU administration currently is in the functioning of its hugely unwieldy foreign affairs institution, the European External Action Service (eeas), currently headed by the increasingly unpopular Baroness Ashton.

Catherine Ashton’s appointment to this crucial position within the EU was one of political convenience and ultimate compromise. She has been under constant attack and criticism virtually from the moment she took office. Clearly the eeas is not working under her leadership. If the EU is to be taken seriously as a cohesive entity on the world stage, effective leadership of its foreign service must become a given. It won’t under its present configuration. The institution cries out for an effective, influential and forceful leader.

On the home front in Germany, a similar weakness is most evident in the leadership of its own Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s political ratings are about zero. His international profile is scant. This key role is begging for robust leadership to underwrite in foreign affairs the economic clout that Germany presently enjoys both in Europe and on the world scene.

One key to Guttenberg’s continuing interest in foreign affairs was a statement he made in the letter he submitted to Christian Social Union leaders and the party faithful last week. In his concluding remarks, he commented, “I will now take on new tasks. Sometimes I will give my opinion on foreign-policy issues. However, not as a politician but as a political thinker.”

Then there’s the German presidency. With President Christian Wulff under constant media attack for alleged corruption, his days in the German presidency may well be numbered. Though today seen as a largely symbolic office, the power of the German presidency really comes down to the force of personality of the incumbent and his willingness to exert influence on the public and government of the day. The presidency has real power to shape public opinion and set the moral standard for the nation. This office may well fall vacant soon.

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg presently sits in the box seat to fulfill any one of these roles in the future, should he accede to any invitation to become a contender. By playing hard to get while he enjoys the freedom to express his opinions unfettered by political constraints, Guttenberg currently enjoys respected status as a key adviser on the staff of the EU Commission vice president for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, a non-salaried position.

This task gives Guttenberg an international profile while enabling him to steer clear of EU politics for the moment, allowing him also to continue to be involved in high-status meetings and conventions such as that which he attended in Canada last year.

If Guttenberg is to return to an active, high-profile role in German or EU politics, we have always thought that would be by invitation, not by election to office. By his latest actions, the bright and politically astute young baron has placed himself in a position to encourage such an invitation as the political situation in Germany and the EU continues to fracture.

Given the current volatility of the ongoing euro crisis, the time may become ripe for just such an invitation to be issued to Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire, much sooner rather than later.