Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken, the new leaders of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), may be about to do Germany and Europe a favor. That’s not thanks to any inherent qualities they possess; both are colorless and unimaginative left-wingers vaguely resembling Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn, though not quite as reckless. Rather it’s because they may want to take their party out of its coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right bloc, a possibility that has sparked a full-blown government crisis. Anything that shakes the country out of its torpor offers a ray of hope.
The current government of the European Union’s largest economy has been inexcusably mediocre, and is badly in need of change. Name almost any major challenge facing Europe today, and German flexibility and leadership is as needed as it is absent.
The euro area is at risk of stagnating, and Germany is the economy that could help the most, with a big fiscal stimulus. Instead it clings doggedly to its fetish for balanced budgets. The currency union is vulnerable to another euro crisis unless it is strengthened with a full banking union, including a common deposit insurance scheme for the region’s lenders. But Germany balks at anything substantive.
At a time of geopolitical turmoil, Europe must also rethink its military readiness and alliances. Yet Berlin keeps defying calls from its NATO allies to spend more on its army, which isn’t remotely prepared to help protect eastern Europe against Russia, if it ever came to that…
The coming weeks and months will make history in post-war Germany, which is not used to such turmoil.