TCS Daily

Fischer King?

By Joseph Tom Goeller - September 19, 2005 12:00 AM

BERLIN -- Confused voters plunged Germany into political limbo on Sunday, splitting their ballots among five parties. The result: challenger Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Social Democrats (SPD) are almost even. Both have dared to claim victory. Schröder appears on television as though he has won in a landslide -- a clear indication he's out of touch with reality.

Both losers, Schröder and Merkel, are behaving like two spoiled kids in a sandbox. That's probably why Germans have been so divided in their opinions -- and in the end trusted none of the candidates to run Europe's biggest economy. Merkel, a 51-year-old former physicist, tried to hammer home her message that only the Christian Democrats could drive down a crippling unemployment rate of 11.4 percent and get the moribund economy moving again. But because her party's result was about 5 to 10 percent weaker than expected, her hopes of forging a ruling coalition with the economically liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and introducing aggressive economic reforms have been dashed.

One major reason for the election result is that Merkel focused too much on a complicated tax reform which she completely failed to sell to voters. So, the election campaign became the most boring one in modern German history and most of the voters knew only what they did not want. Nobody addressed the real concerns and problems of this big nation in the midst of Europe. German growth is the slowest in the 25-nation European Union. The officially acknowledged unemployment rate went above the five-million mark earlier this year for the first time in the post-war era. Experts are sure that the real number of unemployed is about seven million. And the deficit is set to breach EU limits for the fourth straight year, endangering the single European currency, the Euro.

But none of this is any German's concern. To be "against" something became the most used word of the campaign. Schröder said he is "against blind following [of the US]", he is "against war", "against social injustice" and so on. Being "against" is a very popular position in Germany. In this respect, Schröder had his finger on the pulse of his nation. Of course, a majority of voters revealed that they are "against" him. On the other hand,. Merkel misunderstood that if there is a majority against Schröder this does not mean that the majority of the Germans want her as chancellor. An equal number chose neither Merkel nor Schroder, and voted for the FDP, the Greens and the new party, the so called "Left Party", which is nothing but poorly camouflaged communists.

The election result reveals a lot that has been suspected about the Germans as a nation for quite a while. First, as I've pointed out, it is "in" to be "against". The problem is that the mainstream doesn't know what it wants to be "for". In Germany it is currently "in" to be against the US but that doesn't mean that Germans are patriots and stand up for their own country. It is "in" to be against the smallest reform of the costly welfare system, but most f Germans don't know who'll pay for the high social standard in the future nor do they care. Living now is in. To think about tomorrow is unpopular.

Second: Germany seems doomed to repeat its history. After the founding of West Germany in 1948, for three decades there were the two major parties -- the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats -- who shared governing the country and there was a small party (FDP) that sometimes formed a coalition with either one. In 1980, Joschka Fischer's Greens added a fresh color to Germany's party palette and since then, politics has became a bit more complicated. This year, another party popped up, "The Left", which draws votes from former communists in East and West Germany as well as from those who call themselves the "unsatisfied". There are large numbers of them in East Germany where the Left gained more than 25 percent of the vote. This unwise scattering of votes was especially popular in the "Weimar Republic", that is the name for the first German democracy between World War I and the takeover of Hitler in 1933 -- when, by the way, the majority of Germans also knew what they were "against" but not "for".

To those who think this is an unjustified and exaggerated parallel, I would like to remind them of one more important issue: the German democracy in the 1920s was also shaken by a similar high rate of unemployment and a complete disorientation about its future. From there, the step to a "strong leader" is not far. Even though there's no particular person on the horizon, I predict some kind of strong leader will emerge from the current mess. It could be someone nobody is talking about -- for example, Joschka Fischer. For years he has been the most popular politician in Germany; he is an authoritarian leader who successfully pretends to be the opposite.

Too frequently, Germans don't want to be confronted or bothered with the realities of life. They loved Schröder, as long as he didn't wake them up. As soon as he tried to adapt the country's economy and social system to reality, Germans dumped him. Fischer might be the right person to become the 'savior' for the country.

The first signs are there, already. Merkel, desperate to take over the government and form a coalition at any price, is willing to talk to the Greens -- one day after the election, Merkel's conservatives are urging the liberal FDP to agree to a coalition with the Greens.

Another option that cannot be ruled out is new elections, if after weeks of coalition negotiations none of the major parties is able to form a majority government. This has never happened in the post-war Germany -- but this then would be the ideal time for Fischer.


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