Guest Notes

Euro notes

9 October 2021

9:00 AM

9 October 2021

9:00 AM

Merkel’s woeful legacy

How ironic but unsurprising that Angela Merkel, for sixteen years leader of her country’s once-conservative Christian Democrats, paved the way for post-war Germany’s most left-wing government at the 26 September federal election. The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which won 10.3 per cent of the vote, became a significant force only after Merkel’s unilateral 2015 decision to throw Germany’s borders open to over a million illegal immigrants – mostly not genuine refugees. AfD has thrived on legitimate concerns over what Merkel unleashed, especially the terrorism and crime perpetrated by newcomers, including the infamous 2015 NewYear’s eve in Cologne, when 600 women were assaulted.

The commentariat is aswoon over the fact that AfD’s vote was down at this election from the 12.6 per cent they won at the previous election, in 2017. But Merkel’s many media admirers have been more reluctant to acknowledge that her party’s worst-ever result is partly attributable to the fact that she in large part created the AfD, which split the conservative vote, without which the Christian-Democrat-led centre right (CDU-CSU) would probably again have got over the line into first place.

Bafflingly for those used to the Anglosphere’s normally binary political choices, Germany’s likely new government will be a typically Euro left-right coalition, led by the Social Democrats’ (SPD’s) Olaf Scholz, who won the election with 25.7 per cent of the vote (to the CDU-CSU’s 24.1 per cent). To form a majority, Scholz will probably need post-war Germany’s first three-party coalition, including natural allies the Greens (14.8 per cent) and a much less likely partner, the pro-business, conservative Free Democrats (11.5 per cent). To achieve this will require tortuous negotiations on issues the three parties disagree fiercely about: the Nordstream natural gas project with Russia, the SPD’s softness on China, a wealth tax, and autobahn speed limits. If the wheels fall off these negotiations, as they easily could, Germany could end up with equally fragile alternative coalition governments: an SPD-led ‘grand coalition’ with the CDU-CSU, or a CDU-CSU-led coalition with the FDP and the Greens. The one certainty is that AfD will be shut out of any coalition deal.

The Left rarely wins elections in Europe these days and the SPD’s return from the political dead looks mostly like good luck. Until recently it was in third place in opinion polls with around 15 per cent of the vote, behind the Greens. But not only did Merkel obligingly split the conservative vote, both Scholz’s’main rivals scored major own-goals – Merkel’s successor CDU leader Armin Laschet was caught on camera laughing during a tribute to the 180 victims of recent floods.  And Greens leader Annalena Baerbock was sprung for plagiarising passages in a book she published.

Whichever combination of parties forms government, Germany looks set for less stable politics than, in the main, it’s been used to. Scholz has a reputation as a dull but competent centrist. But he isn’t the Social Democrats’ leader – the party is under the control of Kevin Kühnert, a hard leftist who calls for the nationalisation of private companies and land. There’s a widepread view that Kühnert and his comrades realised that old-style socialism was a hard sell to most modern German voters , so Scholz would be the party’s Trojan Horse.

The election result has led to German money flooding into Swiss bank accounts. A left-led government will probably be distracted and destabilised by ideological battles and there’ll be question marks over Europe’s biggest economy. And inclusion of the Greens in government will of course push the country even further to the woke-Left than it’s been under Merkel.

A left-dominated Germany would shift the dynamics of European politics. For the first time since Merkel took office in 2005, Paris would be the dominant member of the Franco-German EU ‘motor’.

Macron – spurred by the humiliation over submarines and AUKUS – would probably try to use the opportunity to push for a more united EU on foreign policy and defence – under French leadership, of course. He’d be unlikely to encounter much resistance from a leftish German government.

The Left in charge in Berlin would deepen the EU’s fissure between the eastern conservative, socially traditional former communist states and the woke west. But that could be complicated by western Europe’s overall rightward shift – a leftist Germany might find itself over the next year isolated among right-wing governments among its major EU partners France, Italy and Spain.

Merkel will remain Chancellor until a new government is formed.  The one real positive from the elections is that she’ll soon depart the scene. She’s the most overrated leader of our time. Although Germany’s economic fundamentals have remained positive on her watch, she’s made many major blunders.

Bizarrely Merkel is widely credited for her calm, steadiness and sound judgment, the sensible ‘Mutti’ who’s run Germany like a prudent, old-fashioned Hausfrau managing the family budget.

She’s more likey to be remembered for her abrupt unilateralism, not only over asylum-seekers, but in closing down Germany’s nuclear power stations, making the country instead reliant on Russian gas and, oddly, in woke, climate-obsessed western Europe, on coal. She’s been tougher on conservative Western leaders like Donald Trump and Viktor Orbán than on the despots of China and Russia.

Obtuseness even when her own clear interests have been at stake has been another feature of her time in office. The cornerstone of Germany’s foreign policy is support for the EU project and yet she rigidly refused to help David Cameron win the Brexit 2016 referendum by allowing him to announce some restriction on EU free movement into Britain. Brexit, the EU’s greatest-ever setback and humilation, owes as much to Merkel as it does to Nigel Farage.

History won’t place her even close to the league of Germany’s great postwar chancellors – Adenauer, Brandt, Schmidt and Kohl.  And the stage is set for her legacy of woe to include Germany’s greatest political instability since the Weimar Republic.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Mark Higgie is the Spectator Australia’s Europe correspondent @markhiggie1

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments