German Politics

Tell me something I don’t know – Kurt Beck wird Kanzlerkandidat.

Kurt Beck - Quelle - Sie, verehrte Leser, sich auch manchmal, wie ruhig und gesittet es eigentlich auf der politischen Bühne zugehen könnte, wenn sich alle nur über die Dinge streiten würden, die a) tatsächlich strittig und b) gegenwärtig relevant sind? Die Antwort ist – es wäre ruhig. Sehr ruhig. Und das ist dann auch schon wieder die Erklärung dafür, warum die oben genannten Bedingungen grundsätzlich geflissentlich ignoriert werden. Aktuelles Beispiel?

Peer Steinbrück erklärt (und die FTD berichtet), daß Kurt Beck 2009 als Kanzlerkandidat antreten wird.

Man könnte meinen, wir seien alle ins Sommerloch gefallen. Ja wer soll denn sonst für die SPD 2009 antreten? Andrea Nahles etwa? Peer Steinbrück? Frank-Walter Steinmeier? Franz Müntefering vielleicht? Matthias Platzeck – vielleicht für die erste Hälfte des Wahlkampfs? Und danach dann nochmal Gerhard Schröder? Das wär’s doch. Am bestern gleich in der Troika mit Rudolf Scharping und Oskar Lafontaine. Oder einfach Willy wählen.

Kurt Beck wird Kanzlerkandidat. Aber wenn die SPD nicht bald ihre Positionierung auf dem Wählermarkt überdenkt und die Wahlkampfgeschenke von Wolfgang Schäuble weiterhin verächtlich links liegen läßt, dann wird es wohl bei der Kandidatur bleiben.

German Politics

She Was Not Surprised?

I’m a little confused about a statement by the Chancellor’s spokesperson, Bela Anda, as reported by Netzeitung.

As you might have heard, yesterday, an unemployed teacher was able to approach Mr Schroeder during a campaign rally in Mannheim and slap him. The Chancellor was, according to Mr Anda, not seriously injured by the “attack” and the perpetrator, who, interestingly, is – and for technical reasons will remain – a candidate for the Social Democrats in next months local elections despite immediate cancellation of his party membership, was released from police custody later in the evening. He faces charges of assault and insult.

Physical attacks on politicians are, luckily, very rare in current German politics – so there it is always surprising to hear about them. Or maybe not – apparently, Mrs Schroeder has been expecting such reactions to her husband’s politics all along – or how else is one to interpret Mr Anda’s statement that she “had been startled but was not really surprised.”

compulsory reading, Economics, German Politics, Germany

Zeitenwende. End Of An Era.

It took some time and more of their money to make Germans understand.

It took more than ten years of subsidizing consumption and unemployment in a previously bankrupt former communist economy and virtual non-growth to make us see that it is not only necessary to think about the problematic long-term consequences of the current incentive structure in the German version of the continental model of the Welfare State but to actually change them.

It was no joke when, earlier this year, two people working in a zoo, who were fired for grilling the animals they should feed, successfully sued their former employer for a golden handshake. An extreme case, of course, but one indicating rather lucidly what’s keeping Germany from growing (possibly apart from too high interest rates, but that’s another story – albeit a connected one).

For ages, Germany’s consensus democracy was unable to get reforms going because, well, there was no consensus to speak of – whichever party was in opposition made a bet that it would pay off to block government reforms as far as possible because the electorate would not believe change was necessary. Sure, such a perception is partly a consequence of failed leadership. But only to a small part. Because they were right – the electorate did not want to see.

Then Schroeder won the 1998 election, largely because of the implicit promise that he would become the German Blair – that he could transform the German Social Democrats into some sort of NewLabour without the need for a Thatcher or a “Winter of Discontent”. But when he had just won his first power struggle and made the loony left’s star propagandist Oskar Lafontaine quit the finance ministry in March 1999, he realized that the internet bubble induced growth (weak, in Germany, but real economic growth nonetheless) would allow him to put off fundamental reforms and to mend relations with the loony left with even more rigid labour market reforms.

Unfortunately, after the bubble burst, it was too late for reforms that would have paid off for the government in last year’s election. A fiscal expansion was impossible and, moreover, unwise given strained public budgets. So Schroeder had to play the hand he was dealt – rectal rapprochement to the trade-unions, exploiting the flood-disaster in East-Germany, and betting on the public’s opposition to the American stance on Iraq.

Having narrowly won last year’s election, Schroeder knew that he would have to deliver on his 1998 promise, even thought the economic climate was far worse than it was back then. And even if though delivering would probably lead to the most serious conflict the SPD ever had with trade unions which, for no obvious reason given the steady decline in their membership, still claim to be speaking for “ordinary Germans” when it comes to “social justice”. The readjustment of the social security system, as well as the “intellectual” separation of the Social Democrats from the unions – developments that will undoubtedly be beneficial to both the SPD and Germany as a whole – will be a lot harder now than they would have been back in 1994, under Kohl, or in 1998.

The difference is that now, for the first time, a growing majority of Germans seems to be willing to give up something for a risky future benefit – or put differently, a lot more people are scared by what they think could happen to them, their children, and this country, if the social security system is not dealt with right now. Let’s hope it remains this way for sometime. The tough reforms are still out there in the think-tanks waiting to be pasted into bills.

Of course, the loony left is barking and whining about its loss of discourse hegemony on “social justice”. But don’t we all know that dogs that bark don’t bite?

If only because they have lost their teeth.

German Politics, quicklink

Go Gerhard! Go. Finally the

Finally the chancellor is doing what he was elected for: to explain the world to the loony left within his own party and to demonstrate that Germany does not need a Margaret Thatcher to rebrand the SPD. The loony left is not happy to face realiy, to say the least.

But making Germany’s economic more flexible is a struggle for social equality, not against it. Why don’t people see that? It is a class struggle only for those corporatist functionaries bound to loose power. And loose it they will. Spiegel Online tells us about the chancellor’s Labour Day speech.

German Politics, oddly enough

Anti American Room Cleaning.

Although it could be, this entry is not about the certainly soon-to-be-amended amendment to the White House war financing budgetary requests excluding German, French, and Russian companies from receiving US funds for the future Iraq reconstruction that the American legislature passed two days ago.

In these times of increasingly global interaction, there are more and more people who can tell stories about the limits of citizenship regimes which are organised along classic national lines. Personally, I know a number of people who are legally German but never actually put a foot on German soil. I know a guy hailing from Argentina who is a Swedish national and now lives in the United States. Every member of a close friend’s family holds a different – or even combinations – of the following nationalities – Spanish, Mexican, British, and American.

And here’s an added political twist, given the recent row between GWB and the German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. In a recent interview, Schröder stated that the daughter of his fourth wife, Doris Schröder-Köpf, is an American citizen, actually, she is *only* an American citizen – for she was born when Doris Schröder-Köpf lived and worked as a journalist in New York some years ago. I don’t know if Schröder legally adopted her child, but he does refer to her as “our daughter”.

So the German chancellor does have an American daughter. I guess she will have fun invoking his alleged “anti-Americanism” when he tells her to clean up her room.

compulsory reading, German Politics

Two Steps To The Left, And One To The Right.

Dancing is almost never easy for men. It’s not just that most male grown ups are too inhibited to just let themselves go. It also seems that male physical coordination seems to be far more adept in everything that involves less step-sequences more balls.

Unfornuately for Gerhard Schroeder, this problem becomes especially apparent when it comes to dances with German economic policy. It’s an intricate art, and Schroeder had tried his best to keep the corporatist dance going for the last six and a half years of his term.

But lately he realised that neither the powerful German trade unions nor the employer associations seemed to appreciate his moves. The former said, the two steps to the left weren’t enough for a real Social Democrat. The latter replied that one to the right is obviously too litte for a thinking human being in light of 4.7m unemployed (German official number).

So Gerhard was torn between his two lovers that simply weren’t able to get on with each other. Suddenly, all his dancing could not save the threesome he had originally envisioned – the Alliance For Jobs was dead.

Out there on his own, Gerhard felt the need to prove to the audience that dancing can be fun, even if you have to do it on your own. So he decided to tell everybody that he would give a special public performance. Everybody was invited to come and see how he had finally figured out the right economic policy moves just by himself.

His performance was scheduled for this morning. And dance he did. It’s just that people have not yet made up their mind if it was all that good. Here’s what the Economist thinks.

If you ask me – I’d say he bought himself time to practice some more. You can see his talent – it just needs some more refinement.

German Politics, Iraq, oddly enough, US Politics

Axis And Alliance… We’re Soooooooo Willing.

Politicians are such a crazy bunch sometimes. If you read Ari Fleischer’s [White House spokesman] statements regarding Germany at the White House Press Briefing [search for Germany] last Friday you could indeed think that Germany is now part of the “Alliance of the Willing”. I guess he just wants to confuse the German media ;-) – remember, two weeks ago we were on par with Lybia and Cuba, remember the Axis of Weasel?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don’t think that’s the case at all. In fact, take a look — Germany is an example. Germany, we already anticipate, will vote no on any resolution at the Security Council. Yet in the end, Germany played a constructive role in NATO to make certain that our ally, Turkey, could be defended. If you recall, Germany supported the position of the military divisions within NATO, the Defense Planning Committee, to protect Turkey, which indeed is receiving the AWAX and the chemical weapon defenses and other supplies that NATO is now on the ground providing to Turkey. That’s an example of a nation that intends to vote no at the Security Council is still a member of the Alliance and is still helpful in certain regards.

I really wonder what made them change the tune… could it be that Blair’s problems within his parliamentary party are the key? I suppose it’s been a long time since British backbenchers had such a power over war and peace. Maybe W started to count the members of the “Alliance of the Willing” and realised that there aren’t too many that a larger part of the American public would be able to locate on a map should Blair indeed be forced to weasel out, in case the French veto a second resolution.

So the enrollment criteria for the Alliance seem to have become a little more inclusive… Hmm, I wonder what the Schroodle thinks about this development.

German Politics, Iraq

No War Today…

The Gerhard Schroodlewell, maybe later.

The Economist’s cover is just too tempting to comment. Also, I am working on a longer piece that is summarizing my personal stance in the Iraq question. I’ll hopefully be done at some point later this weekend. For now, my gentle readers, I would like to recommend Gentry Lane’s thoughts on canine evolution for a pleasant Saturday afternoon reading –

“Let us not eschew our Prometheus-Nietzschean tendencies, but go with the canine eugenics flow and make the most useful dog in the world.”

I particulaly like the poodle-like “Gerhard Schroodle” breed (see image), although Gentry correctly points out this breed’s unfortunate weakness –
“A cunning political dog with much media presence, but not a lot of economic sense.”

German Politics, Iraq, US Politics

News From Brussels.

So the EU Council has issued a new joint foreign policy declaration on the Iraq question. The core element reads as follows:

“We want to achieve this peacefully. It is clear that this is what the people of Europe want. War is not inevitable. Force should be used only as a last resort. It is for the Iraqi regime to end this crisis by complying with the demands of the Security Council. We reiterate our full support for the ongoing work of U.N. inspectors. They must be given the time and resources that the U.N. Security Council believes they need. However, inspections cannot continue indefinitely in the absence of full Iraqi cooperation.”

Amiland, as well as many others, including Spiegel online[link in German], think Schroeder is the loser of the day.

I don’t. I think he is the big winner.

Following last Friday’s UN Security Council meeting he has been able to rather quietly modify his irresponsible and entirely inflexible adamant “no-to-everything-whatever-new-information-may-become-available” by hiding behind a common EU position. Moreover, he can argue that it was more important to save the idea of a common European foreign policy than to – explicitly – stick to his former position.

I think it was a wise move. Sure, there will be people to claim he just “weaseled out”. But I guess he had realised that weaseling to some extent had become inevitable in order to regain some kind of diplomatic flexibility. So the most important problems were the reasons to explain such a move as well as its perceived salience in the “march to war”. Saving the idea of a common European foreign policy was most certainly the right reason – a motive that even the most ardent anti-warriors will likely swallow. And now that so many people have indeed again started to hope for a peaceful solution to the problem – think of the worlds stock markets as an indicator -, after the anti-war demonstrations last weekend and given the hawks sudden, and probably rather unexpected, difficulties in the UN Security Council, the perceived salience of his concession is likely much lower than it would have been should Germany have been forced to modify Schroeder’s aggressive “no” in the light of any new information convincing other doveish Security Council members of the necessity to make use of the means of last resort.

So this EU foreign policy declaration allowed Schroeder a relatively cheap way to unbind himself. And he used it. This semi-disguised semi-acceptance of the theoretical possibilty of war on Iraq as well as of Germany supporting a possible second UN resolution legitimising it could have indeed saved himself the chancellorship, should such a vote become unavoidable. In my interpretation, this makes Schroeder the big winner of this EU summit.

So what’s the current situation? Chirac seemingly holds the keys to the Security Council’s support now – assuming that Russia and China won’t veto a second resolution should France favour one and thus probably to war. I doubt Blair would send troops without a second resolution – he has consistently said he needs a second one for the British public. He may have proven some of his critics wrong about his poll-led governmental style. He may well support war against the British polls. But he’s not suicidal, in my opinion. He would most certainly not order the Britsh military to attack Iraq without a straightforward resolution supporting military action.

So now the big question is – would the US actually go to war without even the British? Militarily, why not. Politically, the “Coalition Of The Willing” looks even less impressive without the British.

Too hard to tell.

compulsory reading, German Politics, media, US Politics, USA

What does it take to publish in the NY Times?

Firstly, let me admit that I chose this entry’s title to avoid Brad DeLong’s (in)famous “Why does the NY Times publish such Dreck”. Secondly, let me answer the question: Apparently, at least sometimes, not too much, it seems to me.

Yesterday, William Safire, a Pulitzer Price winner, published a tale about Germany’s self-evident imperial ambitions in Europe, the usually spineless French, and a Chancellor, who “does not share the free speech values of the West”. Since I do value free speech, I would like to assert that, of course, Mr. Safire is, just as everyone else, entitled to whichever opinion he chooses to hold, be it stupid or intelligent, informed or ignorant. Likewise, he is obviously entitled to have it published it in whichever form he – or a publisher – sees fit.

However, quality becomes an issue when innocent, unwitting others rely on published opinion because they think the person actually does know a little about the stuff he is writing about. In his latest book, Stupid White Men, the American author and director Michael Moore – who is, in my opinion, in many respects just as stupid as the (other) white men to whom he dedicated the book (“Bowling For Columbine” is so much better!) – presented an interesting example of the problem I am talking about. In the chapter titled “Idiot Nation” he speculates that America’s

“… problem is isn’t just that [the] kids don’t know nothin’ but that the adults who pay their tuition are no better … What if we were to give a pop quiz to the commentators who cram our TVs and radios with all their nonstop nonsense.”

He then describes how a magazine columnist called Fred Barnes (who I suppose might be somewhat famous in the US) whined in a talk-show

“… about the sorry state of American education, blaming the teachers and their evil union for [the fact that] … ‘These kids don’t even know what The Iliad and The Odyssey are!”. But when Moore called Barnes the next day to find out what exactly The Iliad and The Odyssey are the only thing Barnes could reply was “Well, they’re… uh… you know… uh… okay, fine, you got me – I don’t know what they’re about. Happy now?” (all quotes from the English Penguin edition, page 91)

The quality of arguments becomes even more important if it should be true that, as more and more people seem to assume, serious public policy debates in the USA are confined to the pages of the “liberally biased” NY Times and the Washington Post these days (note to European readers: I always find the American use of “liberal” extremely confusing, it means something once represented by the “Whig” faction in Parliament, but is clearly different from the European (political) usage of the word, either with a small or a capital “l”.)

Thus, if it weren’t for the fact that Mr Safire’s essay has been published (and is #7 of the 25 most emailed NY Times articles) on the day on which Donald Rumsfeld stated that France and Germany have become “problems”, I would have had a good laugh, shaken my head in disbelief and then turned the page. There are clearly more important things to worry about than the demons haunting a seemingly notorious Kraut-basher.

I stated often enough that I don’t mind Kraut bashing. But Mr Safire’s column amounts at least to blatant misrepresentation, and possibly to worse.
After repeating that Schroeder won last September’s elections on an anti-American ticket, which is true to some extent, but mostly overstated in relation to the boost his campaign got from managing the floods in East Germany, he goes on to describe how Schroeder went to Paris last week in order to “rule the world” – the most stunning feature of the column. Germany allegedly

“offered Chirac an offer he could not refuse: to permanently assert Franco-German dominance over the 23 other nations of Continental Europe … The German design is apparently to saw off the Atlantic part of the Atlantic Alliance, separating Britain and the U.S. from a federal Europe dominated by Germany and France (with France destined to become the junior partner).”

Am I hallucinating or did I just read this for real?

Mr Safire is evidently referring to last week’s Franco-German proposal to create a double-headed European Union leadership by creating an government-elected President of the Council (“a Franco-German Czar“, according to Mr Safire – should he be referring to Dennis MacShane’s FT interview he should note that Mr MacShane was talking about a single elected commission president, when he warned of a new European “Kaiser“) and a parliament-elected and Council-approved President of the European Commission.

Entirely disregarding the vocal German opposition to the proposal which more than anything else displayed a rift between the chancellor, who is said to have favoured the French institutional propositions, and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, who has always favoured a single, parliament-elected head for the EU, as well as the longstanding and well-known British position to oppose any institutional design but a single long-term elected President of the Council, Mr Safire continues – “In a stunning power play in Brussels, Germany and France moved to change the practice of having a rotating presidency of the European Council, which now gives smaller nations influence, to a system with a long-term president.” I won’t go into all the details or even seriously argue for reasons of time and space, but let me just tell you that his “argument” doesn’t end here.

This is probably the most ridiculous, blatant, and unashamed display of ignorance regarding the complex decision making process of the European Union I have ever read. Let me restate this: I hope it *is* simply a most ridiculous, blatant, and unashamed display of ignorance, because if it is not just that, the only possible alternative is malevolent propaganda.

But let me state one thing I read last year in a strategic US policy report on post cold war France by Steven Phillip Kramer. Clearly, the Franco-German post-WW2 alliance of “the bomb and the Bundesbank” had to readjust following the seismic shock which the German reunification signified. But even back in 1994, Mr Kramer warned US policy makers not to force Germany to decide between its two most prominent allies and friends, the US and France. Germany, he wrote, does not want to choose. But any American administration should know that, if once forced to decide between the two, Germany would opt for France, for an endless number of historical and geostrategic reasons. I am not sure yet, but maybe we are witnessing the making of this decision.

The last section of Mr. Safire’s essay is concerned with Schroeder’s judicial victoriey prohibiting the German press from reprinting last year’s allegation that he could dye his hair (hence the title of the column – Bad Herr Dye) or any story about marital problems without any proof. This injunction, he says, reminds him of “an unfortunate tradition of judicial deference to executive policies once demonstrated by German courts.” Now here, he must be kidding. How a serious journalist can actually allege that vain attempts to keep up a journalistic ethos are reminiscient of a fascist court system is beyond me. It must have something to do with the demons I invoked above.

The following paragraph is also startling – he restates the inadequacy of the current UN security council veto right system (since France has threatened to veto a second resolution on Iraq following next Monday’s presentation of the weapon inspectors’ current results) saying that

“… the idle French threat … reminds populous and powerful nations like India and Japan of the inequity of mid-sized France having the veto power, and of the need to prevent Germany from getting it.”

Sure, I guess there is hardly anyone in this world who would not agree that a system designed immediately after WW2 and designed to prevent the nuclear holocaust is not necessarily an institution representing today’s geostrategic reality. But as no veto power will ever voluntarily renounce to their veto if the UN structure is not entirely redesigned at the same time, I actually don’t wonder what Condi (Rice) would say to his proposal to let India and Japan (or Brasil, or Pakistan) in as well. I’m sure she would be thrilled by the idea…

In the end, Mr Safire offers at least some insight into his worldview –

The chancellor’s Pyrrhic victories are part of the backdrop to the existential crisis that the Security Council is bringing on itself. The Iraq issue is not war vs. peace. It is collective security vs. every nation for itself.” So if the Security Council is not willing to comply with the US proposal that is in itself proof enough the system is in an existencial crisis. Let me translate for you: only if the world does what America wants can a system of collective security work. Donny (Rumsfeld) will be proud of his words.

And why, exactly, is it that some – well meaning – Americans wonder why there are people in Europe who forget the risk the Iraq poses while oppposing the “Bush junta” (as John LeCarre formulated in the London Times last week). Clearly, Chirac and Schroeder are none of those. But there’s a real chance people might actually listen to what the US has today (and they do have something to say) if the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and William Safire actually learned how to talk.

I don’t know about Schroeder’s hair. But it seems to me, William Safire plays with a too hot straightening iron while writing his columns…