Monday, December 15, 2008

Angela Merkel, aspiring to be Germany's new "Herbert Hoover"

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) April 2008

Two of my favorite public affairs analysts, Joschka Fischer and Paul Krugman, are expressing astonishment in their Monday columns over Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel's new unilateralism in economic policy, a drastic departure from the previous policies of both the previous SPD/Green government and also that of Helmut Kohl's government, the last one headed by Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Krugman writes in European Crass Warfare New York Times 12/15/08, "you can’t have a coordinated European effort if Europe’s biggest economy [Germany] not only refuses to go along, but heaps scorn on its neighbors’ attempts to contain the crisis," which is what is happening at the moment. He tags her as "Frau Nein" on economic policy and compares her insistence on inaction to Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who he also calls "the Senator from Nissan".

This is a change in direction for Merkel. When Britain actually took the lead in partial nationalization of the banking industry after the stock market crisis of mid-September, Merkel teamed with France's President Nicolas Sarkozy to support a common European Union policy.

Joschka Fischer, first in last week's Monday column for Die Zeit (Wohin driftet Deutschland? 08.12.08) and now in today's (Machtpolitik ohne Feingefühl 15.12.08) shakes his head in dismay and alarm over her new Hooverite course.

Fischer writes that Merkel is using as an excuse for inaction on the economic crisis the claim that she wants to see what the new Presidential administration in Washington is going to do. But, he observes, we already know that he's going to push ahead with what Fischer calls a "Big Bang" approach, investing up to a trillion dollars in programs and projects aimed not only at the current crisis but at long-term improvements.

Fischer, the former Foreign Minister, has been a leading advocate of greater European integration. He is dismayed that not only is Merkel's behavior damaged the historic partnership of Germany and France as the joint drivers of European integration - and this despite the fact that the governments in both countries are currently headed by conservatives. But her unwillingness to agree to aggressive EU action is also endangering the developing leadership of the EU in world affairs. He says he can't think of "any rational reason" for her approach.

And Fischer the former Green Party leader notes that in light of Obama's plans to promote green businesses and technology, that Europe is at risk of sacrificing its current leading role in that area if Merkel's current policies prevail. (The Greens have some residual reputation of being "anti-American"; but Fischer is a great admirer of the democratic and economic potential of the US - though certainly not of political gangsters like Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld).

He takes Merkel and her Finance Minister to task for their undiplomatic handling of their relations with other EU nations. He says they're currently acting "like a hippopatamus and a rhinoceros Christmas shopping in a porcelain shop" ("Nilpferd und Nashorn beim Weihnachtseinkauf in einem Porzellanladen").

Fischer seems to make a real effort to see situations realistically. And he concludes that among the two parties of the current Grand Coalition govwernment, the CDU and the SPD (Social Democrats), it presently seems to be the majority sentiment in both parties that promoting European unity is "no longer seen as the central project of German foreign policy" ("nicht mehr als das zentrale Projekt deutscher Außenpolitik angesehen"). He's not suggested that some wave of primitive nationalism is occurring in those parties, not at all. But that is a tragic development in itself, if that's the case. Germany and France really have been the leading forces for European unity that culminated in the European Union.

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