Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Merkel über Alles?

"Merkel ist Deutschland, Deutschland Merkel ist"

Maybe not as catchy as when Deputy Führer Hess proclaimed it,  yet Deutsch Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to hanging on by her fingernails.

The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” said De Gaulle, or his predecessor Georges Clemenceau, or New York publisher Elbert Hubbard, or one of several other less famous people with a good turn of phrase, according to the scrupulously careful online Quote Investigator. Be that as it may, it’s looking increasingly likely that the (political) graveyard will soon be welcoming an “indispensable” woman, recently sanctified as such on the cover of The Economist, namely German chancellor Angela Merkel.

 Her Christian Democrat party fell to third place in Berlin’s local elections last week and may not stay long in the city’s governing coalition. Two thirds of German voters now want her gone. And the names of successors are being freely canvassed.

By any respectable criterion, she is a klutz on a heroic scale.

Merkel’s energy policy was based upon a combination of nuclear power and “renewables” in order to close down power stations dependent on fossil fuels, and help Germany lead the European Union and the world toward a carbon-free future. She had been a strong defender of nuclear energy against SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s attempts to phase it out. Within a few weeks of the Japanese nuclear disaster at Fukushima, though, she panicked, reversed herself, and closed down Germany’s entire nuclear program. Her Energiewende since then has led to a massive increase in power bills for consumers and industry, the movement abroad of German companies heavily reliant on energy, and, more recently, a phasing out of the phasing out of coal-fired power stations.

 Merkel and the nuclear companies are still haggling over how much the German government will pay for the estimated €23 billion cost of shutting down their plants. Meanwhile, no one believes that Germany and Europe will meet their official goal of reducing carbon emissions 80-95 percent from their 1990 levels by the year 2050.

The refugee crisis is all too plainly a vast mistake, as Merkel herself has admitted. But some of its side-effects have produced other crises almost as severe. Example one: though Merkel welcomed “Syrian refugees” without consulting even her colleagues in the German government, she immediately demanded that other European states within the then-borderless Schengen Zone should accept them as well. That demand was resisted (and still is) by other governments, and there’s been a long-running “existential” (Jean-Claude Juncker’s word, not mine) crisis in the EU ever since.

Example two: Merkel reduced the flow of Middle Eastern migrants into the EU through a deal with Turkish strongman Recep Tayyik Erdogan to control the border. But the price was high: the EU’s silence over Erdogan’s arbitrary arrest of thousands of soldiers, police, lawyers, and journalists, and visa-free entry into the EU for 80 million Turks, which could mean another migrant crisis down the road. There’s no guarantee that Erdogan — who’s skilled at selling the same horse twice — won’t ask for additional concessions from a desperate Merkel and EU, either.

Whether Brexit is a good idea for Britain, Merkel and her EU colleagues all devoutly believe that it’s bad for Europe. But she helped to create the circumstances that made it happen by rejecting all of PM David Cameron’s demands except for the most trivial — and even then the concessions the EU offered were legally reversible. It was a serious setback for her and for her lodestar of European unity. And it came about because at a time when populist parties were rising throughout Europe, including the AFD in Germany, she complacently assumed that the risk of Brexit was not a serious one. She had confidence that Cameron would win but gave him no real help in doing so. He resigned; she was further weakened.

When Merkel won her first election in 2004, she represented a more general shift to the liberal economic right in German politics. Chancellor Schröder — the SPD leader she narrowly defeated — had ushered in some market-friendly economic reforms that many now credit for making the German economy more dynamic. Indeed, Merkel herself praised him for doing so. Since then, however, she has presided over a shift back to the Left. By blocking the demands of the CDU’s traditional coalition partner, the Free Democrats, for tax cuts and a more market-friendly approach, she made them look weak and ineffective.

As a result, they fell below the 5 percent threshold for entry into the Bundestag for the first time since 1945. Though the 2013 election was generally reported as a victory for Merkel and the CDU, in fact it ushered in a small parliamentary majority for the Left.

That had consequences. To retain the coalition and her chancellorship, Merkel had to agree to a series of small socialist reforms required by the SPD — notably, a quite generous minimum wage and a reduction in the pension age. Judged by results, Merkel looks more and more East German with every passing election. (Incidentally, the Free Democrats now favor some restrictions on immigration.)

Merkel’s Euro policy has proved — astounding though it sounds — even more destructive than her immigration policy. By insisting that Germany had to prove its loyalty to Europe by ruling out any reform of the Euro’s structure, she imprisoned Southern European countries in an over-valued exchange rate that inflicted recession, unemployment, and a debt crisis on them indefinitely.

It’s hard to express the damage this has done to millions of human lives, but here’s one measure: Though the average unemployment rate for the Eurozone hovered between 10 and 12 percent from 2010 to 2016 and the Eurozone youth-unemployment rate hovered between 20 and 22 percent over the same period, the youth-unemployment rate in Mediterranean Europe has generally been around the 50 percent mark. (There have been corresponding problems for northern Europe in the subsidies their taxpayers have had to pay to keep Greece, Spain, and Portugal solvent and inside the straitjacket.)

Political instability has accordingly flourished in the South, with successive governments losing elections and extreme Marxist parties coming to or near power. Relations between different European countries — above all, Greece and Germany — have been permanently poisoned. Democracy itself has been sidelined by Brussels as it replaced elected prime ministers with its own favored technocrats. In short, nothing has damaged European unity more than Merkel’s blindly unreasoning insistence on an un-reformed Euro.

  As a result of these and other blunders by the “indispensable” Merkel, Europe is facing a series of disabling crises.