Comment: Germany - reaping what you sow
22 March 2016
ROME -- The recent German elections went as predicted.. A new right wing, xenophobe party, Alternative for Germany, AFD, has emerged with force, and will be in national Parliament in 2017.This development is unprecedented in German politics since the end of the second world war, and it is widely viewedas part of a general trend – the rise of populist and xenophobe forces all over Europe.
The European elections of 2004 rang the first warning bell. The euro crisis and social instability saw the beginning of a surge to the right. Since then, every national election has seen a shift in the internal balance. Historical examples of civics and tolerance in the Nordic countries, such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark, has changed direction. Tthe Swedish Democrats, a party rooted in the neo Nazi movement, has forced the country to change its famous policy of open door to refugees. The Danish Popular Party last summer emerged as the second choice. In Finland, the True Finns becaoe the third force in 2015, and are now in the governmental coalition. In 2011, the massacre of 78 Norwegians by the neo Nazi Breivik heralded the end of the Nordic political identity.
Since 2004, the right wing parties just grew. Now they are in power in Hungary and Poland, and few days ago the pro Nazi “People Party for our Slovaquia” (LSNS), is firmly in parliament as the fourth force. And if elections are held today, the Freedom Party of the islamophobe GertWilders, would get the first place in the Netherlands. In France in 2015, the parties had to join forces to block Marine Le Pen from winning the French regional elections.
The weight of The UK Independence Party UKIP has obliged Cameron to call for a referendum on Europe. In Austria the right Freedom Party won 20.5% of the votes and, more recently, it came ahead either of the socialists or the Christian democrats in some state elections, entered in a Socialist-led government in Burgenland and gained more than 30% of the votes in Vienna. In Italy, the votes of the 5 Stars Movement added with those of the League of Matteo Salvini, it is almost 40% of anti Europe vote. Obviously the arrival of more than a million refugees, has given a boost to all xenophobe parties, and the Alternative for Germany’s fast rise has been explained as a punishment to Merkel, who opened the door to refugees, without any consultation, not even with France,
But beside this obvious explanation, it would be time to consider why since the crisis of the 2009, in such a short time, a campaign against Europe, and for a nationalist platform, seems to beso successful. Even without the refugees, the right wing tide has been a clear and evident fact. Refugees have become just an accelerator to what was happening everywhere. And why those right wing parties attract a very variegated electorate, from workers to housewives, from pensioners to young students? And why, suddenly, the dream of a European integration has lost popular support?
Obviously, this would entail a complex and long analysis, that we cannot afford here. But I would like to add an uncomfortable angle of reflection, probably not politically correct. The strict intransigence of the German government (embodied by the Nein fur Allen, no to everything, i.e. the minister of finance Wolfgang Schauble), has contributed to the decline of the European dream. Until the crisis of 2009, there were no serious financial and social problems. Then the crisis came, and Europe is now barely back to the pre crisis level (Italy not yet). This means that during the seven years of austerity imposed by Germany, with an epic fight on Cyprus and then Greece, and splitting Europe with a North-South divide was the only way forward. It would be of course irresponsible to suggest that the South of Europe could have ignored rules and budgets. But to make of the European Union a warden visibly indifferent to the savage cuts in public expenses, from welfare to hospitals, to the emerging dramatic youth unemployment everywhere, was not certainly the best recipe to give an attractive image of the European institutions.
Germany did look a superpower, passionate of its wealth, insensitive to other’s problems, which went by its own way, with no interest in consultation and socialization. It was easy during the seven years of crisis to attract a large number of people who felt left out, ignored by the traditional political parties, who did remember or imagine the good times of national sovereignty. They saw in foreign banks and corporations their enemy, in foreigners those who were robbing their jobs (remember the British campaign against the Polish plumber?) and saw Brussels as a bunch of unelected bureaucrats who did want to intrude in their lives, and decide on the shape of the tomatoes. Berlin did not do anything to correct that trend. It made a moral issue of the deficit of the debtors’ countries, and blocked any attempt to socialize the excedent of its economy with others.
It is may be time to consider that the German intransigence has a responsibility in the surge of the rightwing and nationalist tide, with the message that they did not care about others, intent only to keep their privileged situation; European solidarity is over. One by one its allies went into budget deficits , like Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, without Berlin even noticing. Austerity was a taboo which could not be discussed, like one cannot or must not discuss moral or religious dogmas.
It can be easily said that this is lamentation is from the side of the debtors, and that is usually what they do. Pass on the responsibility to the creditors, instead of making a real and sincere mea culpa. But then, what happens when Brussels, the warden of Europe, calls on Germany for a European responsibility ? Total indifference.
On the March 13, the European Commission did publish a report on the economic situation, and indicated that Spain, Italy and Portugal were the most fragile countries, in the terrible lack of growth in the Eurozone. The report specifically singles out Germany, echoing what already the IMF, the OECD, and the G20 have been stating: Berlin has completely ignored their call for increasing expenditure in infrastructures, as a way of a stimulus, using its huge superavit.
Germany has taken tiny steps in the last decade on all of the EU recommendations. It did not increase its budget in education, in research and development, nor did it improve the fiscal system. Brussels have been asking to increase the retirement age, at no avail. It has recommended to revise the fiscal treatments of the so called minijobs, and to eliminate barriers in the service sector, without any reaction. It asked to increase salaries, to redistribute the state superavit, in a total indifference. The Commission now says clearly that the large commercial superavit makes of Germany a risk for the euro. Brussels considers that Germany is not doing anything in matter of reforms, that must increase its public investment, and concludes that its enormous budgetary asynchrony with the rest of Europe “has adverse implications for the Eurozone”.
Let us not forget that Alternative for Germany was created by a group of academics who were against the euro. They were misplaced by the present leadership, who wants to get rid of the Brussels inference in the life of Germans, and go back to the times of the strong Germany of the past. Is the path of Merkel’s splendid solitude helping or weakening the European dream? No doubt she is a brilliant national leader. But a European one?
Roberto Savio is founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News