Special Reports / The most important elections in Europe

Merkel’s policies show a paralysing presentism

Claus Leggewie in conversation with Jakub Stańczyk · 17 September 2013
Claus Leggewie talks to Jakub Stańczyk on the German society’s state of mind before the coming election, the Chancellor in office, and the energy policy in a European dimension.

Jakub Stańczyk: The final outcome of the Bundestag election will no doubt be informed by the awareness and state of mind of the German society. How do you find this particular factor?

Claus Leggewie: Germany considers itself to be an island of felicity in the sea of crises. The Germans’ thoughts inhere in the present, and they are trying to protect themselves against possible threats of the future. They would willingly have the apparently well-tested team with them again. Next Sunday, they will vote the party which would sustain this illusion of blissfulness the best. They follow the beaten track, which, in a future, may cause us and Europe even greater problems compared to these we are facing at present.

Yet, many assess Germany’s situation in positive terms. Recently, publicity was made around the Federal Republic’s economy hitting the ground running after the crisis. The success is, apparently, owed to the long-term effect of Hartz’s reforms as well as to the politics handled by the Chancellor in a stable fashion.

Hartz’s reforms have not been as much of a success as they are considered to be. In fact, social inequalities have been exacerbated. Angela Merkel’s policies have, in turn, brought about no reforms which would ensure Europe a future. It would be something really new, if the Kanzlerin submited first of all a consistent programme for sustainable growth of the power industry, which would be agreed on the European forum. It would have a potential of being an impulse for development of southern Europe, in the first place. Meanwhile, what we encumber the future generations not only with an enormous debt but also, and primarily, the emissions of greenhouse gases, as if the tomorrow were non-existent. The presentism of such policy is paralysing.

But who, if not Angela Merkel? Which of Germany’s political parties do not create illusions but have instead a reliable agenda and a vision of the country’s future?

To say a ‘vision’ would be too farfetched. But if this election is followed by a Red-Green-Red coalition [i.e. composed of two Left parties, SPD and Die Linke, plus the Green Party (Editorial note)], we will probably see efforts made to reinstate and renew a welfare state. Also, a Black-Red coalition [composed of CDU, CSU and Green (Ed.)] could assume sustainable development of power industry as central to their policy. Please bear in mind that energy policy is not a marginal condition of development. The switch into renewable sources of energy enables to create a completely different and better economic and social model, one that emphasises the independence of local communities’ actions and allows an alternative lifestyle to develop as far as mobility, sustenance and land development planning are concerned. True, these notions appear in Mrs. Merkel’s rhetoric, but not in the real politics which is formed through legislation, technology development, and economic incentives. Changes of this kind would fastest be effected by a Black-Green coalition; however, according to polls, this is the option the Germans like the least.

You have mentioned earlier that an energy policy could prove helpful to Southern Europe. How important is the Energiewende [German power industry reforms, discussed at length in the issue titled ‘Liberty – Climate – Electricity’] for the future of European integration?

Most Europeans are just waiting to see Germany botch up the power sector issue, in which case everybody could behave like before, with no respect for the natural environment. The German Government is also responsible, for it has failed to coordinate a sustainable development of power sector in a pan-European dimension. Germany is not a ‘model’ for everyone to follow; still, for the European industrial, power, and infrastructural policy to be modified, would call for more extensive supranational cooperation than before. Within the European power network, the individual national strategies would enjoy considerable autonomy; first, however, such a network would have to be established, and its operational quality tested. Unfortunately, Europe is getting decomposed, one of the contributing factors being what in my view is the conservative and unregenerate nationalist obstruction inherent in London and in Warsaw.

First, the cabinet led by Donald Tusk is anything but nationalist. Second, Polish Prime Minister has made a number of gestures of friendship for Berlin. Thus, I should find your description of the Warsaw policy somewhat misleading.

I have no doubt about Mr. Tusk’s declared will to cooperate, and his Berlin orientation. More of an issue, however, is the polish right wing which wants to overthrow Tusk and the energy policy, climate policy, and environmental protection, where an anti-green consensus exists. What is it that the Polish Government is doing, in specific, for the World Climate Summit, due for this autumn in Warsaw, to be a successful outcome? To what extent is Poland ready to submit to discussion its coal and nuclear power policies? Please, do not understand me wrong, personally, I am a fan of Polish-German cooperation and a critic of polish conservatives (and communists), who are always against Europe. Still, as far as environment protection and energy policy, Poland seems unfortunately like a disincentive, against it‘s own interest.

Having said quite a lot of energy policy, what other issues do you consider critical to the ongoing political campaign? In her essay, published in today’s issue of Kultura Liberalna, Judy Dempsey finds that this year’s election campaign is as boring as it is because the problems it most frequently tackles are demographic and immigrant integration issues. It would be much more interesting, argues she, if it focused on security policy, military affairs, getting involved in the discussion on European drones, for instance.

These are important questions indeed. Europe is enclosing itself again, instead of proactively opening toward political refugees and immigrants looking for jobs, and creating a climate of favour. But election is election, and the question of who comes to power appears. The Opposition, without thinking much about it, adhere to a Red-Green coalition – although, in terms of arithmetic, this concept is completely unrealistic. There is no clearly formulated alternative solution for the present conservative-liberal stagnation. This issue is central, and crucial for rebuilding European influence across the world. The more lasting and solid workplaces a continent has to offer, the better the migration policy functions. A durable peace in the conflict zone can be only guaranteed by a mutual development. The proposal of Poland and Austria to bring CW warehouses in Syria under  European control was a good impulse for an all-European peace and development policy.

* Original text in German. Translated by EUROTRAD Wojciech Gilewski.