Is it possible for the elections to the Bundestag to be more important than those to the European Parliament? It seems quite true, indeed: hardly anything over the last few weeks has caused quite as much excitement among international commentators as the result of the upcoming Sunday ballot in the Federal Republic. This is not surprising. The state was referred to as “the sick man of Europe” by Katinka Barysch (Centre for European Reform)only a decade ago. Many thought that it “would not be easy to save”, as implied by Hans-Werner Sinn, one of the best known German economists. But today, it is looked at with a dose of admiration and jealousy. Since the euro zone crisis started, the German economy has ever more frequently been called a role-model for Europe, with particular emphasis on the 2003–2006 reforms by Gerhard Schroeder’s administration. Suffice to mention the memorable title of last year’s feature by „The Economist”: „Modell Deutschland über alles”
This atmosphere means that Europe is pinning its hopes on Germany. Hoping, to quote the words of Timothy Garton Ash, that this most powerful country of the Old Continent will not only lead the way in building both a sustainable, internationally competitive Eurozone, but also a strong, internationally credible European Union. Such expectations have even been voiced by Polish politicians like Radosław Sikorski in his address in Berlin in 2011.
A lot seems to indicate that these great hopes might be in vain. Why? Some of our contemporary authors believe that all this will prove impossible to achieve for Angela Merkel, even if – which seems quite probable- she manages to win her third term as the Chancellor. Judy Dempsey seems to subscribe to the view that Germany’s reluctance to exert leadership in Europe – apart from the euro crisis – might be attributable to the Merkel’s particular style as a leader. She claims this style can be seen in the way Madame Chancellor sidesteps key areas of politics such as security and defense. Still, would a change of leadership in the Federal Republic bring about a real change, with a less conservative and a more visionary attitude to politics?
There aren‘t too many reasons to believe so. First of all, as it has been recently pointed out by Ulrike Guérot from the European Council on Foreign Relations, Germany is being blocked by its own problems, ranging from the growing poverty in what is now a dramatically increasing group of the elderly, to the overwhelming inequalities in income. Let us remember that these are the exact problems that lie at the centre of the pre-election debate, which has caused criticism of the allegedly boring campaign.
Second of all, from a more sociological point of view, one could say (and both Piotr Buras and Claus Leggewie are inclined to think so) that Germans are not ready for radical changes. According to Buras, there is no point considering whether or not the common evaluation of Merkel as a post-political and Teflon politician is a fair one. It is no coincidence that a person of such character enjoys record breaking popularity. The Germans themselves are not yet ready to take a turn in a few major areas of politics. Leggewie shares this opinion. And it is a pity, because as he says, even if “vision is an overstatement”, coalitions different than the current one, are possible in the Federal Republic. Coalitions that could lead to the creation of a sustainable energy policy in Europe; an important issue both for the integration, and for a possible resurgence in the South. Leggewie is eager to criticise the Polish government on that issue.
Could the European Union be saved by an energy policy inspired by Energiewende? Despite all the benefits it entails (which we reviewed in our issue „Liberty, climate, electricity!”), this is, however, highly doubtful. One might also have certain doubts as to whether focusing exclusively on the Federal Republic and its willingness, or unwillingness, to assume leadership is good for the Community. This seems to be the spirit of Marek Prawda’s standpoint. The quicker we go back to business as usual, the better, suggests Prawda. The first positive effect of the elections, according to him, will be the end of a number of futile disputes. This will allow us to go back to the most important issues of the European debate. And as for the sentiments of the voters – this nation will stand the real test of resilience a lot later, when Berlin will be forced to face the possible restructuring of the debt of countries included in aid programmes, i.e. incur actual expenses rather than just granting loans.
This issue closes with two articles providing a further analysis and a slightly wider context to the discussion on the role of Germany in Europe. The debate concerning Germany’s leadership has revealed some underlying resentment felt by Europeans. This is symbolically represented by the images of Angela Merkel wearing an SS uniform which have appeared in the internet, the press and during demonstrations. These were shocking images even in Berlin. Jarosław Kuisz emphasises that in times of crisis and recurring resentments, it is time to go back to thinking about historical education. He reminds us about it when cuts in education are being made throughout Europe (Germany itself introduced such austerity measures during the aforementioned Schroeder’s reforms). Małgorzara Ławrowska reflects on the German institutions which debate on democracy. Angela Merkel’s pendant was the main focus of social media’s attention during the debate between the current Chancellor and Peer Steinbrück. What does it tell us about institutions of a debate? Are they strong enough to survive the crisis? And where do we look for them, apart from the internet?
This week’s feature is another one in the series prepared by the Foundation of Polish-German Cooperation and “Kultura Liberalna” within the Polish-German project on the future of the European Union.
Published so far: „Should Germany make a sacrifice for the European Union?” with essays by Ivan Krastev, Clyde Prestowitz, Karolina Wigura and Gertrud Höhler; „Europe is a humiliated empires’ club”, the only interview with Peterem Sloterdijkiem published in Polish press over the last few years; „A dream of a welfare state” with essays by Wolfgang Streeck, Richard Sennett, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski and Łukasz Pawłowski, „Liberty, climate, electricity!” with essays by Claudia Kemfert, Wojciech Jakóbik, Grzegorz Wiśniewski i Jakub Patočka and „Discriminated, unwanted, invisible? Aliens in 21st century Europe” with essays by Necla Kelek, Saskia Sassen, András L. Papa and Katarzyna Kubin. New issues soon!
We hope you enjoy your reading!
Authors of this issue’s concept: Małgorzata Ławrowska and Karolina Wigura.
Cooperation: Kacper Szulecki, Jakub Stańczyk, Hubert Czyżewski, Emilia Kaczmarek.
Project coordination at „Kultura Liberalna”: Ewa Serzysko.
Coordinator at the Foundation of Polish-German Cooperation: Magdalena Przedmojska.
Illustrations by: Krzysztof Niemyski.