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Merkel Above All

by DoDo Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 10:04:06 AM EST

She was the European leader most popular with the EU population and elites alike; she was seen as the most influential, yet most balanced EU politician who would have been the ideal "President of Europe"; she was seen as the model modern conservative who is acceptable on the right and left alike; someone who stands for both sane economic policy and climate protection: until a few months ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel fooled them all.

Then came the Greek crisis. And then the world got the spectacle of Merkel dragging her feet regarding joint EU action, playing to semi-racist sentiments about irresponsible Southern Europeans who don't deserve "our" money, killing any appearance of EU consensus and thus negating the market-psychological effect of the rescue packages -- and all that with an obvious electioneering purpose. And thus the world saw Merkel turning the Greek crisis into a Euro crisis -- while her party still lost big in the regional elections of federal Germany's most populous state. If that were not enough, her party was hit by two high-profile resignations.

Are these blunders showing Merkel's limits, do they herald her end? I don't think so. I more think the world got a glimpse of the real Merkel, who is not about policies or ideals: she is about power, in a pure (and quite conscious) Machiavellian sense. And Merkel understands like no other how to come out on top from every crisis.

Just that is happening now, too: at the end of the mess of the past month, Merkel got rid of the last two serious rivals in her party, and neutralised her party's insane coalition partner. In power terms, these "benefits" might last longer than the hits taken by her image (the news cycle moves on). How this is good for Germany or the EU, is another question.

In four chapters, I'll cover Merkel's origins, her rise to power, the fall of big rival Roland Koch, and the resignation and replacement of Germany's figurehead President.

Das Mädchen

To explain Merkel, one has to start with her promoter and role model, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Kohl is in the history books as the father of German Reunification, the great promoter of Franco-German Rappochement, the leader into an era of prosperity in the eighties, and overall a successful politician with a very long reign (1982-1998).

But it was also Kohl who, for pure electioneering reasons, implemented the populist measure to convert East German D-Marks to West German D-Marks 1:1 (thereby making East German industry uncompetitive overnight, with catastrophic results lasting to this day); this was one of many steps for fast Reunification taken on a campaign-trail whim without even informing Mitterrand & Thatcher beforehand; it was his finance minister who is responsible for the Growth & Stability Pact; and stasis became a bit too apparent towards the end of his long reign.

For the real Kohl was another seasoned political operator who was first and foremost interested in staying on top. Kohl's number-one maxim was to wait longer than anyone else, thus letting impatient rivals self-destruct. If that means government inaction, who cares?

Kohl ruled his Christian Democrats (CDU) like a mafia don, slowly eliminating all potential rivals, with Wolfgang Schäuble (the present finance minister) acting as his consigliere, thus earning the position as designated successor with unreserved loyalty. But no one calculated with the least powerful junior minister.

Angela Merkel was a young East German nuclear physicist specialising in theoretical chemistry, who cared little about politics until 1989. Her route to the CDU was more or less accidental, she was not a Catholic like most of the CDU, and she was by no means a one-earner-family social conservative (she lived together with her second partner without remarrying): so she had nothing to build a power base upon. Indeed Kohl, who just called her das Mädchen (the girl) made her a minister as token East German female.

In 1994, Merkel moved from the youth ministry to the environment ministry. And that's where she first showed her fangs, in surviving her first crisis.

The Kohl government practised a pro-nuclear policy, in which the economy ministry acted as advocate, and the environment ministry gave the stamps of approval. (Also see Nuclear dump (of final storage and German elections).) Among others, for the CASTOR nuclear waste transport containers, touted as absolutely safe. Then, in 1998, it was revealed that the outside of the containers regularly showed contamination orders of magnitude higher than the health safety limit  -- and that this was kept from the public. Even if (hard to believe) she was not in the know, the environment minister owns the failure of nuclear oversight. But Merkel pre-empted uneasy questions with a theatrical public attack against the nuclear industry and its secretiveness, and a temporary CASTOR ban.

The same year, she polished up her image for conservatives by marrying her longtime partner.

The Black Widow

When Kohl lost the 1998 elections, Schäuble finally took over as party chairman, and, bypassing other senior party members, made Merkel party secretary. But then, just when the CDU hoped to benefit from the bad start of the SPD-Greens government, it was hit by the big party donations scandal. This was a number of connected affairs involving kickbacks, undeclared large donations, and secret Swiss accounts. The black accounts weren't used for personal enrichment but as emergency campaign funds, used by Kohl personally (also against inner-party rivals).

No senior CDU leader dared to attack the godfather, ignoring that even the party base was demoralised. But Merkel recognised that this was her moment to get the base: she put herself in position by being the first to speak out, tossing away her promoter.

Schäuble tagged along. But Kohl was none too happy about his onetime right-hand man denying his involvement, and the two got into a war of contradictory statements. And Merkel? She coldly stood aside, not saying a word to help her boss and ally. And thus Schäuble fell too -- and Merkel was at hand as successor.

Even at this stage, the senior Kohl-era ex-ministers and state PMs (as well as most of the media) believed that Merkel was a temporary solution, a powerless token chair(wo)man who would stand aside once the boys chose the next top dog amongst themselves. But they should have paid more attention. They were up against someone who, according to a story, upon hearing some communications expert go on about how having aides trailing you and keeping a larger distance in conversation gives an aura of power, instantly got herself two aides as permanent shadow and began to keep the distance.

Indeed Merkel quickly sidelined Kohl's meek old guard, by bypassing them for loyal no-names in important positions. One to remember is Friedrich Merz, then federal parliament faction leader. But, Merkel overlooked a more potent circle of opponents: the next generation, the Andenpakt.

Once upon a time, a bunch of young CDU hotshots was on a plane to visit Pinochet's Chile. All of them ambitious, they swore to support each other in their rise, and never run against each other or call for the other's resignation: thus was the 'Andes Pact' born. Almost two decades later, three members were PMs of their respective states, two held top positions in the EP, several more were in other top positions. And, ahead of the 2002 federal elections, they organised a coup against the party chairman.

Behind Merkel's back, and involving Merz too, a consensus was built that Merkel shall be bypassed as chancellor candidate. She was then to be presented with a fait accompli, and forced to resign upon resisting. However, Merkel survived by personally offering the chancellor candidate position to the PM of Bavaria and leader of sister party CSU, Edmund Stoiber. (For a profile see Stoiber goes.) But this, again, turned to Merkel's benefit: Stoiber was too unpopular in Northern Germany and was no match for Schröder in televised debate, and took the blame for the election loss.

After the election, Merkel claimed the faction leader position, pushing disloyal Merz into the deputy seat. But neutralising him took two more years, because Merz built up an image as the CDU's finance expert. However, not allowed to lead anything, finally he resigned, and became the closest thing to a hardcore neoliberal ideologue in the media (also see A shift of the frame).

Meanwhile, the Andenpakt didn't rest. In another failed drive to oust Merkel, they even got Bush to slight Merkel, by not meeting her but receiving Andenpakt top dog Roland Koch, then PM of Hessen state. Koch & co would regularly attempt to set the federal CDU's policy without consulting Merkel, trying to capitalise on her lack of economic expertise, lack of social conservative values, and supposed womanly weakness.

Merkel's counter-attack was two-pronged. On one hand, she tried and successfully loosened the bonds by courting some Andenpakt members individually. On the other hand, also with a view to the apparent only possible future coalition partner, the (by then neo-)liberal FDP, Merkel re-styled herself as neoliberal revolutionary, and sought the company of the top dogs of the economy. That way, she managed to regain the initiative within her party, and cruised towards... a bad election result.

In the 2005 elections, CDU/CSU+FDP had no absolute majority, and the CDU finished just ahead of the SPD. Outgoing chancellor Schröder promptly demanded that he should stay in office if there is a Grand Coalition. New elections? That's what Koch hoped for (see Germany: Nightmare Scenario). But Merkel just faced off Schröder until the SPD faltered, and managed to put together the Grand Coalition. And then watched from above.

While the coalition partners sparred openly, Merkel took up the (entirely fake) posture of a neutral head of state. That way, she (1) won popularity with the electorate, (2) got the conservative wing of her party to focus their growls at SPD leaders for non-right-wing policies, (3) could rob the SPD of its centre-left themes, while the SPD could always be pushed into an identity crisis regarding its left flank.

So, while the global financial crisis began to reach Europe, Merkel squared both her inner-party rivals and the Schröderite old guard of the SPD, and soared in the polls ahead of the next federal elections. However, given the sentiments within her party, she again had no choice but to publicly aim towards a coalition with the FDP. This time, Grand Coalition-weary conservative swing voters voted for the same. The problem was that, while Merkel learnt her lesson in 2005, the FDP became even more insane and wanted tax cuts while deficits exploded. Still, this is what SPIEGEL wrote back then (and where I took the chapter title from):

The Black Widow Chancellor

First the Social Democrats and now the Free Democrats: German Chancellor Angela Merkel's new political partners need to beware the fate of their predecessors. The FDP is perilously wrong if it thinks it can achieve mass tax cuts. Merkel squeezed the blood out of the SPD and could easily do it again.

Exactly that happened, albeit at a rather high price.

Merkel first pushed through the FDP's first round of tax cuts, only then did she give the outrage from her own comrades free rein. Note that Germany is a federal country, with its states having tax income of their own, so it was just the CDU's regional PMs who spearheaded the opposition -- including the normally reliably neoliberal Andenpakt guys (one of whom, Baden-Württenberg PM Günther Oettinger, Merkel got rid of by making him EU Commissioner for energy). Meanwhile the FDP's poll numbers tanked. Then came the election in Northrhine-Westphalia state (NRW; ruled by a CDU-FDP coalition too), the negative result of which Merkel used to finally rule out further tax cuts.

In the process, Germany's economic policy became a mess, Germany contributed to the "Euro crisis", lost EU-level respect and influence, and Merkel was blasted for lack of leadership at home. But, the only power miscalculation I can see is: the NRW CDU's losses were so heavy that the hoped-for replacement of the FDP with the Greens was no more an option.

Then came two high-profile resignations.

The Most Brutal Investigator Possible

Regular ET readers will be familiar with (now ex-)PM of Hessen state, Roland Koch, but it's worth to recap who was Merkel's worst rival. If there was one macho politician in Germany it was him. Koch was a reckless demagogue exploiting xenophobic and anti-poor stereotypes, a law-and-order populist, also winning the support of the base by playing culture warrior, a Big Industry shill also playing market-fundie rambo, a provocateur setting the tone in federal-level politics with own initiatives, a rhetorical sharp-shooter who knows how to get into the media. Think Sarko without a need for stage management.

Koch won his very first election in 1999 by fanning the flames of xenophobia with a signature collection against the federal government's plans for a law legalising double citizenship.

Soon after he got in power, the CDU's big party donations scandal (see previous section) blew up. One of the schemes involved Koch's predecessors in the Hessen CDU. So Koch did a Merkel, in his own style: he theatrically called for a brutalstmögliche Aufklärung (c. = the most brutal investigation possible) if the CDU shall survive. This became a catchphrase, especially after it became known that by the time of that speech, überbrutal investigator Koch was already informed and sought to bury the affair. But his support base overlooked and forgot that.

Koch was busy building connections with powerful people -- including US neocons. His strongest ties were with Tommy Thompson, Bush's first Secretary of Health and Human Services and governor of Wisconsin prior to that, and advocated the import of Thompson's welfare-ending "Wisconsin Works" programme under the name "Wisconsin Model".

In 2002, the CDU's right wing was busy torpedoing a new law to regulate the residency of foreign nationals. The SPD used a procedural trick (later ruled unconstitutional, but known in advance) to get it across the upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat (which consists of the state governments). The CDU PMs reacted with seemingly spontaneous anger, with Koch taking the lead by interrupting the Speaker and hitting his desk with his fist. But a colleague revealed that the whole show was planned in advance, earning Koch 'praises' for good acting from professionals.

None of this, nor his close association with American neocons in the run-up to the Iraq War did prevent Koch's re-election in 2003: the Schröder government's then low popularity helped, as did more law-and-order campaigning.

Back on the stage, despite his rhetorical war on the Left, Koch didn't hold back from working together with an SPD colleague, when it came to upstaging Merkel with neolib policy proposals: with then PM of NRW, later federal finance minister Peer Steinbrück, Koch co-authored the infamous Koch-Steinbrück-Papier, a list of proposed subvention cuts based on shoddy calculations.

All the while, Koch's government in the strongman's home state was... less than successful. Neither on the economic front, nor in crime, and least of all in education. But, come next election, Koch thought to rely on tried and tested xenophobic demagoguery: he thematised the foreign citizenship of youth criminals after the beating of a pensioner in Munich's subway. But then a miracle happened: his opponent, a non-macho woman who got the Hessen SPD a decidedly leftist election programme putting the dormant Fundie wing of the Greens to shame, chose frontal attack and trashed Koch just on his supposed strengths (see "Immigrant youth crime": from campaign theme to blowback for the German Right, and Y) -- and Koch's CDU crashed (see f.e. Spinning the German left swing).

Unfortunately, that's where the miracle ended: Andrea Ypsilanti's SPD and the Greens needed the Left Party for majority, and that was the point on which the SPD self-destructed. Koch watched the show with his caretaker government, then was re-elected. But, he was damaged good.

Still, Koch did not stop making trouble for Merkel with provocative policy initiatives. The last time, right after the NRW CDU's big election loss: Koch called on the federal government to regain the initiative (that is, er, to follow Koch's initiative...) by getting serious about the budget deficit. And he had specific proposals: let's start with cuts in education and daycare!

Koch was playing to old conservative notions: the ones about students paying for education services, and about pre-school institutions threatening the survival of the Christian family. But, times have changed: instead of setting the tone, Koch earned outraged rejection even from arch-conservative Bavaria, not to mention Merkel's allies in the federal government.

I think that was when Koch saw that his career advance was over, and I think that that was the real reason behind his out-of-the-blue resignation on 25 May. (For the record, he claimed private reasons, and let leaks claim that he planned it a year in advance, but then why did he kept trying to upstage Merkel?)

Roland Koch, Reuters photo from WELT ONLINE.

Throughout Koch's ten-year amok run, Merkel held to Kohl's maxim about waiting longer than all rivals and let them self-destruct: she never publicly opposed or even criticised the strongman enjoying the support of both the economic-liberal and social-conservative wings, and even tagged along when Koch managed to take the policy initiative (even in the foreign youth crime controversy). Now that's over. To boot, for lack of a replacement for Koch on the CDU's Right, or its economic-liberal wing, the whole CDU is bound to move closer to Merkel's actual ideological views (if she has any left after all the manoeuvring), that is towards the left. Then again, that's still somewhere 25 years in the past. And, for conservatives, there is still the free-wheeling Bavarian CSU.

But, the departure of the big rival won't necessarily make the Chancellor's life easier. After all, she could use the rivalry with Koch also as a good cop-bad cop routine, putting her in a more favourable light. Now she will be judged on her own.

The offended President and the Wulff in sheep's clothing

Let's jump back to 2004, when Merkel was solidifying her control over her own party and began to aim for a coalition with the FDP. One of her strategic moves was the choice of candidate for federal President.

Germany's federal President is elected for five years by a special body, consisting (mostly) of the federal parliament and delegations of the regional parliaments. It is a figurehead job, usually taken as semi-retirement by elder statesmen. Indeed Wolfgang Schäuble, after being sidelined by Merkel, wanted the job. But, instead, Merkel picked someone fresh, a non-politician to symbolise her then new neolib direction: outgoing IMF head Horst Köhler.

Köhler won the Presidency, and, initially, he was a success for Merkel: he was popular with the media, as well as, to my neverending sorrow, the populace. However, the ceremonial job was always a straitjacket for Köhler, who wanted to talk about policy -- and did, often earning controversy.

This became complicated when the desired CDU/CSU-FDP coalition did not came in 2005, and even more when the global financial crisis approached. Köhler suddenly began to criticise irresponsible bankiers (possibly not unrelated to standing for re-election last year) -- earning controversy in other quarters, and the cold shoulder of the Chancellor. Köhler must have been especially fed up with being an observer of how the CDU/CSU-FDP coalition, finally arriving last year, descended in chaos.

Köhler continued to court controversy. The last time in a radio interview he gave on 22 May on a plane transporting him back from a visit of troops in Afghanistan. In that interview, again deviating strongly from the non-partisan ideal of his job, Köhler sought to defend the unpopular military mission -- and veered a bit too far off in the theoretical (my transcript & translation):

Meine Einschätzung ist aber, dass insgesamt wir auf dem Wege sind, doch auch in..in der Breite der Gesellschaft zu verstehen, dass ein Land unserer Größe mit dieser Außenhandelsorientierung und damit auch Außenhandelsabhängigkeit auch wissen muss, dass im Zweifel, im Notfall, auch militärischer Einsatz notwendig ist, um unsere Interessen zu wahren, zum Beispiel... freie Handelswege, zum Beispiel... ganze regionale Instabilitäten zu verhindern, die mit Sicherheit dann auch auf unsere Chancen zurückschlagen - negativ durch Handel, Arbeitsplätze und Einkommen - alles das soll diskutiert werden, und ich glaube wir hier auf einem nicht so schlechten Weg.However, it is my assessment that, all in all, we are on the way to understand even a..across the width of society, that a country of our size with this external trade orientation, and with that external trade dependence, should also know that, when in doubt, in a state of emergency, a military action is necessary, too, to defend our interests, for example... free trade routes, for example... preventing whole regional instabilities, which will then hit back at our chances with a certainty - negatively via trade, jobs and income - all that should be discussed, and in this regard, I believe we are on a not that bad route.

Note that Köhler didn't say anything revolutionary: something similar is in Germany's official general military strategy. But Köhler managed to connect it to Afghanistan... Reaction was negative from all sides:

Jürgen Trittin, of the Green Party, said on Thursday the president's comments were not consistent with Germany's constitution and that "we don't need gun boat diplomacy nor do we need a loose rhetorical cannon as our head of state." Thomas Oppermann, a parliamentarian with the opposition Social Democrats, told SPIEGEL ONLINE that "Köhler is jeopardizing the acceptance of the German military's missions abroad."

Criticism also came from within Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition. Ruprecht Polenz, the foreign policy spokesman for Merkel's Christian Democrats said "it was not a very successful formulation, to put it mildly." Rainer Stinner, of the business-friendly Free Democrats, Merkel's junior coalition partner, said: "We are not in Afghanistan out of any economic interests, rather we are there to stabilize the country and curtail international terrorism."

Köhler was none too pleased, especially with the lack of support from his own political camp. He decided to resign with immediate effect on 31 May -- earning further criticism for lack of toleration of criticism and irresponsibility, and vindictiveness in his four-paragraph resignation letter:

Meine Äußerungen zu Auslandseinsätzen der Bundeswehr am 22. Mai dieses Jahres sind auf heftige Kritik gestoßen. Ich bedauere, dass meine Äußerungen in einer für unsere Nation wichtigen und schwierigen Frage zu Missverständnissen führen konnten. Die Kritik geht aber so weit, mir zu unterstellen, ich befürwortete Einsätze der Bundeswehr, die vom Grundgesetz nicht gedeckt wären. Diese Kritik entbehrt jeder Rechtfertigung. Sie lässt den notwendigen Respekt für mein Amt vermissen.My pronouncements regarding foreign missions of the German army on 22 May of the current year were met with severe criticism. I regret that my pronouncements could have led to misunderstandings in a question so important and difficult for our nation. However, the criticism went so far as to impute that I support missions of the German army which aren't covered by the German constitution. This criticism lacks any justification. It is lacking in the necessary respect for my job.

Now Merkel could pick a candidate for successor. And whom did she pick? If you read all of the above, it should be obvious: a rival for power. In fact, the last serious contender remaining.

The PM of Lower Saxony state (who beat the SPD's current leader for the job), Christian Wulff, is another Andenpakt guy. However, unlike rowdies Koch and Oettinger, he is a smooth-talker who usually avoids open conflict, and looks for the political centre -- in fact, a lot like Merkel. By 2008, with Koch weakened, Wulff was treated as crown prince. Although Merkel believed that she brought Wulff to her side (in fact it was Wullf who revealed the Pact's very existence to Merkel), he tried to upstage Merkel, too. Albeit in his own style, with veiled attacks: during Andrea Ypsilanti's attempt to become PM of Hessen state with Left Party support, Wulff called for a dissolution of the federal Grand Coalition in the case Ypsilanti succeeds; weeks later, ET reported how he directed blame for losses in another regional election towards Merkel; and ET also reported how he tried to force Merkel's hand in the 2009 coalition talks with the FDP.

Wulff's most significant scandal I can remember was cheating on and then divorcing his wife, not really fit for a Catholic-conservative role model; but that didn't hurt him, it seems even the Lower Saxony CDU's right wing moved beyond the Pope. More damaging was his recent decision to install Germany's first ethnic-Turkish minister, who promptly proclaimed that she wants all religious symbols to disappear from classrooms -- including crucifixes. But that still hardly qualifies as lasting damage, so it is a bit surprising that Wulff didn't reject Merkel's offer of the Presidency and waited on to inherit her.

The CDU/CSU and the FDP will have a majority in the President-electing assembly, but the SPD did try its best to spoil Merkel's party: they chose Joachim Gauck as candidate. Gauck was the longtime head of the authority overseeing the files of East German secret service Stasi, and enjoys high respect as such. For once, the SPD put the Left Party in a difficult position, and the CDU will have a hard time attacking Gauck or explaining why Wulff is a better figurehead.

What for?

Now Merkel finally achieved it: she stands above all others, and there is no serious contender on the horizon. But what has she achieved while on the top? Not even double-edged signature policies of the magnitude of Reunification for Kohl. Let's call this the paradox of power: if the price for ever more power is that you can't use it to do what you want, do you really have power?

History doesn't repeat itself, but there are ever more parallels with the Kohl era. Indeed the defining word of the end of that era was Reformstau ( = reform logjam), which was voiced not just by neolibs, and Merkel's government is now in the same position.

And who could succeed Merkel? If history does repeat itself, look out for one of Merkel's newest promotions: environment minister Norbert Röttgen. (You already saw some sign of ambition in Quo vadis, German energy policy?.)

A student reacted to Köhler's gunboat diplomacy speech by creating the spoof website Horst Köhler Consulting, offering the continuation of business by other means, and a team including Helmut Kohl (Head of secret Accountance), Roland Koch (Head), Joschka Fischer (Sustainable Security, Green Warfare, Academic Relations), and Gerhard Schröder (Regional Complexity Manager - e.g. Putin).

However, as leftist daily taz learnt, someone issuing threats of a lawsuit costing 1 million Euros and making telephone calls in the name of a prosecutor's office forced the provider to briefly take down the site. The blackmailer was a faker, but he sent emails from an IP belonging to the Federal Administrative Office. The latter is investigating.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jun 6th, 2010 at 07:39:44 PM EST
Merkel briefly showed her face as power politician last year already, as was posted by PeWi in Reaching agreement on a Coalition in Germany: at a press conference, a Dutch journalist asked the uncomfortable question about designated finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble's involvement in the CDU's party donations scandal. Merkel waved him off. (For translations see PeWi's diary.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jun 6th, 2010 at 07:44:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did some minor editing of spelling and grammar, only one serious: you had written Throughout Koch's ten-year amok run, Merkel held to Koch's maxim.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 04:54:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This diary expands on three comments; and it should have been three diaries, had I managed to finish the first and second before events overtook me. So this diary ended up rather long (sorry), even though I left out some stuff. Here is one: an attempt to give a better picture of what a figurehead President is about for readers not accustomed to such political systems, with an example.

Federal President (Bundespräsident) of Germany is a ceremonial position: the job is to hold key speeches on national holidays, open and preside over big events, receive and visit other heads of states, try to speak the public mood in most general terms during extraordinary events, and in general act as a grandfather of all citizens. By its nature, the President is supposed to be representing everyone and thus be non-partisan: thus, direct policymaking like presenting laws, participating in debates, or attacking other politicians are big non-nos. But, Presidents can take indirect influence: they can set the course of public discussion by advocating some measures in general terms, and by refusing to sign laws until those pass a constitutional review.

Let's take Richard von Weizsäcker, federal President for two terms in 1984-1994, who still comes out on top in polls on best ever federal President. He was CDU boss and mayor of West Berlin, and was long promoted by party boss Kohl. But, upon election, he took non-partisanship very seriously.

Weizsäcker's first big feat was his speech on the anniversary of the Nazi capitualtion in 1985, when he broke with the conservative taboo and called the day of defeat a day of liberation.

In 1989, Weizsäcker angered anti-terrorist law-and-order advocates by pardoning a former member of the Red Army Faction [better known in English under the misnomer "Baader-Meinhof gang"].

In 1990, during Reunification, Weizsäcker angered Kohl with an interview on the excessive influence and the irresponsibility of parties, a veiled criticism of the election promises.

In 1991, Weizsäcker denied his signature for a law on the privatisation of air traffic control, citing constitutional concerns, forcing a constitutional amendment.

Then there was the hypocritical immigration policy of the Kohl era, which I got to have a good view of back then. First, on one hand, the political elite insisted on the fiction that Germany is not an immigration country (considering resident foreign citizens "guest workers" who shall please return 'home' one day, even in second and third generation...); on the other hand, they put the blame for any failure of integration solely at the door of immigrants themselves. Second, the CDU insisted to mention any far-right violence only alongside far-left violence, and dismiss the then growing problem. It was with this background that, in 1993, after the home of an ethnic Turkish family in Solingen was set on fire by four teenagers, Weizsäcker demonstratively attended the funeral service (Kohl stayed away), and called for more rights for resident foreigners in his speech.

As parting gift in 1994, Weizsäcker delayed his signature for a law on public finance of parties.

So, despite a lack of direct political influence as President, Weizsäcker did enough to make Helmut Kohl angry at him to this day, and angry in the most petty-minded fashion. When the CDU organised a party for Kohl's 80th birthday, Kohl's conditions for attending included that Weizsäcker shall not be invited.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 05:34:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent diary.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 05:49:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
nice long diary, marked it for further reading. one note about photos - though it is not necessary but given the dull nature of political reporting magazines prefer to use ugliest photos of politicians if cartoons are not available. politicos smile too much from electoral billboards.
by FarEasterner on Sun Jun 6th, 2010 at 08:48:44 PM EST
In this case, the choice of the ugliest photo was mine :-) Then again, for his part, Roland Koch made grimaces part of his macho image, so ugly photos in newspapers only served to rile oppenents and fire up supporters.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 04:19:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
make her party secretary in 1998?

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 12:49:10 AM EST
She was "obviously" an easily controlled woman.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 04:11:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't remember specifics. But, for context, the post of party secretary in the CDU is a management job usually given to loyalists, rather than up-and-comers with own power base. Thus, Schäuble must have valued her intelligence but underestimated her ambitions. This bio says Schäuble proposed her with express approval from Helmut Kohl, and quotes Schäuble praising her abilities and the fact that she is not stuck with the worn-out communication methods of the Bonn elite.

BTW, here is a blast from the past, a photo in FAZ from 1999, when the three were still all smiles and friends:

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 04:15:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great analysis, DoDo.

I mean it would be nice to have Gauck as a figurehead, but he would not really be able to counterbalace her currently. Even more as a problem I see that there is noone on the left to challenge her or maybe even Röttgen - or am I wrong?

by Fran on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 02:14:31 AM EST
Well indeed. The SPD's current leader, Sigmar Gabriel, strikes me as too shallow, even just as a political operator (not to mention issues). And Gabriel lost his first and only election (he inherited the Lower Saxony state government when Schröder became chancellor and then took his immediate successor as aide to Berlin too, but Gabriel's SPD lost to Wulff's CDU four years later). But, fortunately, a German chancellor is not directly elected; so if the left-of-centre parties do well, Merkel is out even without a successor to match her on the other side.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 04:28:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Merkel Above All
Angela Merkel was a young East German nuclear physicist, who cared little about politics until 1989.
Actually, a Physicist working in physical (quantum) chemistry.


Merkel was educated in Templin and at the University of Leipzig, where she studied physics from 1973 to 1978. While a student, she participated in the reconstruction of the ruin of the Moritzbastei, a project students initiated to create their own club and recreation facility on campus. Such an initiative was unprecedented in the GDR of that period, and initially resisted by the University of Leipzig. However, with backing of the local leadership of the SED party, the project was allowed to proceed.[6] Merkel worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof from 1978 to 1990. She learned to speak Russian fluently, and earned a statewide prize for her proficiency.[citation needed] After being awarded a doctorate (Dr. rer. nat.) for her thesis on quantum chemistry[7] she worked as a researcher.
SHe seems to have been further active in youth politics:
Like most pupils, Merkel was a member of the official, Socialist-led youth movement Free German Youth (FDJ). Later she became a member of the district board and secretary for "Agitprop" (Agitation and Propaganda) at the Academy of Sciences in that organization.[5] However, she did not take part in the secular coming of age ceremony Jugendweihe, which was common in East Germany, and was confirmed instead. Merkel herself described her FDJ youth movement years as "cultural work".

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 05:36:53 AM EST
SHe seems to have been further active in youth politics:

In scare quotes of course :-)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 06:09:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Because she was "Agitprop secretary" of all things?

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 06:22:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, but because this "youth politics" was compulsory. And whatever her short memory about her agitprop career [I'll soon edit the [citation needed] in the English Wikipedia using the source in the German version], Merkel can 'pride' herself of making her exam in Marxism-Leninism only with passing grades.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 06:49:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Brilliant diary Dodo, and a great primer for someone like me who has never had a great grasp of German politics.  The interesting thing about this for me is what all this means for the future of the EU.  Now that Merkel has established herself as beyond challenge for the lifetime of the current German Government, will she take a more assertive and constructive role in the development of the EU/Eurozone?  

Her solo run on bank regulation may indicate a willingness to take a lead, even if it also betrays a lack of collegiality with her EU partners.  Will we see a distinctive German foreign/finance policy emerging, or is she really just another Hooverite politician who senses that her time has come to reinforce the status quo.

Given the huge power vacuum that seems to be emerging within the EU, will she fill the space or will her innate German conservatism prove her undoing?

Frank's Home Page and Diary Index

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jun 7th, 2010 at 09:42:35 AM EST
will she take a more assertive and constructive role in the development of the EU/Eurozone?

More assertive, probably, more constructive, I doubt it... Merkel is not an economist and her advisers represent common wisdom (whether neolib or traditional German conservative). And even if there is no serious contender in her party, the daily battle with other parties, the swings in public opinion, and the pull of special interests are still enough reason for a zigzag course...

will her innate German conservatism prove her undoing?

It's not innate ideologies that will be her undoing...

Yesterday, Merkel's government embarked on a programme that is in effect Roland Koch's programme without the flashiest bits: the goal is now to balance the budget, which shall be achieved solely with €90 billion of budget cuts over four years -- most of which is social cuts... After Merkel buried the FDP's almost only election promise, tax cuts, any tax raise was politically out of question, so this programme is what paleocons and neolibs could agree upon. But, I again wonder how far Merkel really wants to go, given the trade union and popular reistance that is to be expected.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 08:33:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
that fills in an enormous amount of background.

A successor to Kohl in many respects, but sadly lacking in his sense of Euro-responsibility. She's part of Europe's lost generation of leaders : those who don't remember WWII, and who are too young to think of themselves spontaneously as European. These are the people who have driven the EU to destruction. Her excuse, I suppose, is to be an Osti : a united Germany is big enough for her.

One thing that alarms me :

the NRW CDU's losses were so heavy that the hoped-for replacement of the FDP with the Greens was no more an option.

Was she really angling to get the Grünen in coalition? Could they possibly be suicidal enough to agree?

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 06:05:44 AM EST
sadly lacking in his sense of Euro-responsibility

I'd agree that she is showing less, but, as I tried to imply in the diary, Kohl was not the ever-mindful Euro-politician, either.

those who don't remember WWII

Indeed, and that applies not just to politicians, and that's troubling me ever more. For example, the new German patriotism that was kicked off with the 2006 World Cup.

driven the EU to destruction

I wouldn't go that far -- IMO the EU is far from destruction, and survived previous crises (it survived Thatcher).

Her excuse, I suppose, is to be an Osti

In 19 out of the 20½ years of her political life, Merkel was part of the Bonn/Berlin elite, it's her political socialisation: there is no ignorance she could plead for on the basis of having been an Ossi. (In fact, she had less special personal appeal among East German voters than the West German Schröder!)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 08:42:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but we never really escape our origins, so she will always be an Ossi, it shapes her vision and her aspirations. I suspect that Europe seems largely superfluous to her.

She failed the leadership test : when decisive action was required, she fussed fiddled and obfuscated, waiting for the regional election result. If this had been a purely German crisis, I would have been fairly indifferent, I would have gained sardonic satisfaction from her electoral discomfiture. BUT the occasion required German leadership in a European context, and I am angry that the response of this political dwarf is the best that Germany can do.

I yearn for a coherent and responsible German foreign policy. Perhaps Joschka Fisher set the standard too high (and it wasn't all that high!).

I agree that Kohl was also a dwarf in international terms, but that was inevitable, for his generation it was inconceivable that Germany should take a leading, forceful role in international affairs.

The appalling thing is that the explicitly mercantilist stance of the former president Köhler (the Bundeswehr at the service of Germany's export economy) might turn out to be the nearest thing to a guiding principle to this generation. And that sends chills down the spine.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 09:38:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
we never really escape our origins

But do origins determine, specifically, political views on the EU more strongly than anything else? I don't think so. She was there under Kohl (not to mention being there at EU-12, EU-15 Council meetings) for seven years to absorb all the pro-EU attitudes and notions. Meanwhile, Schröder was certainly no better EUropean, and Koch would have been much worse, though both of them were West Germans -- but both of them had less involvement with the EU or even the Bonn elite than Merkel.

BUT the occasion required German leadership

I don't see that at all. It required common action, which was de-facto agreed, and Merkel's fault was to break the consensus, not to fail to build one. In irresponsibility and lack of EU-mindedness, this action is more similar to Kohl going it alone on Reunification for electoral purposes, with its far-reaching (and EU-wide) economic consequences, even if Kohl was proactive and Merkel was blocking action. (And Migeru or redstar would probably draw parallels to the birth of the Growth and Stability Pact, in which Kohl and Waigel's mindset behind playing hardball was similar to the anti-Greek and fiscal-conservative sentiments Merkel played to.)

I agree that Kohl was also a dwarf in international terms

Hm? I don't and never claimed that :-) My stance is that the major achievements he is recognised for also had major negative sides, and that narrow-minded and domestic electoral calculations played a big part in them.

The appalling thing is that the explicitly mercantilist stance of the former president Köhler ... might turn out to be the nearest thing to a guiding principle to this generation.

My solution: let politics be less about 'leaders' (Führers) and elits, and more about what voters want -- and Köhler's stance was definitely not what the overwhelming majority of Germany's voters want, if opinion polls are any guide.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 10:13:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And Migeru or redstar would probably draw parallels to the birth of the Growth and Stability Pact

Er, I mean, redstar would more draw the parallel to the Bundesbank's interest rate policy in the first half of the nineties.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 10:16:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
and Germany blew it.

Germany may still be a dwarf in international affairs (though it's high time that phase of history ended), but it is a giant in terms of monetary stability, and therefore, it was understandable that Europe (and "the markets") was expecting Germany to take the lead.

And she blew them all off. Through her, Germany shirked its historic responsibility. It's a shame.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II

by eurogreen on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 05:24:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Europe (and "the markets") was expecting Germany to take the lead.

What evidence do you have of this? And what's your problem with the European Commission taking the lead? (Am I too small state citizen to feel uncomfortable about any talk of big states "taking the lead"?)

I repeat: there was an agreement, based on the Commission's proposal and approved by the Council, which Merkel practically killed by voicing an opposite opinion and implying that Germany won't play along in what it just agreed to (by demanding more conditions to be met).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 05:42:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is that Germany could single-handedly make the plan work, or kill it, due to the size of their economy and their fiscal position. And they chose to kill it. Repeatedly, I must say, since there was an agreement in March that Germany backtracked on, and one at the end of April which they reneged on again, and then the final one around May 10 which they then got immediately busy undermining.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 06:30:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The point is that Germany could single-handedly make the plan work, or kill it, due to the size of their economy and their fiscal position.

I wouldn't disagree with that, but I'm not sure that that was the point.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jun 9th, 2010 at 03:08:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We all know what happened : the already inadequate response of the EU and the ECB was sabotaged by Merkel's visible reluctance. She made it clear that the speculators were running the show, and thus she cost billions to the vulnerable nations (and ultimately to the EU taxpayer, Germans included).
But my point, it's only a personal view, for what it's worth, is that Germany was in a unique position, both economically, as Migeru states, and also historically and morally, to affirm that the EU and the euro would not be hostage to speculation. She could have busted the balls of the speculators. Sometimes history requires individual courage and vision.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Wed Jun 9th, 2010 at 12:43:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Was she really angling to get the Grünen in coalition?

This being the politics of a federal country, the question of who wants what and why it's a little more complicated.

  1. On pure election arithmetic, if Northrhine-Westphalia's outgoing CDU+FDP coalition shall lose majority, the NRW CDU would have been better-off with a CDU-Greens coalition than a CDU-SPD one.
  2. In addition, the CDU's traditional, working-class-wooing left wing is strong in NRW, what's more, the outgoing PM of NRW and head of the NRW CDU, Jürgen Rüttgers, is part of or at least supports that wing, which makes the Greens a more comfortable partner for him than the by now completely bonkers pro-business FDP. Rüttgers is a senior CDU politician, who could be considered the last of Kohl's old guard besides Schäuble (and declared his interest in becoming federal President too, but his election losses killed his chances), and headed Germany's most populous state, hence, he is an independent power factor.
  3. For the federal CDU, what counts foremost is the majority in the upper house of the federal parliament, the Bundesrat -- which consists of representatives of the state governments (and that's why the NRW elections had such an importance that Merkel messed with the Euro for it). Coalition state governments must give a consensus vote in the Bundesrat, which means they abstain or give an invalid vote if there is no agreement. Thus, again, a government in which the CDU coalitions with the small Greens might have meant less trouble than one with the SPD.
  4. In addition to (3), the federal CDU also thinks about the CDU's possibilities for after the next federal elections -- and successful local coalitions with the Greens could broaded their options.
  5. Finally, Merkel is on the left of her party, too. In the previous election cycle, she was rather confortable with balancing off her party's right wing with her SPD coalition partners. Why not do the same with the Greens?

Could they possibly be suicidal enough to agree?

I am on record of being rather uncomfortable with the idea of Black-Green (CDU-Greens) coalitions. But, this is Germany and the two-thousand-teens, and neither parts of the CDU nor parts of the Greens are what they used to be.

Much of the CDU's bourgeois base moved on to a climate-protection-friendly, more liberal and less xenophobic stance, and some of the party leaders too. Meanwhile, the base of the Greens also evolved and expanded in a bourgeois direction, and many leaders turned market-friendly (not market-fundamentalist, but thinking of market models even in fields they want to specially promote, think f.e. of feed-in laws combined with grid-generation separation, or, to my displeasure, rail privatisation), while at the same time, some Green leaders were thinking about how the party could have multiple options rather than being bound to a self-destructive SPD.

It is on this background that Black-Green is already reality:

  • The first major application came in 2006, just in Roland Koch's state, in the Frankfurt city council. But then Frankfurt's CDU mayor is on the far left of the CDU.
  • The first Black-Green state government was born in a city-state, Hamburg, in early 2008 (see Turambar's election diary).
  • There is another possible combination in Germany's current five-party system in which the Greens join a right-wing majority: a CDU-FDP-Greens tripartite coalition. On the basis of the coalitioners' colours (black-yellow-green), it is named 'Jamaica'. The first test run for this combination started last year, in small Saarland state (see Jamaica on the Saar). But then, all Saarland parties are off the mean represented by the federal parties, and the Greens got quite heavy concessions (got much more than in Hamburg).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jun 8th, 2010 at 09:50:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting analysis, but for what it's worth, my own take is very different. Merkel's public perception appears to be indecisive and unassertive. That's certainly how I see her. Her new center-right coalition has been marred by infighting and cratering approval ratings almost from the get-go, so much so that the big public media are now speculating about its possible imminent demise. And they are laying the blame for this situation, aside from the incompetent showboating of the smaller coalition party's leader, the new foreign secretary Westerwelle, on Merkel's apparent lack of leadership skills. Her dithering over the bailout for the Greek government is seen in the same vane. The reason her approval ratings remained decent until recently was that she was benefiting from low expectations and that people like her better on a personal level than all the conceivable alternatives. And why did Kohl promote her? Because he needed a token woman in his cabinet, and because he was too paranoid to groom any potential successor who might actually have the strength to replace him.

Now, much of what I'm saying here I actually think of as media-driven narratives. I appreciate your profile because it is totally different from the conventional wisdom. I can't really imagine Merkel's coalition falling apart in the next few weeks. But if that happens, it would of course be an interesting test case for your analysis.

If you can't convince them, confuse them. (Harry S. Truman)

by brainwave on Wed Jun 9th, 2010 at 01:51:31 PM EST
The reason her approval ratings remained decent until recently

Incidentally, I looked for but couldn't find any approval ratings newer than April.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jun 9th, 2010 at 02:46:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The monthly poll conducted by Infratest Dimap for public tv channel ARD in late May has her drop a hefty 10% vis-a-vis one month back:

Unmut über Schwarz-Gelb

Die Krise der Koalition ist zugleich die Krise der Kanzlerin. Ganze zehn Punkte an Zustimmung verliert sie diesen Monat für ihre Arbeit - nur noch 48 Prozent sind zufrieden mit der Arbeit von Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel. Auch für sie ist das der schlechteste Wert seit Herbst 2006. Damit rutscht sie in der Politiker-Rangliste auf Platz 3 hinter Verteidigungsminister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (61 Prozent unverändert) und Arbeitsministerin Ursula von der Leyen (50 Prozent, -4). Merkel ist nun auf Augenhöhe mit Finanzminister Wolfgang Schäuble, der nur noch einen Punkt hinter ihr liegt bei 47 Prozent (-4). Weiter am Ende der Tabelle steht unter 13 abgefragten Spitzenpolitikern FDP-Parteichef Guido Westerwelle mit unverändert 24 Prozent Zustimmung.


If you can't convince them, confuse them. (Harry S. Truman)
by brainwave on Wed Jun 9th, 2010 at 03:40:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (61 Prozent unverändert)


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jun 9th, 2010 at 03:54:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I appreciate your profile because it is totally different from the conventional wisdom. I can't really imagine Merkel's coalition falling apart in the next few weeks. But if that happens, it would of course be an interesting test case for your analysis.

Thanks. But I submit that one of my predictions became outdated just hours after I originally posted this diary:

In power terms, these "benefits" might last longer than the hits taken by her image (the news cycle moves on)

The budget cuts package, despite being action rather than inaction, might hurt Merkel's image more than all the events of the past six months. And in the commentary Das Volk ist längst weiter, magazine Zeit argues that the government is behind the citizens who are already prepared for tax hikes, while the savings package is a mess, with a serious part worth less than €27 billion, meaning that this is only the beginning and more measures would have to come...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jun 9th, 2010 at 03:22:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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