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Monday, May 23, 2005

I have never been a great fan of German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder so his party’s hammering in a key regional election makes me quite content. The added announcement that he will try to bring the general election forward by a year, in order to have it this autumn rather than in 2006 is actually quite a dramatic step.

It is definite good news that Schroeder’s social-democratic SPD has been given this bloody nose. All attempts at reforming Germany’s ailing economic policies have largely floundered and Schroeder has been faced with massive resistance inside his own party, where many believe that the government’s reforms will destroy social justice by making German economic life too market based. To get around this resistance and general unpopularity, Schroeder and particularly his political fixer Muentefering, opted for a strategy of scapegoating. Just like his successful use of anti-Americanism in the 2002 general election, this touched on popular sentiments. This time round it was Anglo-Saxon economics, and specifically American investors who were allegedly stripping Germany bare of all its assets.
Unfortunately the notion of rootless, money obsessed foreign types bleeding Germany dry has a certain historical pedigree. I will not at this point go into my thoughts about whether or not the imagery of “Heuschrecken” (locusts), employed by the SPS campaign with strong union backing, is anti-Semitic; like a lot about this debate I would simply direct you to the relevant entries at Davids Medienkritik. But what this definitely is, is the politics of scapegoating. By appealing to the most ugly of prejudices that can be found in parts of the German population, the German left is in effect encouraging their growth and making them all too respectable (see John Rosenthal on this, for example). The fact that Schroeder’s gang has now been defeated electorally in course of these practices is therefore a welcome humiliation for this sort of hateful politics. The SPD’s defeat in North Rhine-Westphalia is thus a clear strengthening of a grown up and decent Germany.
(It certainly makes for bad politics and economics as Clay Risen and Jeffrey Gedmin argue convincingly.)

I am not entirely sure though, whether this will actually see the Red-Green coalition government removed from office in Berlin. The key opposition, the Christian Democratic parties (CDU/CSU) are not currently clear enough about their leadership yet. On the plus side that may mean that the right-liberal FDP may profit most from an electoral swing away from the ruling parties. Well I’m hoping, though they lost a little in this election.
Let’s see, but I fear that a defeat of Schroeder in September/October is not guaranteed.



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