Daily Briefing How Germans view the travails of May and Macron

Germans roll their eyes at Britain... and stare agape at France; what to do about Merz?; Germany and Jews. Our Daily Briefing for December 11, 2018.
Quelle: imago
(Source: imago)

Perceptions of “stability” are relative. Germans of late have been worrying about instability, but only because Germany had for so long been so very, very – so boringly – stable. Now, though, Germans are looking through their television screens to London and Paris, and lo, suddenly Germany looks stable again by comparison. The Germans I talk to are cluelessly wondering: What’s up over there?

First: Brexit, which increasingly looks like a sort of belated English Revolution. Germans do not understand it. They could never fathom why some English people (it’s really mainly the English we’re talking about) are so angry at the EU in the first place. But while they don’t understand, they also don’t really care that much. In Britain, Brexit may be the biggest, indeed the only, topic of conversation. But in Germany Brexit ranks quite low on most lists. Migration, pensions, the euro, Russia, the climate, Trump-Trump-Trump, Dieselgate: All these and more seem more urgent to Germans.

So when Theresa May suddenly yanks a Brexit vote out of the House of Commons, as she did yesterday, Germans just go back to their state of passive puzzlement. When May jets to “the continent” with another desperate plea to renegotiate – as today when she visits Brussels and Berlin – Germans just shrug. They, as continentals, feel they have offered a fair deal, and they see no need to change it. Britain just looks unstable to them, possibly mad, or even suicidal and beyond saving. But all this doesn’t touch Germans directly. Now, when it comes to France, however,...

Angst about Gelbe Westen

France, to Germans, is another matter. Germans know that they need the French as the other partner on the proverbial “tandem” that pulls the whole EU. Germans have long been worried that France, unlike Germany under Gerhard Schröder, may be unreformable. For that same reason, they’ve been rooting for Emmanuel Macron since he began, at long last, to reform the French labor market and set his sights on other targets. Germans in the know also feel a bit guilty, because Berlin has not supported Macron enough in his reform plans for the euro zone to make him look good at home.

So when Germans now watch the “yellow vests” take apart Paris and other French towns, several weekends in a row, they get viscerally scared in a way they don’t about Brexit. They know that if France goes pear-shaped, so does the euro zone and probably the EU. Even Macron’s olive branch to the yellow vests on French television yesterday didn’t go down quite so well in Germany. Macron offered a laundry list of “concessions”, hoping to appease the marauders: a higher minimum wage, tax exemptions for overtime work, more tax breaks for pensioners. Those goodies, however, would inflate France’s budget deficit and debt, and breach the EU’s fiscal rules that the Germans are so intent on enforcing.

If Macron wobbles or fails, Germany loses its most important partner. If Macron, to avoid failure, strays from his fiscally disciplined reform course, Germany also loses its most important partner. To Germans, France, unlike Britain, looks really scary.

Quelle: AP
(Source: AP)

German politics, as I said at the start, thus looks almost stable again by comparison. Merkel is still chancellor, and may serve out her term. Her party, the CDU, has a new boss, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (AKK), but she gets along well with Merkel. The biggest question is what to do about the candidate who narrowly lost to AKK and still has a big fan base in the party: Friedrich Merz (pictured).

About half the party, primarily consisting of the pro-business wing, is still sulking about Merz’s loss on Friday. So they want him to have a big job in government, to make a statement. The economics ministry would be perfect.

But it already has a minister, whose name is Peter Altmaier. Altmaier is a jovial, cosmopolitan and talented politician, and also a loyalist of Merkel’s (he was her chief of staff in her previous term). If AKK, in order to keep the party peace, saw herself forced to make Merkel replace one of her favorites (Altmaier) with one of her enemies (Merz), that would really hurt Merkel. And maybe that would be the whole point.

Here are some numbers that should horrify all of us. The EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights surveyed Jewish Europeans and found, as director Michael O’Flaherty puts it, that “decades after the Holocaust, shocking and mounting levels of anti-Semitism continue to plague the EU.” Thus one in nine Jews in the EU thinks that anti-Semitism has risen since 2013; and 40 percent have considered leaving their home country. Most would move to Israel.

In Germany, the land that perpetrated the Holocaust, the numbers were actually slightly worse than the European average: 44 percent of German Jews now say they’ve considered emigrating; five years ago, only 25 percent said that. And 41 percent of German Jews reported that they’ve experienced harassment in the past year because they were Jewish. Some of that, no doubt, has to do with the “new” form of anti-Semitism emanating from German Muslims. But the homegrown variety clearly never went away. To all decent Germans, that should be a call to conscience.