“Jamaica” coalition talks collapsed on Sunday night after Christian Lindner (Fdp) said no to governing with the CDU and Greens, and Angela Merkel was forced to acknowledge that the margins for negotiation were depleted. For Lindner the biggest obstacle lay in defining the political line on European issues. Federico Ferraù caught up with Italian economist and German expert Vladimiro Giacché, who believes it is “the end of the Merkel era” and marks a deepening of the crisis in the European project.
Was this failure expected?
Angela Merkel lost the elections on September 24th. SPD only did worse than the CDU because the party led by Schulz hit its lowest level since 1949, but the CDU in percentage terms lost more votes. Merkel’s candidacy was far from deserving, given the low popularity of the chancellor, but it was cleverly constructed by making her the figure capable of carrying on Obama’s legacy after the arrival of Trump. Now this game also shows the rope.
We know that Merkel’s popularity suffered from the poor management of the issue of immigration.
There is this an element, but it is not the only one and perhaps not the most important one. After the elections, the Greens were seen as the problem within any future coalition. That’s not how it is. The Greens of today are not the Greens of yesterday and are perfectly compatible with the CDU. On the contrary, it is a repositioning of FDP, which has been successful in the polls [10.8 percent] and under Lindner’s leadership has tried to carve out a major political role, aimed at taking votes from the AFD and also the CDU.
Lindner told Faz last October. “Our common concern is the responsibility of individual members of the monetary union. We want to strengthen the principle of accountability, apply the Maastricht rules and return to the principles of the market economy in terms of financing the states.” What does it mean?
It means stopping quantitative easing, it means no to any form of public debt sharing, it means that there will not be the third pillar of the banking union, the Single Deposit Guarantee Scheme. Lindner meant that Merkel’s [European] policies had to end, because the road ahead was a different one.
What are we witnessing?
Gramsci said that “the demagogue is the first victim of his demagoguery.” The populism that the Cdu has culpably fed in recent years, continuing to argue that Europe was a burden on the German taxpayers, paying for the slackers of southern Europe, has turned against those who had fomented it.
You accuse Angela Merkel of getting some of her own policy medicine. But why?
Instead of addressing the problems of monetary union, she preferred not to say that the current European set up favours Germany – Germany’s large companies and large banks, Germany’s aggressive mercantilist policies, based on wage deflation – and fed the idea that the cause of the problems others.
And so the electorate, among which poverty grows in parallel with the rise of the German trade boom, has rejected both Merkel and Schulz. Now Merkel cannot complain if AfD has 12 percent and if the party advocating the most aggressive mercantilism, the Fdp, has not only returned to the Bundestag with wide margin, but wants to realise its new power and says no.
Two scenarios. In the first, Germany returns to the polls. In this case, Merkel could regain her leadership, although the electorate is an incognito. In the second scenario, the Chancellor convinces the Spd to sit at the negotiating table.
It is hard to make forecasts. The Spd has said he preferred returning to the polls rather than making a big coalition. But the Spd is a party that likes to be in government and the hypothesis could entice many within the party.
Would a Cdu-Spd-Verdi pact be possible?
From the programmatic point of view absolutely, all parties are perfectly compatible. But it is also conceivable that the Spd decides to sharpen its game, pulling out to wear Merkel down in the hope that the upcoming elections Germans will give the Socialists a few more votes. Which is possible.
Nevertheless, you would argue, the electoral outcome could repaint a picture not much different from that of September.
In fact, the prospects are not at all clear. I can’t see what the SPD could do if not in a coalition government again. Years ago a FT journalist, present at an electoral debate between the CDU and the SPD, remarked with some wonder that both contestants shared supply side policies and appeared distant from Keynesian [economic] policies. Since then, things have not changed much.
Looking more broadly, what lessons can you draw at a European level from what is happening in Germany?
One of the first concerns is of those in Italy who thought of imitating German electoral law. There are no good electoral laws for all seasons, or perfect export models. Perhaps the best system is the proportional one, which gives each citizen the same weight. Which is the model we have just abandoned.
And the second point?
German instability is part of a more general trend that in Europe has seen the emergence of strong centrifugal forces at all levels. The result of the Austrian Freedom Party and the victory of an ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party), which had moved far to the right in the last elections in Austria, is just the latest episode in a series.
And what is you view of these developments?
There is a disquiet traversing all European societies. People are not happy about how they live and how their country is forced to cohabit with other countries in the current European institutional context.
Everyone in Europe reaches their own conclusions, but in Italy, the European Union is an unchallengeable political belief. Do you see developments in other directions or are we destined to become impoverished?
We just lost the bid for European Medicines Agency . It’s a very serious political blow. First of all we should ask why we, a country with the third largest European GDP, could have taken the same number of points as a country like Holland. The answer can only lie in our political weakness. That is – we can perhaps say at a time when the hegemonic country may be forced to vote for the second time in a few months – has nothing to do with our alleged political instability, but rather with our political subordination in Europe. We should protect our interests in a very different fashion. And start to question whether the obvious dysfunctionality of European rules is a mere coincidence or and in any case whether instead of our pro-European ideology we need to take a somewhat more sober and disenchanted look on this European Union with such asymmetrical rules and characterized by such undemocratic and opaque decision-making processes.
Interview by Federico Ferraù
Translation by Revolting Europe