Saturday, 3 August 2013

Sleepwalking into the September 22 elections suits chancellor Merkel well

It is difficult to believe that there is just a few weeks left until the German elections (on September 22). Most political commentators are on holiday, and even if those who are on duty, make some tired attempts to remind people about the upcoming elections, nobody seems to be interested. Germans are enjoying the gorgeous summer weather, and the number one topic seems to be how Pep Guardiola will fare as the coach of Champions League winner Bayern Munich ...

But there are also political reasons as to why Germans are sleepwalking to the elections:

General elections are meant to pick a government and election campaigns to discuss the most important issues facing a country. If that’s your definition of an election, you may wonder whether Germany is really heading to the polls on September 22.
Seldom has the run-up to an election been as lacklustre as to this year’s vote in Germany. Just nine weeks ahead of polling day, most Germans have better things to do than to think about politics. They go on holidays, discuss the appointment of Pep Guardiola as manager of Bayern Munich football club, or just enjoy the sudden arrival of proper summer weather after an unusually cold spring.
Meanwhile, the political parties are not giving voters much reason to really engage with them and their manifestos. Their election pledges are all too easily recognised as gimmicks that will never be implemented, and on the biggest issues of the day, the future of Europe and the euro, there is no debate between established parties.
Foreign observers might naively assume that as economic data from Europe’s periphery deteriorate, Germany would discuss the implications. After all, its exposure to Southern Europe is huge. If only a part of German lending to the rest of Europe had to be written off – say after a sovereign default, a banking crisis, or both – this would inflict pain on German investors and taxpayers. German savers are already paying for the crisis because the European Central Bank's policies have made decent interest income a distant memory.
So there are enough reasons to pay attention to the euro crisis and consider ways out of it. But fight an election campaign on these crucial issues – you must be kidding.
It is as if Germany’s mainstream parties – Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats – are forming a cartel to prevent real political discussions. None of them are willing to draw any attention to Europe as a topic. Little wonder as every single parliamentary decision on the euro crisis has been supported by all these parties. There is no way in which the opposition could now credibly blame the government for the very policies it has always supported.
There is a second reason for the cross-party armistice ahead of the election. A party challenging the consensus on Europe has emerged, the 'Alternative for Germany' party. The Alternative is currently polling at 2-3 per cent – where all the other parties would like them to remain. In order not to give Alternative any extra publicity, the political cartel refuses to engage on the issue of Europe, effectively pretending it does not exist.
To round off the boredom ahead of the election, polls have been stable for months, if not years – Chancellor Angela Merkel is virtually guaranteed to remain in office. The only uncertainty remains about her coalition partner (although it makes little difference in practice).
What is strange about this sleepwalk to the polls is not how it has paralysed proper political debates within Germany but how it has paralysed proper political debates within Europe.
Read the entire article here
When the summer and the German elections are over, chancellor Merkel - and Europe - will again be faced with the same old problems - the perpetual euro crisis, unemployment (particalarly youth unemployment) and the rising costs of the failed renewable energy policies.  

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