European normalisation?

When the German liberals left the exploratory coalition talks on Sunday evening, the wake-up call was not only tough for Germany, but also for Europe. For the first time in German post-war history such talks, which should have been exploratory and a preparation for the actual  coalition negotiations, were presented in ‘event’ style, regularly exhibiting the main actors on a balcony, or launching balloons in their party colours, creating expectations of white smoke like in Rome when the new pope is announced. We were presented with nice pictures and smiling faces, while behind closed doors the smiles disappeared in bad-tempered tactical games resulting from deep divisions. Although called the “Jamaica” coalition, they were not smoking. Maybe this would have helped…

The German constitution defines the “directing role” of the Chancellor, but the current Chancellor – although busy trying to form a coalition and ensure a new mandate – was not successful. Moderation without clearly defining your own positions is not leadership, it is a dilution of your political positions and profile, which definitively strengthens those on the extremes.

On the evening of the elections, the Social Democrats decided to accept the bad results and to take the lead in the opposition, not to leave it to the blue-brown AfD. For four weeks the SPD was not on the front pages nor in the media headlines. Instead many comments classified them as “obsolete”, “outdated”, not needed. And then the sudden resurrection… Those who were unable to get even a pre-agreement on a coalition are shouting the loudest and insist that the Social Democrats have to take on “the state’s political responsibility”. Impressive. Those who are about to die salute you…

In the end, the political developments in Germany are similar to those in many other EU Member States: increased votes for the extreme right, losses for the major parties, more parties in the parliament and – as a result – more complicated coalition building. Those who liked to tell the rest of Europe how the world is run are now in the same difficulties as everyone else.

It should not be underestimated how far the defeat of the first German Republic (Weimar) may still be present in the collective consciousness and sub-conscience of Germans looking for stability and welfare. This explains partly why there is so much reluctance to explore the idea of a minority coalition, which is hard work, sure, but can work successfully as Sweden has shown. And maybe just some more time is needed. Remember the Belgian example of nearly 540 days without a government, but - at the same time – running the EU-Presidency successfully with a committed administration and acting government.

Patience is needed, not the hysteria stirred up by the media. But much more than that is needed: an ambition to respond to our changing society, notably digital capitalism, threats to democracy and the polarisation of societies, terrorism and the threat of armed conflicts. Where is the ambition for Europe? President Macron is still waiting for an answer to his proposals for relaunching Europe, which is in our common interest. It is not acceptable that Germany stood aside and was absent when Europe was making an important step towards a better balance between the economic and social dimensions through the Proclamation of European Pillar of Social Rights last Friday in Gothenburg.

What happens in the end? Much “ado about nothing” or just European normalisation? A stable, but ambitious and progressive pro-European German government is needed and not just the lowest common denominator. Or are new elections needed in the sense of Berthold Brecht who said “when people do not like a government, they change the government. When the government does not like the people, it changes the people?”