Learning From History: Recent and the Past
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Germany’s Prime Minister Angela Merkel may be on the verge of making a momentous decision which either will be a stroke of genius or might cascade the European continent into the fearful unknown. As of today, Merkel has been unable to form a governing coalition. Her conservative Christian Democrats may have won the election in September—although not with the margin which Merkel had sought—but the party has not found amenable political partners to form a coalition government. Failing to do so and reportedly unwilling to rule with a minority Government, Merkel appears to be seriously considering calling for new elections.
Merkel clearly believes that the German people having seen the potential dangers now as well as in historical terms of an ascending right-wing party, the Christian Democrats now will garner substantially more seats in a new election. She believes that this would enable her to continue with her agenda and to do so with considerably less of a threat from the AfD (The Alternative for Germany Party). (The AfD is an anti-immigrant—especially Muslims–, anti-Europe, nationalist, right-wing populous group. In the September election, the AfD received almost 13% ( 94 seats) of the vote in the Bundestag for the first time.) The implications of a growing right-wing opposition to Merkel not only is a scary sign of a return to some of the slogans of the 1920’s and ‘30’s but is also consistent with the right-wing calls emerging in France, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and most recently in Italy. Neo-fascist—anti-Semitic supporters also have emerged in the British Labour Party. It rings true as well among some of the backers of the America First movement, the White Supremacists, and the Alt-Right which are growing in the States; despite the scurrilous distractions which currently are pervading American politics.
With this as a backdrop, Merkel is also making a tactical political decision which could boomerang as it did in the recent snap elections which Theresa May held last June. Merkel, like May had believed, assumes she will increase her plurality as the public senses the threat posed by the AfD. She no doubt also hopes the AfD will drop below the 5% threshold to be seated in the Parliament. Alternatively, Merkel assumes that the Christian Democrats could recover enough seats in a re-vote to make it once again a willing partner in a coalition government. Another possibility would be if her old partner the Social Democrats recover from their embarrassing setback in September and agree then to join a coalition again as Merkel’s partner.
The problem with this strategy is that voters could express frustration and exhaustion with Merkel. She could well find herself not achieving her electoral goal and seats. Merkel could then be sent into political exile by the leaders of her own party.
Germany needs Merkel as does Europe. The consequences without her leadership economically as well as politically could be daunting and Macron is anxious about having to assume the mantle. The West had been relying on her leadership. Her absence would create a vacuum which could portend devastating consequences, especially given Putin’s ambitions and Trump’s lack of interest.