Germany has new Queen, needs new President.

Earlier today, German President Horst Köhler resigned, effective immediately (BBC coverage). His constitutional successor, and now German acting head of state is Social Democrat Jens Boehrnsen, who is the mayor of the state of Bremen and in this function speaker of the parliament’s upper chamber (Bundesrat). A new President will have to be elected by a special constitutional assembly, the Bundesversammlung, within 30 days. Despite Germany’s Presidency being largely ceremonial, and even though Mr Köhler was a generally popular President during his first term and reelected for a second five-year term in 2009, he recently came under attack for lacking a certain inspirational aura, and, worse for someone who was director of the IMF, lacking intellectual leadership in financially troubled times.

Mr Köhler’s resignation may not be sufficiently bad news to kill the national celebration following Lena Meyer-Landruth’s victory in the 2010 Eurovision Song Contest – and the World Cup is around the corner. But his claim that his resignation over an interview that he should not have given – he stated that an export-orientated country like Germany may need to deploy troops to protect its economic interests which unsurprisingly caused a lot of confusion given German history and the obvious unpopularity of military deployments – was “inevitable” because of the dignity of the office seems a bit hyperbolic and thus more as yet another display of what many people have begun to worry about: nine months after taking office, the German government is increasingly in disarray, both conceptually and electorally. In a recent poll, only three per cent of the Germans said they would vote for the junior coalition partner, the Free Democrats, which means they lost about 10% of the vote since last September.

Sure, this is only a snap shot, but it’s also a bit more – it’s fundamental disappointment about this government’s performance from day one on. The parties’ as well as the government’s competence in a number of important areas, notably economics, is challenged on a daily basis. Even members of Parliament are complaining publicly that they are supposed to simply sign off on economic legislation they don’t understand and that the government apparently isn’t able to explain. Imagine how the average voter must feel.

So maybe Mr Köhler’s resignation was a last act of leadership. The debate about who will succeed him will likely be a little different from the usual backroom coalition decisions about who will become President. It will likely become a rather public debate about leadership in difficult times. And that’s both good, and a problem, since the amount of people who may be up to the job and fit the political requirements is rather limited.

Off the top of my mind, I really can’t think of anyone but current finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. So let’s help Angela Merkel and make the contest a bit more exciting with a little short list of our own – who’s your best bet for “Germany’s next President”?

Swords Paperclips from the North

It looks like Nicolas Sarkozy’s pet foreign-policy idea has been sporked, good and proper; his idea of a “Mediterranean Union” is now officially an ex-parrot, after it failed to get German support. As we’ve been saying right back to 2005, the key fact of European politics at the moment is that Angela Merkel has achieved a degree of influence that no other chancellor since Willy Brandt could claim; whether it’s over the economy, the Middle East, Russia, the EU budget, or the EU’s internal organisation, all roads now pass through Berlin. Helmut Kohl and Konrad Adenauer both operated in a triumvirate with a very strong and universally respected French president and a very strong (and pretty respected, but far from universally so) European Commission President; there’s certainly an argument that the Barroso commission is the best for some time, but nobody could seriously describe Nicolas Sarkozy as a leading force in European politics. The UK is absorbed by its own self-inflicted crisis; Italy is coming over all Italian; problems go either to Brussels or Berlin for solution.

So what was this Mediterranean Union thing all about? Well, Sarko’s adviser Henri Guaino had this idea, see; it would be a bit like the EU, but would encompass states along the southern shore of the Mediterranean as well as Spain, Italy, France, and Greece – but no other EU members. This would have done a number of things; for a start, it would have created an undemarcated frontier between the EU’s various existing policy initiatives there and whatever the new organisation did. It would also have been potentially in conflict with the EU accession process. Certainly, the new entity would have been politically dominated by France; which, it’s fair to say, was probably why France wanted it.

This could have worked in a couple of ways; perhaps the EU could subcontract its policy in the Mediterranean to the new organisation (or to the French Foreign Ministry), or else the two would work out a division of labour. Alternatively, the freies Spiel der Krafte, the “free interplay of forces”, would have seen them compete until some sort of de facto arrangement emerged. But what would it actually have been doing?

There are two answers to this; one is that it would have been doing the good work of spreading European integration onto the potentially unstable southern rim (whilst also tactfully getting around the special significance of, say, Moroccan membership in the EU). Another is that it would have been a substitute for accession; rather than the real thing with its guarantees, open borders, trading privileges and development funds, warm words (and the special benefits of Francafrique), and probably highly restrictive agreements on nasty things like immigration. (Via Randy McDonald, check out this view from the other side of the table.) Certainly, the British government reckoned it was a way to put Turkish membership off the table.

Yet another unexplained angle was the relationship between the new organisation and NATO; despite the new organisation’s Frenchness, it’s worth pointing out that all its proposed European members would have been NATO member states. In fact, either three out of four or four out of five, depending on the inclusion or otherwise of Portugal, are home to a major NATO multinational HQ; Portugal, Spain, and Greece all have a Joint Subregional Task Force HQ, Portugal is also home to a NATO SACLANT naval headquarters, Italy is home to NATO headquarters for Southern Europe, SACEUR’s southern naval headquarters, the southern air forces’ headquarters, and the US 6th Fleet. NATO has relationships with most of the other potential members under the Partnership for Peace; the interworking between these and the MU was left for the imagination.

So, plenty of problems. Then there was the touchy subject of whether the MU (with a net-recipient membership) would have EU funds; no wonder Merkel wasn’t keen. As always, for EU funds read “net-contributions from the Northern Alliance of Germany, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, and Slovenia”. Yes, Slovenia – it’s northern, right? No? Well, it is, isn’t it – look at it, it’s parliamentary, it’s a net contributor, it’s got mountains (like Holland…), it’s sort of social-democratic, and vaguely German. Clearly. And so they kiboshed the MU.

But was it a good idea? I think not. The single most effective – almost the only effective – method of EU foreign policy is the enlargement process. So I’m opposed to anything that diverts from it. Our international-society-theory with balls/prototype world government is about the only grand political vision of the last 100 or so years that remains valid; with all its inconsistencies and bizarreries……hold it. The inconsistencies and bizarreries are precisely why it works. A curious combination of bureaucracy, anarchy and diplomacy, it’s not a prototype world government, it’s a world un-government in permanent beta test; we just haven’t invented the right buzzword yet to name it. (Which may be a problem. Successful projects usually breed their own tribe, and hence their own language; we don’t seem to be so good at that. But you’re welcome to try in comments.)

The version of the MU that was actually signed off is considerably more like the EU; it includes all the EU member states, it’s intended to do concrete and practical things, and it actually offers the ‘tothersiders something, namely ERASMUS student exchanges, money, and a higher priority for the extension of the EU free-trade area. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zapatero manages to snap up the headquarters.

Eins, Zwei, Polizei…ZWOOOOSH!

God knows I’ve been snarky about German lefties before. Look, not everyone who disagrees with you is a Nazi. Lectures are not a form of rape. Osama bin Laden is not on the side of eco-feminism. (The last one is a true story, although Austrian rather than German.) But it’s very true that the modern German police gets the hot shivers for new kit.

Was there any reason at all for this? For non-German readers, during the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, the police seem to have obtained the use of a Bundeswehr Tornado reconnaissance plane, and to have sent it to photograph a camp of protestors. That is creepy, but this is inexcusable: the pass was carried out as if the aircraft was doing its 1980s mission, at 150 metres’ altitude and maximum speed.

Naturally, the Greens point out that aircraft of the same type are in use over Afghanistan, and therefore Germany is Iraq and everyone is a nazi, or something. But it’s impossible to see any justification for this except for a pure indulgence in power. If they really had wanted photographs, they could have had better ones with less drama. But someone felt it necessary to drop a sonic boom over the autonomous chaosists, and the pilots are not born yet who would pass up the chance for some very fast low-level flying with an audience. Neither is the Interior Minister yet born who would pass up the chance to impress the Bild Zeitung with a binge on force.

As so often, Germany and Britain are more alike than anyone would care to admit. Not that the RAF was available to buzz demonstrators on the road to Gleneagles in 2005, but there is little in current government practice to support it. I am reminded, though, of Tim Garton-Ash’s description of a huge police deployment to squash a far-left demo on the day of reunification in Berlin. He referred to Hartley Shawcross’s crack that “we are the masters now”. Well, this is over. If there’s anyone who can’t appeal to that glee of first days, it’s the G8.

Inverse Nixon Theory

It’s been said in the past – indeed, it used to be conventional wisdom – that unlikely right-wing governments were more likely to make peace, because they enjoyed credibility and a tough reputation. More obviously, conservatives long enjoyed a reputation for “fiscal credibility”, which supposedly helped them to control inflation by giving the impression that they would either be willing to sit on the money supply, or trade-off unemployment for inflation along the Phillips curve.

Curiously, with what is commonly taken to be a swing to the Right in Germany and France, we’re seeing the opposite. One of Angela Merkel’s first acts on taking office was to announce a future rise in consumption taxes, which isn’t very much different in terms of public perception to cutting them in the meantime. Nicolas Sarkozy has since announced that he’s going to have a pause in the reduction of the national debt – read, reflate the economy somewhat. Specifically, as he’s promised to hand out a €20 billion “fiscal shock”. But nobody appears to be very worried. It’s a big contrast to five minutes ago, when modalities of the Eurosystem’s breakdown were a regular topic on AFOE..

Compare the keenness of the Schröder, Jospin, and de Villepin governments to stick to the script of the Stability Pact, come what may. (No, de Villepin wasn’t a social democrat, but Sarko certainly campaigned as if he had been.) There’s a non-trivial argument that the pact was a serious economic mistake. It would certainly be interesting if it only survived because the Left was paranoid about seeming over lefty, and especially if the continental economy’s uptick had something to do with the Right being able to let it ride.

Weltverbesserungsmassnahmen

Remember that book by Matthias Matussek we fisked some time ago? Well, a telling quote from it was that Weltverbesserungsmassnahmen – measures to improve the world – were supposedly a very German notion. I’m not sure about this – I suspect they are more a (very broadly) left-wing notion, although one that must include the Whig tradition. Anyway, Matussek might have a point.

Germany took over the EU Presidency on the 1st of January, which puts Angela Merkel in the chair of the Committee of all the Committees, a position I’ve said before she is ideally suited to. And what an agenda she brings with her. Apparently, the European Constitution is coming out of its closet in order to…wait for it…”give Europe a soul”.
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Merkel In Moscow

Fresh from asking G. W. Bush to put an end to Guantanamo, Anglea Merkel is now in Moscow. High on the list will be both Iran, and democracy in Russia. Quite timely really that someone who grew up in East Germany and can read the riot act to him in her most charming Russian should be catapulted into the front line like this.

Certain things seem to stand out:

Merkel………..agreed with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday that it was time to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its refusal to abandon uranium enrichment technology that could enable it to get atomic weapons.

Germany is the world’s top exporter of goods to Iran and would have much to lose if Tehran faced sanctions. It exported 4 billion euros of goods to Iran last year.

The chancellor, who grew up in Germany’s formerly communist East and speaks fluent Russian, is under pressure from the opposition to confront Putin on reports that the development of democracy and human rights in Russia is slowing down.

“It seems that Putin will agree not to vote no, but will abstain. A yes vote would be better,”

As Alex noted, Merkel has already “been impressively successful in building authority in foreign affairs”. Could this be anything to do with the fact that authority-building on internal matters is likely to be much more uphill work, or could it be that we are going to see a German Foreign Affairs Chancellor, restricting herself internally to arbitrating between the otherwise warring factions of her government? That could be one way to make it work I suppose.

Merkelmania

As Emmanuel rightly noted, “the other big winner of the (EU) summit is of course Angela Merkel”. As he also goes on to note, “the Süddeutsche Zeitung may be overdoing it with a “the Angela-summit” title, but Merkel has emerged, somewhat unexpectedly considering her lack of experience at the European level….”.

Well, it seems that the snowball-effect is working apace. The EU observer informs us today that “German chancellor Angela Merkel has been crowned the queen of the EU budget by the press”, and in another article asks whether our Angela might not in fact become the saviour of the EU constitution.

My reaction to all this is “now just hold on a minute”. Angela Merkel has just been elected to the head of a pretty complicated coalition government in a country which has some hard problems to solve and some difficult decisions to take. My guess is holding all of that together is going to be occupying a lot of Angela Merkel’s energy and attention by the time we get through to 2007, and discussion of her future role in dynamising EU institutions is, to say the least, rather premature. I don’t know if any of our German based readers have any observations to make about this?

A new hope?

Many thanks to David for offering me a chance to raise my profile just before the second edition of the Satin Pajama Awards with a two-weeks guest-blogging stint here at AFOE.

For the 99% of you who don’t already know me, I usually display my limited knowledge of economics and politics at my own blog Ceteris Paribus and also, though not that often since a certain fateful 29th of May, at the group blog Publius. Oh, and I’m also French, which explains my awful English style and may or may not be a good reason to disregard my analysis about European matters.

Anyway, enough about me, since the quite unexpected European budget deal of last night offers plenty of things to write about.
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What did Schily know, and when did he know it?

This much is uncontroversial: in late 2003 the CIA kidnapped Khalid al-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen, and carried him off to a prison in Afghanistan for interrogation. In the end they released him when they realised that his only crime was to have the same name as some other man they wanted to get their hands on. It took them five months to realise this, five months during which al-Masri says he was tortured. He must be lying about that part, though, because George Bush has said that his administration does not torture.

Now, however, it looks like an extra-large family-size jar of controversy is about to be opened. Otto Schily, who was at the time Germany’s Innenminister — in this context, an analogue to the British home secretary or American director of homeland security — knew about the matter in May 2004 because then-US ambassador Daniel Coats told him. That’s not the controversial part. This is: according to a report in this week’s Spiegel, Schily kept quiet about the Americans kidnapping and falsely imprisoning a German citizen because Coats, his good friend, asked him to.
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Angela Merkel’s Best Foot Forward

Angela Merkel sets an ambitious and optimistic note in her opening speech, going back to the ‘postwar reconstruction’ theme raised in her election campaign. Fine words, and why not, but unfortunately it will need more than good intentions to get to grips with Germany’s present day problems:

Angela Merkel on Wednesday called for a “second reconstruction” of Germany, by recalling the efforts deployed to rebuild war-torn Germany in the 1950s and reconstruct the former Communist east after reunification, in her eagerly-awaited first speech to parliament as chancellor.

“This land has great possibilities – Germany is full of opportunities,” Ms Merkel told the house. “I am looking forward to unleashing this dormant energy.”