The Berlin Wall.To be sure, this was a busy week for the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. In addition to the obligations caused by a state visit of Queen Elizabteth II, which, not unexpectedly, took place in an atmosphere of tabloid turmoil on both sides of the channel, the autumn European summit in Brussels, and the political digestion of the US election, he managed to upset pretty much everyone in political Germany – and beyond (Bild.de) – with the most bizarre proposal to – sort of – abolish the German national holiday, October 3, in order to boost GDP growth and, as a consequence, eventually meet the fiscal criteria set out in the stability and growth pact.
In a state election (Landtagswahl) in the Saarland that was widely considered another benchmark for the approval of the German federal government’s reform efforts, particularly of the labour market deregulation programme known as “Hartz IV” – these elections are, often to a significant extent, second order national contests – the Social Democrats have been dealt the predicted crushing defeat, gaining likely just under 30% of the vote, losing about 15% compared to their 1999 result, according to early, but usually very reliable exit poll data from Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, broadcast by ZDF television (German labelled graphics here).
Well, well, this was hardly unexpected. In fact the reality may well be that this time there is plenty of smoke but no fire, since Siemens has announced it has no concrete plans to move 10,000 jobs abroad. Indeed much of the noise at present may emanate from a threat to move as a negotiating posture in order to try and force changes. But behind this the underlying reality is that the problem is coming. Not only is Germany having a ‘job-loss’ recovery there is good reason to doubt whether it is having a recovery at all. And of course the main course may well be yet to be served since many of the jobs threatening to relocate seem to be in the industrial sector, whilst just round the corner the high-end services issue is surely coming. Still there is one difference with the US: the headlines are not being made by an opposition candidate talking about Benedict Arnold CEO’s, but by a Chamber of Commerce head who seems to be saying he’s Benedict Arnold and proud of it.
Germany’s center-right and liberal parties have finally agreed on a candidate for the country’s largely, but not completely, symbolic presidency. Because these parties have been winning elections at the state level over the last few years, they have a working majority in the body that elects the president, even though they are actually in opposition.
(The selection itself has been a bit of an opera bouffe. Bild‘s lead yesterday showed various Muppets and cartoon characters over the headline, “Even more candidates!” The serious press had similar, if less colorful, opinions.)
but one of the most important decisions about the future of European security was announced Monday in Germany. Defense Minister Peter Struck has been on the airwaves and in the papers a great deal since the beginning of the year, talking about military reform. He’s been having a bit of a rough time of it. The Sunday edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung tartly noted that at the same time Struck was calling on the Bundeswehr to suit up for more demanding missions, he was announcing plans to cut the German armed forces? procurement over the next decade by considerably more than 20 billion euros. That’s more than a fistful, even by military standards. Predictably, there?s been a fuss, most loudly from armaments companies, saying that the planned cuts deny them the “planning security” that they had come to expect from the government. Second loudest has been the opposition, which has been doing its job by opposing the government’s plans.
But Struck’s pronouncements weren’t the important ones. The most important news about German defense, and thus European security, came from the Renate Schmidt, Minister for Families, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. No, really.