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Wolfgang the bitter
by Thanos Kalamidas
2017-02-11 12:28:37
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All it took was a series of comments from Wolfgang Schäuble, the German Federal Minister of Finance, and a survey from the German magazine Stern, to make September seem very close even though February is only in its second week. The next German federal elections which will elect chancellor are planned for the 24th of September, with main protagonists the chancellor Angela Merkel – leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - and the former president of the Euro-parliament and leader of the Socialist Democratic Party (SDP), Martin Schulz. Funny thing now, the person who feels more insecure with the coming elections is nobody else than Wolfgang Schäuble.

wolfg01_400Stern magazine’s survey last week showed a dramatic raise of the SDP, especially compared with the 2013 federal elections that brought Angela Merkel in chancellorship for a third time and with a landslide victory of 41.5%. Actually the survey shows that if elections were going to happen this month and the voters had to simply choose between the two competitors, the battle would have been very tight. It seems that Martin Schulz’s euro-parliament presidential period did really good to him internally. However odd it might sounds, internally Schulz looks far more …chancellorial than Merkel.

Angela Merkel’s characteristic: “think well before you act”, might worked in the beginning of her chancellorship and after her often famous for their spontaneous decisions predecessors, but twelve years are too much and a lot of things have changed in between. Her “wait and see” attitude served her well when she was first elected. It was a period Europe was thriving, growth numbers were making records globally, the new currency seemed to be dollar’s alternative and answer and Germany was back in track after a difficult unification. Actually Merkel was a child of this unification and she could totally empathize with the wills and wishes of that other Germany; plus the fact that her stronghold had always been the former east-German areas.

But that worked while everything else was working. The second decade of the 21st century came with a few surprises that couldn’t wait for Angela to think well. First the euro crisis, followed closely by the Greek crisis. Europe suddenly was found in a turmoil and one crisis just followed the next. Angela Merkel could not lock herself into internal political walls and ignore what was happening in Europe. Actually she was trapped since she invested in euro with the strong Deutsche Mark. The German mark was the main foundation for the pan-European currency. Then Germany became the most powerful European state, economically, politically and militarily, despite constitutional issues for the military part. Angela Merkel, whether she liked it or not, became the leader of Europe and the more problems raised the more Europe needed her to take decisions that would cover the whole union.

And this is the point where her “wait and see” became an obstacle. She was waiting too long when the euro crisis started and she was waiting again too long when the Greek crisis started. This cost a lot to Europe and to the individual countries. The latest event she was waiting too long before taking a decision was with the refugees and the drama that was unveiling in the Mediterranean waters. She was waiting so long that in the meantime xenophobe leaders of EU member states created a new situation that demanded internal negotiations which often led nowhere.

On top of all that she left the most important part of her policies and personal agendas to be handled by a bitter man with obvious authoritarian problems and attitude, a bureaucrat with old fashion accountant’s behaviour. She left the German and the European economy in the hands of Wolfgang Schäuble. Schäuble has shown too many times with his behaviour that he thinks that he should be in the Chancellor’s seat and that he should be the rightful ruler of Europe and not Merkel. He nearly succeeded but oddly, the enforcer of strict economics and fighter of corruption in Europe, lost his chances when he was accused of… corruption. And now his bitterness is obvious since his methods are often punitory, which he has proved with Greece and the Greek crisis. Plus that he often antagonizes the chancellor, contradicting even her announcements to the public.  

All that while Martin Schulz has shown a real presidential face in Europe. He has shown that a lot of decisions cannot depend on the prosperity of the numbers and that they demand political decisions that would uptight the often Gordian knot of the European policies. He has shown leadership that seems to be Merkel’s handicap. Of course it was easier to show leadership when you are president of the euro-parliament and you can blame the 28 for every unfortunate mess-up, but still for the people he looks far more presidential than the wait-and-see Angela.

Plus, and that counts for most of the Germans, he was not shy to go after populists, xenophobes, Eurosceptics and the recently raised German fascists, while Angela was still counting her careful steps. The irony is that Schäuble, in his familiar bitter face with the monotonous tone, accused Schulz for… populism. He actually called him, the German Trump. And Germans laughed and Schulz’s popularity increased.

Wolfgang Schäuble knows that these are crossroad elections for him and is not just about his legacy, it is about his unfulfilled dreams. If Martin Schulz wins it means that old Schäuble will spent the rest of his parliamentarian life, if he will be elected, in the backbenches of the German Bundestag (the German parliament) counting the days for his retirement. As the logic dictates, Merkel will resign from the leadership of CDU and perhaps a much younger leader will rise to her place. And perhaps this is the good news for Wolfgang.

But if Merkel wins then a new era starts. Merkel has to show that she is the leader. Not only the German leader but the pan-European leader and she has to be all these things she hasn’t been. There is no time for wait and see and actually Trump and his twisted relationship with Putin has made everything much harder. Euro needs political decisions, as does the Greek problem and a smooth Brexit in EU’s advance. She also needs political space to negotiate with Trump and show to the rest of her EU partners that only unity will help them overrun obstacles. Obstacles that probably include a new defence policy for Europe away from Trump’s NATO vision or illusion. For all that Merkel need a sacrifice lamb. And this is no one else than Wolfgang Schäuble. Wolfgang is a weight if she wants to move into a new Europe that can fulfil expectations and become America’s alternative.

An old fox, Wolfgang Schäuble, knows all that and as an old fox he prepares his comeback with old and tested methods. Scream loud, scream uncontrollably just to make yourself needed in the coming victory and collect as many votes you can to look irreplaceable to the party and the next government. So in a very populist style and tone Wolfgang called Schulz the Trump of Germany starting early a campaign Angela wants to go as smoothly and quietly possible believing that Germans will trust her stable character.

Martin Schulz of course wants Wolfgang to continue and it all seems that Europe is gradually moving to an Americanisation of the elections that last for months instead of the traditional a few weeks.

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