Has Angela Merkel “Paralyzed German Politics”?

In light of the upcoming federal elections, recent articles have characterized German chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership as paralyzing to German politics. Discussions on her strategy of “asymmetric demobilization” have resurfaced during this election campaign. How Merkel has dealt with present issues affecting Germany and the European Union met with quite a lot of criticism from her opposition. A commentary in Der Spiegel in May built upon Peer Steinbrück’s mentioning of the term “Biedermeier,” describing politics in modern Germany as a “second Biedermeier period,” meaning a state of apathy and paralysis: while political participation has taken place at the local level, Merkel’s administration does not seem to provide the basis for conflict on the federal level. Unlike her predecessors, she does not have a polarizing effect, creating a comfortable political atmosphere that does not promote any drastic changes.

European-wide and broader foreign policy issues in the past weeks exemplify critics’ description of the comfortable “home” Merkel has established: her protection of German national interest on the EU stage seems to take away the need for a national debate, satisfying the expectations of the German voter that still remains relatively unaffected by the financial crisis and ongoing unemployment throughout Europe. In recent weeks, she prioritized national interest in economic debates—in the tariff debate regarding China, in emission standards regarding the auto industry, and in shifting debates about transparency and EU governance toward “far more pressing issues” such as generating jobs through innovation. Having “blocked” a EU proposal last week that would regulate emissions in the auto industry, the chancellor referred to the implications for the labor market in an industry that plays a significant role in Germany. In response to criticism of this decision, she has made youth unemployment the central problem in Europe at the moment, explaining that “money isn’t the main obstacle” in solving the issue. With the delay of the EU proposal, Merkel is avoiding a controversial issue during her election campaign, showing her tendency to distract from these discussions by pointing toward other relevant topics.

This tendency includes her strategy of easing tension by further complicating an issue, according to a Welt article on her recent speech in Hamburg. Observers noted that the audience became increasingly inattentive—many left during the intermission. People were either disinterested in or satisfied by what they heard, rather than dissonant, reflecting an atmosphere characteristic of present German politics. In 2009, historically low percentages for the CDU/CSU did not hinder Merkel’s reelection as the SPD suffered from even lower voting outcomes. With the German public finding itself in a similarly “paralyzed” political atmosphere, Steinbrück is aware that it will take more active voters to guarantee him success in this year’s election.

By Patrick Schmitz

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.