Politics & Policy

Merkel — and Davos — Rebuked in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Reuters photo: Fabrizio Bensch)
The long-time prime minister’s failure to form a governing coalition is indicative of a growing, continent-wide distaste for her policies.

It’s been a tough era for Davos Man, the personification of the great and the good who meet in the World Economic Forum at that Swiss ski resort every January. The rebukes just keep coming. The European debt crisis. Brexit. Donald Trump. And now, and once again unexpectedly, Angela Merkel’s failure to form a German government.

For a dozen years, European elites who have recoiled from George W. Bush and swooned over Barack Obama have regarded Merkel as a rock-solid firmament of good sense. Her considerable internal political skills, her seeming unflappability, and her upholding of conventional wisdoms, both well- and ill-founded, have made her a favorite at Davos.

Merkel has been the pillar of the European Union and seems to have been the dominant force behind the multiple responses to each of a succession of Euro crises. It helps, of course, that Germany has Europe’s largest economy, one mostly unscathed by the 2008 financial crisis — though that owes much to the Thatcherish labor-law reforms of Merkel’s predecessor, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder.

By standard political-science rules of thumb, Merkel and her Christian Democrats should have been a big winner in the September 24 elections. The national unemployment rate is 3.7 percent. Inflation, the bugaboo of Germans since the 1920s, is low. The Social Democrats’ leader is untested in national politics.

Yet the CDU and its Bavarian partner, the CSU, got only 33 percent of the vote — their lowest percentage since West Germany started voting in 1949. The SPD, arguably the world’s oldest social-democratic party, plummeted to 21 percent. The two major parties thus barely topped 50 percent, compared with 76 to 77 percent from 1992 to 2002 and the high 60s from 2005 to 2013.

This, like Brexit in Britain and Trump’s victory in the United States, was a slap in the face of the political, media, and business establishment.

The reason is not hard to grasp: The establishment hasn’t been performing very well of late. You don’t have to be as harsh as former media baron and Franklin Roosevelt biographer Conrad Black, who wrote regarding the 2016 presidential election, “The previous 20 years of government had been utterly and bipartisanly incompetent, in the White House and the Congress,” or the New York Times’s sorta-conservative columnist David Brooks, who put it more succinctly: “Our elites really do stink.”

You just have to look at what has been happening — in this case, in Europe — and how Angela Merkel (“a skilled and unideological dealmaker,” says The Economist) has been following Davos theology on the European Union, climate change, and immigration.

First, Europe. The euro, the common currency imposed on most of the EU (Britain wisely stayed out) in 2002, has not unified the Continent but divided it — and for the very reasons Margaret Thatcher set out in 1990: A supranational currency will not suit the needs of multiple countries with different economic cycles and economic cultures.

The solution of French president Emmanuel Macron and many Eurocrats is a continent-wide finance ministry. That’s a non-starter now, given Merkel’s weakness, and probably always was. The avowed project of the European Union, “an ever closer union,” has come unglued.

Second, climate change and energy. After Japan’s Fukushima nuclear-plant disaster in 2011, Merkel unilaterally decided to shut down Germany’s non-polluting nuclear plants and, in a country with unreliable sun and wind, rely on renewables. So Germany now imports American coal, has higher emissions, and has hugely high electric rates.

Third, immigration. Europe has opened itself up to Muslim immigrants, has failed to assimilate them, and suffers from increasing Islamic terrorism. Merkel upped the ante in September 2015 by inviting in more than 1 million unregistered “refugees,” supposedly from Syria but also from distant Mali and Bangladesh.

Prophecies that they would supply the skilled labor low-birth-rate Germany needs have proved laughable. Murder and sexual assaults, though covered up by the government and press, have been dismayingly frequent.

These unforced blunders, in line with the Davos mindset, helped the free-market Free Democratic Party to rise from 5 to 11 percent and the unsavorily nationalist Alternative for Germany to go from 5 to 13 percent. That left Merkel, understandably shunning the AfD and neo-Communist Left party and with the SPD no longer willing to join her CDU in coalition, trying to form a coalition with the FDP and Greens.

The FDP understandably balked at the Merkel/Green energy and immigration policies, leaving Merkel having to govern without a majority or face new elections. Merkel may be an admirable person, but Germans seem to have concluded that her Davos-praised policies “really do stink.”


EDITORIAL | Merkel Marooned

Merkel’s Germany Continues to Slide

Angela Merkel’s Mess

Michael Barone — Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. © 2018 Creators.com

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Top Trump Attorney Resigns

John Dowd, the lead attorney representing President Donald Trump in the special-counsel investigation, resigned Thursday, two sources briefed on the matter told the New York Times. [jwplayer PCWBu1GF-wKJ9CRQU] Dowd, who began leading Trump's legal team last summer, has repeatedly floated the idea of ... Read More

Bunnies and the Art of Total Political War

Vice President Mike Pence is a gentleman. In spite of unceasing abuse from political opponents, including the effrontery of a gratuitous lecture from the cast of Hamilton, the veep’s commitment to good manners has never wavered. The same can be said of his 24-year-old daughter Charlotte, even after the ... Read More

Thursday Links

It's William Shatner's birthday: Here he is in 1978 'singing' Rocket Man, plus a Star Trek/Monty Python mashup. Sold: Isaac Newton’s Notes on the Philosopher’s Stone. It was a long time before anyone admitted that he was interested in alchemy. High-tech forgery: Computer-generated 'Rembrandt' ... Read More

Louie Gohmert Says Mueller Should Be Fired

The handful of congressional Republicans calling for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be fired added a high-profile member of the House Judiciary Committee to their ranks on Wednesday. Texas representative Louie Gohmert said in no uncertain terms Wednesday that he wants Mueller's Russia investigation ... Read More
Economy & Business

Two Conservative Causes, in Conflict

Conservatives have argued for decades that the capital-gains tax should be indexed to inflation. When George H. W. Bush was president, some conservatives argued that he could interpret the tax laws in a way that let him adopt this policy without a vote of Congress. Now that Larry Kudlow is director of the ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Nazis, Rap Songs, and McDougals

In 1991, Edwin Edwards, a Democrat, and David Duke, a Republican, ran for governor of Louisiana. There was a memorable bumper sticker: “Vote for the Crook, Not the Nazi.” The crook, in fact, won -- beating the Nazi (and Klansman) by about 61 percent to 39 percent. I thought of this when contemplating ... Read More