Sunday, September 15, 2013

The meaning of the German Elections for Europe.

On the 22nd of September Europe's leading economy, will go to the polls to decide the future members of the 18th Bundestag, the main federal legislative house of Germany and its new government. The result of these elections will have an impact not just within Germany's borders, but on the whole European continent.

Since Germany's current government and its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel are playing a major role in shaping Europe's and the euro-zone's financial policies, these elections inevitably matter for all Europe. As expected, there is going to be great media attention on the German electoral outcome, especially from countries like Greece, who are directly affected from the German inspired European financial policies.

The two main competitors of these elections are Angela Merkel with her CDU/CSU (The Christian Democratic Union of Germany) party and Mr. Peer Steinbrueck with the SPD, the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Mrs Merkel seems to maintain the lead and her popularity comes from Germany's current economic performance, but also the fact that the country and Mrs. Merkel seem to have such strong influence on Europe.

Yet Mrs. Merkel is only taking the credit for Germany's success, in reality it was the SPD and their "Agenda for 2010" that actually made Germany the European powerhouse that it is today. It was the former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that has passed the reforming agenda, that drastically reduced Germany's state welfare system. That coming from Social Democrat, sealed the party's fate during the next elections and gave the opportunity for CDU to come into power.

So Steinbrueck and his party have actually something to show for and swing some votes in their favor. For Greece and many other countries under the Mrs. Merkel backed austerity program, Mr Steinbrueck looks like a hopeful candidate. In a recent and only televised debate of the campaign for Sept. 22 federal elections, the two candidates sparred over the debt crisis.

Steinbrueck said that Merkel was applying austerity in “deadly doses” to southern Europe and that far more emphasis must be placed on bolstering economic growth and stemming record unemployment. Steinbrueck dismissed Merkel's European policy as a "failure" because of continued recession and sky-high unemployment in the southern euro countries that have had to swallow deep spending cuts in exchange for bailouts. (Ekathimerini.com)

But will Mr. Steinbrueck bring real change in Germany's policies towards Greece and the euro-zone crisis, or will he remain silent after his potential electoral victory, just like Mr. Hollande? The Germans seem to like Angela Merkel just as she is and the opinion polls clearly show that.

If we think about it, these elections have a very peculiar character like everything in the EU at the moment. We are having some very European elections, because of their impact and importance for the euro-zone and Europe, but nevertheless the outcome will be decided solely on a national front and only by the German people.

Whoever wins these elections will be holding the reigns of the future financial policies and direction of the euro-zone, but the rest of us can only watch while the Germans decide. This is a new reality that Europe has found itself in, that all the parameters like the launching of the euro, the European economic integration and the current crisis, have led to it.

The German people have been given a huge say and influence over the rest of Europe, either they like it or not and independently from whether that was the primary purpose of the European integration process. Understandably since Germany is the most populous country and leading economy of Europe, it is inevitable to have a strong German influence in EU.

The problem is, will the German people and their leaders take this responsibility as a chance to rule and subdue the smaller nations of Europe under their influence, or will they start thinking more European? If they will eventually come out of their shell and take the reigns of the EU, they must start taking into consideration the various national sensitivities, economic traditions and practices, or the interests of each country in order to rule Europe fairly.

If they fail to do so, it is almost certain that they will face strong resistance from other EU member states that will oppose their leadership. And that will lead to more frictions withing the block, with the potential break-up of the European project. That is in nobody's interest, especially for Germany that benefits so much from the EU and the euro.

Right now the German people vote to elect the Bundestag by taking into consideration their national interests, the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of  their outgoing government and the campaign of the contesting parties that focus on German issues and sensitivities. The German leaders in return, decide the future policies of the country according the wishes of their voters and of course the German mentality.

But when these same policies affect the rest of Europe too, then a problem arises. Germany can not be seen imposing its policies on other nations, that have not taken part in the election of the German government without a backlash, as it happened with Greece. And very rightly so, as we are dealing with the issue of losing the national sovereignty to another country and that is not how Europe should function.

If we are trying to create a more integrated and united Europe, it is all countries that must give up part of their sovereignty and that includes Germany. If the Germans ever decide to take on the role of Europe's leader, then they must integrate themselves fully in Europe and the rest of the EU member states.

And that means that the German leaders must also take into account and familiarize themselves with the problems or sensitivities that other countries have, or the exclusive economic and political factors that exist in every country. So when they decide on future European policies they will do so not by their experience on what works or has worked in Germany in the past, but what would be good for the whole Europe collectively.

Right now they clumsily are trying to "unify" Europe in the same way they did for Germany's re-unification. But it is obvious that what worked for the German nation, can not work for a mosaic of different nations that comprise the EU, simply because of the diversity of European economies, mentalities, cultures and the political and historic factors that have shaped them.

I can only wish as a European and a Greek for the German voters to take into their consideration what is good for Europe in general, not what it only appeals to them. It is clear that Angela Merkel's policies are damaging the European project, by creating divisions and fractures within the EU and the public opinion of its member states. Sadly the reality is that neither the German voters, or any other nation in our continent, are ready or willing to change their political mentality and traditions. And that is bad for Europe.

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