For over a year now I have been talking about the re-emergence of the Right in Europe. Well, Sunday 18 September’s elections are going to be the lithmus test for that claim. For then the Germans choose a new Bundestag – the lower house of the German Parliament – and the outcome will determine which Chancellor will be leading Germany in the crucial years ahead. I suppose most of you have by now heard of Angela Merkel, leading lady of the Christlich-Demokratische Union, or CDU. She’s a physicist by formation and from the former GDR – the German "Democratic" Republic.
All through summer, conventional wisdom had it that Merkel would win the elections hands down. The CDU’s drive started back in May, when the local SPD lost big in the important state North Rhine-Westfalia, with only 37.1% of the vote. By contrast, NRW’s CDU obtained a staggering 44.8%. Such was the SPD’s debacle that when Schroeder surprisingly called for early elections, many declared him mad.
However, the prospects for Gerhard Schroeders SPD have gotten remarkably better over the past weeks. Some time elapsed before Merkel got her act together while campaigning, and as such she was put on the defense by Schroeder who is a born showman, appearing at rallies with much bravado, sleeves rolled up, cheering, joking, and beaming with self-confidence. Then there was The Economist’s favourable reporting on German export booming again. Also, it should not be forgotten that one year ago Schroeder DID implement some drastic cuts in lavish social security provisions for the longtime unemployed, the so-called Hartz IV measures, and the past weeks it looked like these started to bear some fruit.
Last but not least, Schroeder, unlike Merkel, is never too shy to resort to flat populism to boost his poll numbers. For instance, about one month ago Merkel hailed her Minister of Finance candidate Paul Kirchhof, an outspoken advocate of a flat tax of 25% as well as of the abolition of no less than 481 tax subsidies and special write-offs. Schroeder, wisely reluctant to aim his arrows on a woman, quickly realized here was the cheap victim he needed to discredit the CDU. Since Kirchhofs appearance he has been ridiculing the former Federal Constitutional Court Justice, at best telling "the good Prof to stay in Heidelberg", at worst claming that his flat tax would favor the rich and that his elimination of write-offs would result in a social bloodbath. He even implied that his flat tax proposal was a nebulous theory… nowhere applied successfully yet. All this while until now ELEVEN mostly East-European countries have already adopted it, most of them with great success, like e.g. Estonia:
When Laar became Prime Minister, inflation in Estonia was over 1,000%, the economy was falling at a rate of 30%, unemployment was over 30%, 95% of the economy was state-owned and 92% of Estonian trade was dependent on Russia. Today, inflation is 2.5%, economic growth is between 6 and 7%, unemployment is low, the government budget is balanced and there is a high level of investment. Moreover, Estonia is leading the world in the field of e-government.
...or read this article from The Telegraph instead:
A flat tax regime has been adopted in 11 countries and counting. As each citadel falls, another is forced to respond to the new-found vigour of its neighbour. Next up is Greece, where the prime minister could announce one in a few weeks' time. Greece has unbelievably rickety public finances and the hope is that a flat tax rate of 25 per cent will revive the moribund economy, reduce evasion, attract high earners and send revenues pouring into the coffers of Athens.
Don’t exactly sound like a nebulous theory to me. But who am I to question someone who flirted with DDR dictators.
However, Schroeder and cronies not only resorted to bragging and spreading lies about political opponents. Just lately, he has been using the old anti-American trump-card again, and his example has inspired followers. See for example the vile use one of his senior ministers, Rolf Schwanitz, has been making of a photo showing coffins with killed US troops being flown back to the States. The caption reads: She (Merkel) would have sent soldiers.
From David's Medienkritik: "We have learned that one of Gerhard Schroeder's senior ministers and a top SPD man in eastern Germany, Rolf Schwanitz, is using the following poster in an attempt to win votes:..."
To aggravate the problem, Merkel not only faces Schroeders social democrats but also a newly emerged extreme left political formation led by former SPD Chairman and SPD Minister of Finance Oskar Lafontaine. Lafontaine is a loon who, after all the evidence to the contrary, still believes in the makeability of society through centralist control. Unbelievably enough, he has his power base in former GDR territory, where it appears a large segment of the population, dissatisfied with the difficult and slow gearing up of the east’s economy with the rest of Germany, long for the old "certainties" of the communist era.Lafontaines new party is simply called "Die Linke" (the Left) and together with the PDS of former GDR apparatchik Gregor Gysi, another communist era remnant, is said to count for 12% of the vote!
Now, while it is true that Merkel has had a bumpy road over the past weeks, almost all political analysts predict a sufficient win for her party and an almost mathematical certaintiy that she will become Germany’s first female Chancellor. After all, the legacy of the Schroeder era is 4,76 million jobless, which stands for an unemployment rate of 11,7%. But it has also become clear that a coalition of the CDU with the small pro free market party FDP is a very unlikely scenario. Instead, the CDU may have to form a coalition with the SPD again, severely inhibiting any chances for implementing Kirchofs grand tax reform schemes.
September 18’s parliamentary elections in Germany will remain thrilling to the last minute. While polls show that Merkels CDU is still the biggest party, the SPD has significantly closed the gap. With 25% of the voters still undecided as late as last Friday, the outcome still is very much in doubt. Let us hope that this time sufficient Germans come in time to their senses. A few years back, they elected Schroeder again over then CDU strongman Stoiber, who had managed to turn his native Bavaria into an economic powerhouse. That decision cost the Germans 1,5 million unemployed more. While one cannot underestimate human collective stupidity, let us nevertheless remain hopeful that at least we will see the end of the Schroeder era. Go Angie, Go!!!