Angela Merkel, and old partnership or a new election?  It’s out of her hands. - Madeleine Schwartz - NY Review of Books - Wednesday 2/21

Angela Merkel, and old partnership or a new election? It’s out of her hands.
Madeleine Schwartz
NY Review of Books
Wednesday 2/21


One thing history rarely allows is a “do over.”  What’s done is done, and the moving finger does its thinger…onward!

In democracies regularly scheduled elections assure that people can direct changes of course, but after that course has already been set.  Vote right one year, left the next.

Which works fine, except, perhaps in emergencies, where a set policy direction seems to be so disastrous that nothing short of a quick “Reverse engines” will do.

The judgment, that Brexit will actually be a disaster, economically, socially, morally seems to be taking hold in the United Kingdom, and that’s while the real price to Britain of concessions to get out of the EU and its Common Market is being hidden from the public by negotiators on both sides.  Once it is known, pressure for a reconsideration referendum will grow.  A do over.

A second “second-chance” may be in the offing in Germany.  After an election in which voters displayed displeasure with almost all the traditional parties produced 6 months on un-government, the result has been another re-run of the so-called “Grand Coalition.” The center-right Christian Democrats of Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose 33% of the popular vote was #1, are once again joining the center-left Social Democrats, who finished second with 20% of the votes.

Merkel had tried to do a different deal, but negotiations with the farther right Free Democrats and the farther left Greens fell apart…and so it was unite with the Social Dems or face another election.

Polls suggest, the Grand Coalitioneers, who lost 14.5% of voters in 4 years, are only getting weaker…and the far-right, hyper-nationalist Alternative for Germany could improve on their best ever 12.5% in the September election.

Chancellor Merkel needs another election like the proverbial hole in the head…so to get the Social Democrats on Board,.. She gave them the Foreign, Finance, and Labor Ministries, which expert opinion says should make the party very happy.  It’s made elements of the CDU very unhappy.

But how happy is the SPD?  We’ll find out March 4 when a tabulation of mailed in ballots from 464,000 party members either gives the coalition its blessing or thumbs it down.  Leading the rejection campaign is a 28 year old political prodigy named Kevin Kühnert who argues that accepting Merkel’s offer of 6 Cabinet Chairs would be like a prince marrying a frog because she brought a great dowry. Better, he says, for the SPD to lead the opposition than follow the Chancellor for 4 more years.

Even if nixing the Coalition means, as Merkel says it will, a dreaded do-over in which the widely-recognized bad guys may do better than ever.

Donald Trump won the American Presidency by running against “same old” Hillary Clinton.  Well, the combo of Merkel and the SPD is very much same old-same old to much of the German public.  How that judgment might be expressed in a do-over election is anybody’s frightened guess.



Madeleine Schwartz is a reporter and editor based in Berlin. She has written for The London Review of Books, Harper’s, The Nation, Elle and The New York Review of Books, where she also worked as an editor for several years. Madeleine’s reporting has been supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Fulbright Foundation. She is currently a fellow at the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

She studied Classics at Harvard and Oxford.




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