Dr. Leon Mangasarian was editor and reporter for Bloomberg News, Deutsche-Presse Agentur and United Press International in East Berlin, Bonn, Berlin and Brussels. He received his doctorate from the London School of Economics in 1993. He is the co-author (with Jan Techau) of a book on German security policy, Führungsmacht Deutschland, and is now a freelance writer living in Potsdam, Germany, and on a farm. in the southeast of the state of Brandenburg.
All political lives end in failure unless the middle current is cut short. Angela Merkel proves Enoch Powell’s theorem when her chancellery goes wild until the end after 16 years in the middle of a vaccination campaign against Covid-19.
If Merkel had learned a lesson from her mentor, Helmut Kohl, she would have been out while getting good. He was also expelled from office after 16 years.
Merkel left without reaching any signature. It is true that he has faced major crises, but at best, his political responses have been fair to half-hearted. Too often they have been found to be defective or simply avoid difficult problems.
Germany fails to put people in its arms. Not more nine percent of Germans are completely vaccinated, compared to 56% in Israel, 35% in the US and 27% in the UK. Merkel insisted on handing over the acquisition of vaccines to the EU and therefore to Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister who defied competition and co-responsible for destroying the German Bundeswehr.
Insufficient vaccines get worse with Germany’s obsession with making sure no one jumps the queue. Instead of using the country’s excellent network of general practitioners, the wheel was reinvented by creating huge vaccination centers. Rationing the vaccine by age groups means combining thousands of doses at the end of the day.
This debacle shows Merkel again as a tactic and not as a great strategist. She is reactive, rather than calculating the means to achieve general ends. It is so famous for insisting that its name has become a new German verb: “Merkeln” means doing nothing and avoiding making a decision or, when you do, hiding it in gauze and fog.
Merkel’s bad ideas are not limited to public health. These are some of his great achievements.
Drifting to the left
Merkel’s fundamental misstep was to push her conservative centrist union Christian Democratic Union to the left. The CDU became a Social Democrat, leaving its conservatives homeless, prompting some to join the Alternative for Germany (AfD).
Its open-border migration policy of 2015 led to the resurrection of the AfD. The Christian Democrat bloc is cratered, with polls placing it at 23%, behind the opposition Greens. Under Kohl, Christian Democrats regularly won more than 40%. In another act of self-harm, the CDU chose North Rhine-Westphalia Merkelist Prime Minister Armin Laschet as the chancellor’s candidate for the September elections.
Merkel is a leader with high taxes. Among his first acts was to increase value-added tax from 19% to 19%, and income and other tax charges have skyrocketed under his chancellery. German tax revenue was 452 billion euros in its first year in office. In 2019 it was 800 billion euros. Germany now has one of the OECD’s highest global club tax rates.
Meanwhile, the chancellor failed to renew the German economy. The last major reform was almost 20 years ago with Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat. It was a political suicide on his part, but it laid the groundwork for prosperity.
Today, German business is faltering under a suffocating bureaucracy. There is an impressive example near Berlin, where Tesla is building a “Gigafactory” that will generate about 40,000 jobs. Construction is nearing completion, but German bureaucrats are still refusing to issue a building permit. Elon Musk has been warned that he is investing at his own risk and that if permission is denied, he will have to demolish the factory. Merkel believes there are more bureaucrats as the answer: since 2016 there has been a 22% increase in the number of employees in the chancellery and ministries.*
Germany now has the highest electricity costs in Europe. Households and most businesses pay 43% above the EU average. Merkel’s rampant change in renewable energy is hitting consumers with huge bills that subsidize wind and solar energy. Merkel’s other energy measure was to panic after the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster and advance the closure of all nuclear power plants by 2022. At the same time, it is accelerating the shutdowns of coal-fired power plants.
The result? From Germany Bundesrechnungshof, which audits government management, warns that Merkel’s energy policies risk causing power outages. After shutting down nuclear and coal – fired power plants, Germany, on winter days with no sun or wind, will import electricity from France and Poland produced by – you guessed it – nuclear or coal – fired power plants.
Merkel’s other energy / geopolitical debacle is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which operates under the Baltic Sea, to bring natural gas from Russia to Germany. The pipeline has upset German allies NATO and the EU. (Everyone except Merkel knows that the Kremlin uses energy as a political weapon).
The Poles and Baltics are furious; Ukraine, the current route of Russian oil pipelines to Europe, is afraid; and both the Trump and Biden administrations committed sanctions on the companies that built the pipeline.
Merkel insists Nord Stream 2 is just one more trade deal.
China is Merkel’s favorite among world dictatorships. It is only a slight exaggeration to describe your chancellery a long kowtow. She regularly visits China to support German exports and investments. Merkel crowned the German presidency of the EU through an investment agreement between the EU and China, despite requests from the Biden administration to wait.
Merkel is faltering with minority rights, Beijing’s military operations in the South China Sea, the crushing of democracy in Hong Kong and the threats in Taiwan.
A key part of Germany’s political body is the memory of the Holocaust and Nazi crimes. There are two parts: never forget the story, terrible as it may be; and “never again,” as never tolerating even a touch of genocide. Joschka Fischer, then Foreign Minister, evoked this by supporting the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo saying “never again Auschwitz, never more genocide”.
More than anyone in Germany, the chancellor must personify these principles. Still, Merkel has stumbled. “Never Again” follows China’s persecution of Uighurs. Merkel refuses to follow NATO allies, the United States, Canada and the Netherlands, who accuse Beijing of genocide.
As for the story, Merkel made clear her displeasure at a 2016 German parliament resolution describing the killing of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire (German ally of World War I) as genocide. Merkel skipped the vote and then, to make sure Ankara received the message, her spokesperson stated that the resolution was not legally binding.
Watching a centennial genocide is easier than angering the Turkish government it needed to block migrants from Europe. Merkel and the EU paid billions to Turkey for Ankara to do the dirty work of closing EU borders.
Merkel’s failures draw attention in her endless harp on “digitization”. For all of Merkel’s talks, inaction is the result. Forget e-government in Estonian. Germans rely on fax machines, signatures, and moody officials who use secure stamps and prints. However, e-government could not work in Germany because it requires a decent mobile phone system. Merkel has failed to plug the massive holes in Germany’s network. I have had better mobile service in the more remote areas of Scotland or Namibia.
Politicians everywhere are reaching the expiration date after eight to ten years. Merkel, despite human decency and incorruptibility, has long since come to her. Every day he remains in office is a lost day for Germany. This year is wasted to legislate with elections in September, followed by coalition negotiations that could reach 2022.
Germany desperately needs a member of parliament, like Leopold Amery in the House of Commons in 1940, to stand up and tell the truth:
“You’ve been sitting here too long to get the good you’ve been doing … In the name of God, go!”
*Simon Haas, Jonas Hermann, and Charlotte Eckstein, “Expanding State: Germany’s Governmental Apparatus is Growing,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, April 10, 2021.
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