The collapse of the negotiations for a new government gives the German political elite a second chance to avoid a capital mistake. Reform and democratisation of the EU could finally get the attention it deserves.
The chancellor is shattered, the party leaders are at a loss, the Federal President is angry. The end of the so-called Jamaica coalition (named after the party colours) before its start seems to throw the Germans into a deep political crisis.
By default, this also affects Europe as a whole. Without a stable government in Berlin, the European Union will hardly be able to act. There is a summit of the European heads of government scheduled for December. Major EU reform is on the agenda. In the absence of a mandate for the caretaker German chancellor, the gathering is unlikely to produce any binding results.
But however annoying that may seem: For the future of the EU, it is a blessing in disguise.
Angela Merkel and her green partners eagerly wanted a coalition with the Bavarian Christian democrats – CSU – and the liberalist FDP. If it had come about, it would have brought European politics to a standstill. Not just for a few months, but for years.
The most recent negotiating document that has reached the public leaves no doubt about this. The only demand on European policy that all four parties supported was the “consistent application of the Stability and Growth Pact”. However, it was precisely the implementation of the arbitrarily set deficit rules of this pact that brought the euro countries a second deep recession starting in 2010 after the first, which was triggered by the Lehman Brothers crash in 2008.
It was not until the EU Commission loosened the conditions in 2013, that the European economy began to pick up again. This has recently been specifically demonstrated in Portugal, where the left-wing government has been accused by former German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble of allegedly breaking the rules. However, after undoing the forced budget cuts done by its predecessor, the government in Lisbon has triggered so much economic dynamism and tax revenue that it has begun to repay the emergency loans granted – ahead of schedule.
The failed German coalition leaders did not utter a word about the French president’s broad reform ideas for Europe in their process. Yet the visionary power of Emmanuel Macron opens a “historically unique opportunity”, as the philosopher Jürgen Habermas wrote.
Macron is not only calling for the introduction of a common budget for the euro countries in order to be able to better cushion future emergencies. In addition, the common budget “must go hand in hand with strong political control by a common minister and be subject to parliamentary scrutiny at European level”, says France’s young president.
At the same time, he wants European lists of candidates for the European parliament. This would turn the current assembly of national party representatives into a truly European legislator whose members were committed to all EU citizens, from Ireland to Greece, and not just to their domestic voters. By this, Macron proposes a way to fulfill the democratisation that Europe’s governments have been denying their citizens for so long. According to Habermas, the president of France wants no less than “converting the European elite project into a self-legislation of the citizens”.
All this has so far been treated by the supposedly pro-European parties in Germany with an almost provocative indifference. Out of fear of the neo-nationalists, they preferred not to touch the subject at all. By this they played even more into the hands of AfD, the new nationalists to the right of Angela Merkel.
In this respect, the end of the Jamaican illusion also offers the German political elite a second chance to correct a serious mistake. If new elections were to take place, the parties could give European politics the space it deserves in the forthcoming election campaign.
And, yes, they could learn from Macron. However questionable his domestic reforms may be, the ascendant from France achieved what no European political leader has been able to do for decades: he placed the future of the European project at the centre of his programme – and won a broad majority for it.
Such politicians are what Europe needs – in Germany, too.
This article was first published in German by Investigate Europe’s media partner “Der Tagesspiegel”.