Av - 29.9.2011 23:06

The German people are angry at the perceived opaqueness of politics, but don’t see nationalism as a solution

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Germany will remain the euro’s defender – however reluctantly” was written by Alan Posener, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 29th September 2011 14.15 UTC

So Angela Merkel got her vote and the eurozone gets Germany’s money. This is good news. It’s not the end of the euro crisis, nor even the beginning of the end, but it might be the end of the beginning. Conservative Eurosceptics such as Britain’s William Hague should take note that the only party to vote against the beefed-up European rescue scheme were the neo-communists of the so-called Left party. There were some rebels on the left of the Green and Social Democrat parties, which, on current form will win the general election in 2013, and some within Merkel’s coalition, but not as many as some – including Merkel herself – had feared. The fact is that Germany’s political class as a whole is willing to do what it takes – albeit grumblingly – to save the euro.

There are two reasons for this. The first and most important is self-interest. Most of Germany’s exports go to eurozone countries. German banks hold a lot of eurozone sovereign debt. So the prospect of countries leaving the eurozone or defaulting on their debt is scary to businessmen and bankers alike. And much as Germans may criticise their profligate southern neighbours, their spendthrift ways help keep the euro’s exchange rate down and German exports to the rest of the world affordable. Bailouts may be bad, but the alternative is worse.

The second reason is idealism. For better or worse, Germany’s elites are committed to the concept of an ever-closer union within Europe. Politicians as diverse as Joschka Fischer, the Greens’ elder statesman, and Ursula von der Leyen, the Conservative CDU’s economics minister (and would-be successor to Chancellor Merkel), have said that the current crisis should be used to advance towards a “United States of Europe”.

What of the people, though? There has always been an understanding that Europe is what the Germans call an “Elitenprojekt”, and a fear that sooner or later a nativist, anti-immigrant and anti-European party would rear its head. After all, parties such as Geert Wilders’s Freedom party have managed to corner about a fifth of the vote in most western European countries, and chauvinism is even worse in some eastern European nations such as Hungary. But Germany remains an anomaly. At the last state elections, in the city-state of Berlin two weeks ago, the rightwing populist parties were soundly drubbed. And the liberal Free Democrat party, which made a last-ditch attempt to cash in on perceived anti-euro sentiments, was humbled, getting 2% of the vote – a level they have sank to nationally in the polls, down from double digits in the last general election. By contrast, the digitally focused Pirate party, demanding total openness from government, got 9% in Berlin. A whopping 20% of the national electorate say they might consider voting for the Pirates next time.

What does this tell us? There is certainly a lot of protest potential in Germany. The political class needs to get its act together. But people are angrier at the perceived opaqueness of politics than they are at Europe. This is a good sign. People want to be told the truth. They want to have the feeling that they will be consulted and that decisions will be transparent. Obviously, the byzantine and arcane politics of Brussels are part of the problem. But the Germans don’t seem to view nationalism as a way out. The Pirates’ slogan, borrowed from Willy Brandt’s line of 40 years ago, was “Mehr Demokratie wagen” – let’s attempt more democracy. There are worse slogans around in Europe.

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