At the beginning of the year, I submitted a piece on the changes scheduled to take place in 2012, which included the end of many eras, like the Euro and Germany’s Dream Coalition. This included German President Christian Wulff stepping down because of his usage of the public’s money and private investments on his own indulgences. On Friday, he did just that.
In a move that was expected by many political analysts and people closest to the German President, Wulff, beleaguered by the pursuit of prosecutors and media alike and fresh from the latest setback he endured in Hannover, submitted his resignation as President effective immediately, resulting in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cancellation of her trip to Italy and early return to Berlin to hand pick the next president. This came as the request to lift his immunity against any forms of litigation was granted, providing prosecutors with a golden opportunity to take him to court and convict him. While the move was swifter than expected, it does raise questions about the future of the Dream Coalition and its ability to govern the country between now and the elections next year. Given the slew of scandals involving many of Merkel’s cabinet members, the rash decay of the FDP (Free Democrats) after suffering the most number of humiliating defeats in the party’s history last year, and the search for the second president in the chancellor’s career, one might consider the fact that the reign of the Dream Coalition may be over with earlier than expected. Why?
Let’s compare the predicament of the Dream Coalition with that of the Red-Green Coalition (consisting of the Social Democrats and the Greens) under Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder, which ran the country from 1998 to 2005. Both regimes got off on the fast foot and provided some rounds of success through their policies that reformed the job market and reduced the unemployment rate. The Dream Coalition went further by allowing Merkel to take the lead in straightening the European Union out in terms of its fiscal crisis, which is ongoing especially since Greece just recently received another 130bn Euros in relief funds to alleviate its own crisis. Yet as the years went on, the public started figuring out that some of the policies that were in place was to their disadvantage, and many politicians were removed from office because of dissatisfaction. With the Red Green Coalition, it was because of its inability to reduce the unemployment and its paltry sets of policies, such as the Hartz IV social welfare policy. For the Dream Coalition, it was because of its stance on nuclear power, which up to the Fukushima disaster, they were staunch supporters of that energy. Furthermore, the scandals that affected the politicians- in particular the plagiarism scandals- has eroded the confidence of the public in the government, even though the latest Political Barometer still shows the majority supporting Merkel and her party, the Christian Democrats, despite sustaining losses in key German states last year. Wulff’s downfall may signal the change that Germany needs to steer itself (and the rest of Europe) in the right direction for three reasons: 1. It would mark the first time in modern German history that a Chancellor has to appoint a President twice during his/her regime. While the President plays a figurative role by showing the outside world that Germany also has a president, one must not forget that he is the number two man should something happen to Merkel. 2. While the economy has been doing well despite sustaining some substantial blows caused by the ongoing financial crisis, people are questioning the way Germany has been handling its domestic policies in comparison to the foreign policies. While the government has been providing support to business and to European countries, as a consequence, austerity packages have been introduced, cutting aid to state-run institutions, such as universities, health care facilities, and other governmental offices, resulting in strikes and protests within the last two years. This has affected many people on multiple fronts and discouraged others from taking state jobs that pay little and provide only limited contracts. Lastly 3., the strive to return to morals and honesty has been picking up steam, despite the pleas from many supporters to have the likes of Karl Theordore zu Guttenberg to return despite his resignation from office because of plagiarism. These two key words (morals and honesty) are very common in American society for many politicians caught for their social ills (like extra marital affairs, homosexuality, etc.) are defamed by the public and forced out of office. While this type of behavior is almost uncommon over here in Germany, using the public’s money for indulgences and investing in private funds, while at the same time threatening the media with naming and shaming if it exposes the secret, is indeed morally wrong. It is just as wrong as plagiarizing a doctoral thesis or sexually harassing a state employee, the other two offences that are common over here. One has to ask whether Merkel is covering up the bad deeds, not paying attention to the inner-political strife, or both, but it does show significant weakness in her ability to rule the country.
The loss of Wulff to his successor Joachim Gauck as President combined with the restlessness of the Free Democrats and its question of identity are two key blows that she may not be able to swallow. While it is easy for her and the rest of the party to strongly encourage politicians with their own set of scandals and ills to resign from their post in the interest of the German population, it will not solve the problem of how the Chancellor will lead the country between now and the elections next year. Facing a crisis of her own and the growing uncertainty regarding 2012 as a whole, the easiest and most effective approach is to dissolve the Dream Coalition and have early elections this year. It was done by Gerhard Schroeder in 2005 when his coalition broke apart after a string of defeats and other mishaps. Perhaps Merkel should learn from her SPD opponent and make the right decision. Only then will Germany (and all of Europe) will go into the right direction with a new set of policies and especially a new set of morals for the public to follow.
FLENSBURG FILES FAST FACT: Joachim Gauck is not officially the President of Germany, at least not yet. According to the German Constitution „Grundgesetz“ (EN: Basic Law), a candidate must be decided by the majority of the ruling party and the opposition. Gauck was nominated by the Dream Coalition together with the Social Democrats and the Green Party on the Opposition side. The Left-wing party abstained and is pursuing its own path. On 18 March, a Federal Convention will take place, where 1000 members (from the federal and state governments) will submit their vote for their new president. If there is no absolute majority after the first two votes, then the candidate may be endorsed through the third and fourth voting process, where the plurality of votes are casted. That means if no majority is found for Gauck, another candidate may be endorsed and could possibly win the post. The process is complicated as a lot of politicking is involved. If the president wins the post, he will hold this office for five years but can be reelected once after the first term. At president, Horst Seehofer is acting head of state until the Convention takes place on the 18th. As a general rule, when a president steps down, the German government has 30 days to elect a new president through this Convention.