Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Mutti’s going, but Britain beware … the Germans are still fuming over Brexit


THE German election results announced yesterday plunged Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU (Christian Democratic Union Party) to a historic low – and the era of ‘Mutti’ is now grinding slowly towards its end. 

The CDU won only 24 per cent of the vote – one of its worst-ever results – giving the rival SDP (Social Democratic Party) a narrow victory with 25 per cent. 

German voters prefer boring candidates. They remember their history. They also prefer candidates who are obviously competent. The CDU’s Armin Laschet plainly was not, while the SDP’s Olaf Scholz plainly was. 

 German politics is a bit like watching a collection of glaciers racing against each other. It’s all slow motion and frankly rather boring compared with our two-horse races. With half a dozen parties able to win seats in parliament, margins are narrow and contests tight.

A British-style 80-seat majority is unimaginable for most German politicians, Scholz won ten more seats than Laschet (206 to 196) but that makes the Greens (118 seats) and the liberal Free Democrat Party (92 seats) the king-makers. And what’s more, they know it. 

The question is what happens next as the various parties vie to form a government. The many possibilities for coalitions – normal in Germany – as presented by BBC News can be seen here. 

Expect a great deal of haggling between now and Christmas, maybe Easter, with Merkel meanwhile leading a caretaker government.  

I’ve met quite a few German politicians, some by chance. I liked Helmut Schmidt (Chancellor from 1974 to 1982), whom I met at a summit and I bumped into the SDP’s Pier Steinbruck and his wife in Old Bond Street, London, where we enjoyed a jolly chat.  

I’ve met AfD (Alternative for Germany) leader Alice Wiedel and found her very sensible, modest and approachable. I’ve never met Merkel, although she’s on TV every other night.  

One of our friends was at university with her and recalled something that tells quite a lot about her approach to life. Angela spent the night the Berlin Wall came down in a cafe with friends … working out a physics problem. 

A friend who served a senior German diplomat once pointed out to me that not everyone in Germany votes for Mutti. Some of the Swiss papers reminded us why over the weekend, listing all the things that have become far worse during her 15 years as Chancellor.  

I won’t inflict the list on you, but it’s long – Brexit features, as does utter dependency on Russia for energy and China for exports, not forgetting over a million immigrants from the Middle East, nor the parlous state of Germany’s armed forces despite spending one and a half per cent of Europe’s largest economy on them each year. We should not be surprised how badly her party fared in the elections. 

There are odd differences between our parliamentary customs and those of Germany. The Chancellor need not have a seat in parliament and coalitions are more likely than a one-party government.  

The last one-party government brought about a second world war that resulted in unconditional surrender, occupation and partition. This gives the smaller partners in coalitions a great deal of influence over the larger partners, not just at the king-maker stage, but throughout their life as a government.   

A traffic light coalition might soon become stuck on red, or at least pink. Priorities are domestic – modernising Germany and its commerce and industry, along with its social environment, all suffering from slow broadband speeds.  

The Greens want no more new-build combustion engine cars from 2030, but nor do they want the EU ruling Germany, let alone France.  

Although Germany is part of Nato, they do not want tactical nuclear weapons stored in their country, under lock and key, for use by the Luftwaffe in emergency. They are not keen on defence, whether as Nato members or not.  

Even should Laschet pull off a coalition with the other three main parties, he would still face the same demand over car production and the same disquiet over nuclear weapons and Nato.  

A coalition that excluded the Greens would not, though, face other demands about handing over powers to Europe providing Germany still held the steering wheel.  

Nonetheless, ‘grand coalition’ options – both of which exclude the Greens along with the far Right AfD and far Left Die Linke – become attractive to the larger parties. 

Which takes us right back to Mutti and her record as Chancellor since November 2005. 

She oversaw energy being bought from Russia, combined with huge investments in Russia matched only by France within Europe. Exports to the UK were replaced by more to China.  

We had French president Emmanuel Macron talking about coming to an arrangement with Russia,  and European autonomy on defence – code for independence from Nato. It meant staying in Nato, but seeking back-door deals with Russia. Macron is a natural good learner from older women.  

Merkel has effectively disarmed Germany, destroyed her people’s vision of themselves by importing over a million refugees from the Near and Middle East. She has broken the bonds of the Atlantic alliance between North America and mainland Europe.  

I don’t think the CIA are going to recover for a long time from backing this global wrong horse. Obama’s administration bought into the CIA’s post-war assessment of Europe without a question, even as it was breaking up.  

They didn’t listen to the British people, who simply had paid more than enough. Yes, in many ways a united Europe makes absolute sense – except that it’s inhabited by Europeans, not Brits.  

What did Washington expect when our annual trade deficit cruised at minus £100million after giving half a trillion pounds of financial aid to comparatively rich countries in Europe rather than truly poor and needy countries in the Commonwealth?  

What a different world we might live in today had we never made that massive strategic and humanitarian error. Washington’s puppet Joe Biden spouts Irish republican propaganda as US foreign policy – in total contempt of the Belfast peace agreement brokered by Bill Clinton and George Mitchell. Maybe he’s not aware, mind you, and that’s about the only zone where I agree with Donald Trump! 

Merkel and EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen were to a certain extent a double act. Both absorbed punches for each other, Ursula perhaps more so.  

Angela will stay glued to the office chair until Christmas, maybe Easter. When she was Germany’s Defence Minister, Ursula oversaw drawing up the state’s diplomatic, economic and defence strategy as a defence ministry paper.  

Briefly, it argued that both Nato and the EU were breaking up. Germany had to look after itself by binding the Eurozone countries to it and ensuring that the largest satellite, Britain, remained bound to the orbit of the German economic sun. Moving Ursula to lead the EU Commission was a logical move to implement this strategy. 

So will Germany now pile on the pressure against perfidious Albion, try to amputate Ulster and Scotland, punish the Anglo-Saxons for Brexit? What will become of Martin Selmayr, a leading architect of this strategy, also an EU official, presently based in Vienna? These are questions that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss should want answered by her team. 

Or will Mutti switch over to a caretaker role? I think all that depends on her original instructions or her self-imposed tasks.  

A Europe that is a fellow-traveller of Russia has no more desire than Putin to see a prosperous and powerful Britain with complete freedom to do what it believes best.  

An economically strong Britain with a GDP more like Japan, spending two to three per cent of its wealth on its global defences and allied to most of the Commonwealth including India has an influence more akin to the US than any future united states of Europe. Russia won’t want that, China won’t want that, nor does the EU, meaning France and Germany.  

So the question becomes, what is the timetable for this opposition? I would say more likely it’s right now. Already we hear Scholz blaming Brexit for a variety of woes, starting with the panic-buying of fuel.  

Boris Johnson is a great communicator, but I think he needs a better PR team and preferably one run by a clever woman who can outflank the German propaganda machine.  

The main message is that we’re not coming back into the EU. So why not just accept that, instead of meddling in our politics? On the present course, we and the Americans will become fed up with a Nato that protects a Europe that can’t be bothered to defend itself and climbs into bed with Russia and China. 

Mind you, I think the hardest job should stay with Angela Merkel – explaining to old Joe Biden why she’s still there at Christmas when she lost an election in September. 

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Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill
Adrian Hill. Former soldier and diplomat, afterwards member of CBI Council and author.

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