Angela Merkel's Bittersweet Win
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published September 25, 2017
Since the end of the Second World War, there have been many decades that the main preference of most of Germans in a federal election is political and social stability. It seems that this feeling experienced a 'shake- up' during the electoral campaign preceding the September 24 election for the Bundestag (the national parliament), which put face-to-face incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in coalition with its Bavarian sister-party the Christian Social Union (CSU), and its closest challenger Martin Schulz's Social Democratic Party (SPD), with the former center-right coalition succeeding to win a fourth term against the center-left rival as first exit polls said on Sunday night.
But, however, the new development in these elections is that the Alternative for Germany (German: Alternative fur Deutschland), founded in April 2013, is projected to take more than 13 percent of the votes becoming the first far-right party to enter Bundestag in six decades.
Exit polls said as quoted by BBC a short time after the poll stations were closed that "CDU-CSU got 32.5 percent, SPD 20 percent, AFD 13.5 percent, FDP 10.5 percent, Greens 9.5 percent and Left 9 percent." Anyway, according to an ARD poll, Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU alliance has remained the largest party in Germany's parliament.
Addressing supporters, Ms. Merkel said she hoped for a "better result" and talked about "extraordinary challenges". She added that she would listen to the "concerns and anxieties" of AfD voters. "The CDU would have hoped for better result, but we mustn’t forget – looking back at an extraordinary challenge – that we nevertheless achieved our strategic objectives: we are the strongest party. We have mandate to form the new government and we will form the new government," said Ms. Merkel.
Following exit polls at German Embassy
Besides electors all over the Federal Republic of Germany, expats living abroad, including the staff of the diplomatic corps of that country serving worldwide cast their votes. The same thing happened at the German Embassy in Tirana where on the occasion of the election for the Bundestag a group of Albanian journalists, other friends of that country and dozens of expats took part in a get-together, which was called the "Electoral Holiday", organized at the premises of the Embassy on Sunday evening at the invitation of the German Ambassador, Susanne Schutz.
In an improvise press conference after the first results of exit polls were made public Ambassador Susanne Schutz said the electors in her country said their word. "It is spoken of a big turnout, about 76 percent, which is higher than four years ago," she said, adding that it had been evidenced that there had been great movement of electors toward smaller parties at the expense of traditional parties.
"The Liberal Party which was not represented in Bundestag, now will be represented in it. And it is interesting the fact that the SPD has declared that it will not be available for a government coalition," said Mrs. Schutz, who saw an eventual possible coalition between CDU/CSU, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), as well as the Greens. But however the Ambassador predicted that following the results there will be long and difficult negotiations on the coalitions because the spectrum of these parties is quite big which calls for great compromises.
Answering a question if there would be any changes towards the Balkans and Albania in the future in face of new government coalitions, she said sharply that as far as the European politics and that towards the Balkans were concerned she did not expect any changes. "All the political parties in Germany have the same voice on the above mentioned issues. They are for the accession of the Western Balkan countries, including Albania, in Europe," the German Ambassador said. "Certainly AfD is thought to represent a considerable group in Bundestag, but I do not think that it will influence on the politics of the government towards the Western Balkans and Albania," said Ambassador Susanne Schutz.
"Even through these elections it was confirmed once more the orientation of the German politics for the continuity of the EU project and of further integration in the block," the German top envoy to Tirana concluded.
Merkel's Campaign: To Live Well and Feel Good
The campaign slogan of Merkel's CDU and its ally CSU has been: “For a Germany in which we live well and feel good!”, and almost all opinion polls had put Merkel in a decisive lead with many analysts, close followers of German affairs, being almost unanimous in an easy victory of her coalition, giving the incumbent Chancellor another term in office.
Germany is well- known for a type of consistency with regard to the choice who would run the country. Noticeable examples have been Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who held the office from 1982 to 1998, while Konrad Adenauer was Chancellor of West Germany from 1949 to 1963. "Germany has quite a tradition of long chancellorships," said DW on Sunday.
So, one of the most important reasons, maybe the most important one, why Ms. Angela Merkel will remain Chancellor of Germany after the 24 September election is the strength of the German economy. Official figures indicate that the unemployment has halved since she took office in 2005, the country has not only managed better growth than most of the Eurozone since the financial crash but, almost alone in the developed world, is now running a budget surplus.
"If a leader has been in power for so long it is reasonable that success should be attributed to their leadership," underlined Hamish McRae in a study carried by Independent on September 13, 2017.
There are really three main elements to German success, elements that cannot be directly replicated, but which are relevant to the rest of the world. Perhaps the most important were the labor reforms brought in at the beginning of 2003, under the previous centre-left Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder. At that time Germany appeared to be the 'sick man' of Europe, with unemployment well above the EU average, and sluggish economic growth.
But analysts have come to the general conclusion that there are two other elements to German success. One is the close relationship between education, and in particular technical training, and industry. The web of companies, middle-sized and huge, are not only very good at technical training themselves. They also work with nearby schools to preserve the flow of skilled young apprentices. In most of the rest of the world, people who build up companies want to take their profit and sell them off. In Germany, helped by a special provision in inheritance taxation, they pass them on their children. That has enabled Germany to preserve its famed Mittelstand, the raft of middle-sized (though actually sometimes very big) manufacturing companies.
“I lived a long time behind a fence. Not again"
But Ms. Merkel could not fail to undertake a threatening risk to her political career like that during the refugee crisis, which nearly cost her fourth term. The majority of Germans and people in most of EU member countries, were aware of how much she took the risk by giving way to an open-door policy which, for the sake of truth, nearly closed her the door to the Bundestag. When trying to penetrate deep into Merkel’s brave and humanitarian action like the somewhat uncharacteristically decisive act during the heat of the 2015 migrant crisis the conclusion can be drawn that it might have stemmed from her formative years in East Germany.
“I lived a long time behind a fence. It is not something I wish to do again,” she is reported to have said in 2015, upon hearing a proposal by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban to build a physical barrier to keep out refugees. In 2015, Merkel opened the doors to Germany as refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East swamped Mediterranean ports and European train stations. Images of men, women, and children clamoring for a better life in Europe, and some dying in pursuit of freedom, shocked the world. Nearly 900,000 refugees arrived in Germany by the year’s end. Certainly, not everyone in Germany was happy about it. “During the height of the refugee crisis, it seemed almost like it was the new normal and that Germany would have to welcome 1 million or more refugees per year,” recalls Ulrike Esther Franke, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations based in Berlin. “But the numbers have gone down.”
“Germany sees (2015) as an exceptional situation and it’s over now - which is dangerous, (since) it is not over,” notes Franke. But over or not, Merkel can simultaneously accept accolades for her humanitarian gestures and convincingly argue that a vote for her party is not necessarily a vote for unlimited migration. She still has to address what will happen to those who have remained.
“We are now ... looking at the mountain of integrating people who come from different cultures with different religions in ways that won't alienate them or their children or grandchildren,” says Stelzenmuller of Brookings. “We have learned how important integration is, and that’s what people are very concerned about.”
Untiring Promoter of WB Countries
Probably being led by the feeling inside her of how important integration is, Chancellor Angela Merkel undertook bravely another initiative outside the borders of her country to give a boost to the comprehensive cooperation with the Western Balkan countries having as last goal bringing them closer to the European Union, a process she launched by hosting a high profile WB Conference in Berlin on 28 August 2014.
All successor states of the former Yugoslavia, as well as Albania, have a “European perspective”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on that day back in the year 2014 at the much-anticipated Western Balkan Conference that ended with optimism for the region’s EU integration. “All states in the Western Balkans should have the opportunity to join the European Union if they fulfill the accession requirements,” Merkel underlined. In that frame it is significant her repeated warning towards Serbia that the normalization of its relations with Kosovo were important criteria in its efforts to become an EU member. She reiterated that condition in the message of congratulations sent on July 7, 2017 to Serb PM Ana Brnabic on the occasion of the latter's appointment in this office.
Of course, at that time not all political circles in Berlin and other EU member countries' capitals shared Merkel's strong optimism on the process launched by her, but time has proved them wrong: the process initiated in Berlin has continued being converted into a longer, broader, working and appealing process of cooperation. In its course the process had as the next host Austria in 2015, Paris in 2016, Trieste in 2017, while Albania became the initiator of an informal WB6 Summit in Durres, a coastal city on the Adriatic Sea, on 26 August, 2017.
Merkel's initiative, the so called the "Berlin Process", seems to have followed the inevitable course outlined by her in 2014 that it is up to the individual countries to fulfill the high expectations of their populations. The goal of the Berlin conference, initiated by Chancellor Merkel, was also aimed to strengthen cooperation between the regions and within the region, and explore the states’ perspectives for EU accession.
For example, the focus of the latest Durres meeting was evidence of her vision, that is the boosting of the implementation of the commitments taken at the Trieste Summit in July 2017, especially the action plan on the deepening of 'regional economic integration'. The Regional Economic Area agreed at the Trieste Summit will provide new opportunities for businesses and citizens alike and strengthen growth and jobs. The next concrete steps include the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, identifying and scrapping red tape and regulatory barriers that impede trade and investment in the region, setting up a regional dialogue on digital transformation, and launching negotiations on a dispute settlement mechanism.
Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, attended the informal meeting of the Prime Ministers of the WB6 a further sign that the European Commission strongly supports the Western Balkans’ regional co-operation as an integral part of their EU accession perspective, through substantial investments in connecting infrastructure, economies and people within the region itself and between the Western Balkans’ region and the European Union.
Why not! No one doubts that the fourth mandate as Chancellor will be Merkel's last term in office. But will she enter into history as Germany's 'Iron Lady', maybe not in the sense as UK's 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher, who was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, at the height of the Cold War, and a strong ally of US President Ronald Reagan, but contributed to put an end to it.
Some highlights of the foreign policy of Chancellor Merkel show that she has stood her ground with both the current US President, Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. For example, in deep disagreement with US President Trump, Merkel stressed the situation with North Korea must be resolved peacefully. She told DW that Germany could be in a position to mediate in the conflict. With regard to Russia she has pushed for sanctions against it after Putin moved into Ukraine. Merkel overcame a refugee crisis that threatened to bring down her government, and, all in all, kept the country running remarkably smoothly as far as foreign policy is concerned. An example of her unique endeavor to keep Germany's economy in track and maintain 'independent' political dialogue with other countries was the unprecedented cooperation with 'communist' China. She has visited that Asian country at least nine times in 12 years.
On the other hand, the refusal of leaders of Poland and Hungary to back a EU plan designed to ease the migration pressure on countries such as Greece and Italy has prompted the bloc's executive Commission to open up infringement procedures against the pair. And Mr. Merkel has been in the forefront of opposing the stance of the leaders of these two countries, who said at a meeting on September 22, 2017, in Warsaw, as a sharp warning which was articulated by Mr. Viktor Orban, who highlighted in a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart Beata Szydlothat that EU members must accept the fact that neither Hungary nor Poland want to be "immigrant countries."
Given with what has happened with 'Brexit', Trump in the White House, tough stance towards Russia's Putin, special relations with China, worries about immigration accompanied with harsh language among EU member countries, integration and social inequality, can it be said that Merkel's international alliances are still the same like before? Nothing can be taken for granted, but everything will depend on the days to come after the formation of the new coalition and government. But one thing seems to remain unchanged and considered as a strong point for Ms. Merkel's push to reform the EU and the euro currency: the Chancellor sees in the French President, Emmanuel Macron her pro-European ally in the frame of a reinvigorated German-Franco axis.