Can Germany fix EU in next four years?

By He Zhigao Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/13 22:03:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



 

We approach the grand finale to the European election season. Unlike the Dutch and French elections earlier this year, the plebiscite for a new German leader does not involve a potential European Union (EU) exit or forebode another black swan event. Nonetheless, the election of September 24 is not only of great significance to Germany but will also affect future European integration and the international order.

According to the September 2 polls, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was running 14 percent ahead of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), although the small parties together accounted for a significant share of the federal vote: the Alternative for Germany Party, Green Party, Left Party and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) all enjoy support of about 8-10 percent each. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been challenged repeatedly over her refugee policy, hinting that the issue of immigration might be her Achilles heel. Yet still she seems likely to win on September 24.

Merkel has 12 years' experience as leader of Europe's biggest economy. In recent TV debates, Merkel impressed viewers as competent, likeable and trustworthy. Alongside her political experience, she exudes great personal charm. Through force of personality, she has stimulated public support, thereby expanding the CDU's ruling authority and government stability.

SPD challenger Martin Schultz is performing below expectations, appearing too kindly in his campaigning. His campaign lacks novelty and clarity, creating difficulties for him in properly opposing Merkel.

Germany's party system promotes cooperation over competition, causing major German parties to all forge a kind of "consensus campaign." This phenomenon results from the German people's relative indifference to politics and the prevalence of a consensus culture in modern German society.

The German economy has also improved, benefiting people from all ranks of society. A stable currency and prices, a statutory minimum wage and growing social welfare state all underwrite the CDU's strong polling.

External crises and uncertainty have also supplied opportunities for Merkel's re-election.

For example, Merkel's stress on climate governance and active promotion of globalization have received considerable public support. Considered a leader of the free world and a champion of humanitarian values, Merkel offers voters something of an anchor amid choppy global seas.

It appears Merkel is already the next German chancellor. The only doubt remaining is with which party she forms a cabinet. One possibility is that the CDU, the FDP and Greens will form some sort of a cabinet together or separately. Another possibility is a grand coalition of CDU and SPD.

Apart from uncertainty over the cabinet, Merkel also faces challenges including the European debt crisis, geopolitical tensions, terrorist threats, refugee crises and Brexit. As a leader of Europe, Merkel needs to solve problems of political disorder, system failure and social disorder. If issues of European social governance and constant economic downturn in particular are not addressed, then populism will launch a frenetic counterattack to reignite the political and social divisions that haunt European political, economic and social development.

German foreign policy has three dimensions: the establishment and enhancing of political unity to strengthen the EU as an active body, strengthening institutionalization of global trade and regional security, and finally ensuring Germany's influence by promoting the rule of law or establishment of new partnerships in regions that lack an institutional framework.

It can be said that Germany's core task is to ensure cohesion of the EU. From a German perspective, Germany's economic model and competitiveness clearly depend on a single currency and a common market. The EU is not simply a tool to realize German interests, but also a bulwark against external threats. The twin engines of France and Germany seem to be injecting new impetus into European integration.

The European and international background has enhanced this new France-Germany cooperation and coordination. On the one hand, US President Donald Trump's election has prompted Europeans to take control of their own destiny. On the other, Brexit has brought about new balances meaning traditional power structures must be reassessed.

After Emmanuel Macron came to power in France in May, he brought fresh enthusiasm and energy to the old relationship. Germany must be willing to share European leadership with this new partner.

However, the relationship between Germany and France is structurally imbalanced: Germany leads where France's interests sometimes diverge. Germany must compromise. The cost of the eurozone and the EU's fiscal framework is key investment in Germany's prosperity: inextricably linked to European stability. Germany must take advantage of the next four years to strengthen cooperation with France and the cohesion of the 27 EU countries.

For France and Germany, timing is crucial. Handled well, the two countries can consolidate European integration with stability and durability.

The author is an associate research fellow at the Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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