jueves, 28 de mayo de 2009

Dos Alegatos a favor de Angela Merkel

Chancellor Merkel's walking stalemate of a government

She may be an iron politician but her feet are stuck in the clay of a messy, unstable coalition

Timothy Garton Ash The Guardian, Thursday 13 October 2005

The good news is Angie. The bad news is her government. Unfortunately, the bad is likely to subvert the good. Even if this lady chancellor is made of iron, a messy, unstable coalition will ensure that her feet are stuck in clay. All Europe will keep limping as a result.

But first, the good news. It's a very good thing that the Federal Republic of Germany will have a chancellor who is a woman and comes from east Germany. Both seemed unthinkable 20 years ago. Both are major steps towards a modern normality for Germany, no longer divided between east and west, nor between ruling men and serving women. Outgoing chancellor Gerhard Schröder always said that he wanted Germany to become a more normal country. His departure is his last and perhaps biggest contribution to that goal.

Moreover, Angela Merkel is herself a rather good thing. She is practical, direct and full of common sense. She cares about freedom. She seems to understand what the German economy needs a lot better than her towering Christian Democratic predecessor, Helmut Kohl, ever did. At the same time, she is no Margaret Thatcher. You cannot imagine her saying that society does not exist. A fluent Russian speaker, she will have none of Schröder's embarrassing personal weakness for Vladimir Putin's semi-dictatorial government. With a track record of Atlanticism, and having passable English, she is well placed to repair Germany's frayed relationship with the United States.

She grew up in a landscape and a milieu I knew well, the spartan, intense world of the east German Protestant clergy in the cobbled small towns and hard-brick villages of the Uckermark, north-east of Berlin. A Protestant work ethic, high seriousness, and a preference for Lutheran plain-speaking were the hallmarks of that world. Her east German biography was certainly not that of a dissident. Unlike most children of the Protestant clergy, she joined the communist youth organisation, which bore the classic Orwellian misnomer, Free German Youth. She was even one of that ghastly movement's local organisers, while doing postgraduate study at the east German academy of sciences. Yet somehow she emerged with many of the values more characteristic of former dissidents in central Europe. In a European Union which is now a mixture of former west and former east, it's good to have a major leader who is herself a personal union of the two.

The question is: what can she do? The German constitution gives the federal chancellor considerable powers to set the main lines of policy, and the practice, from the founding postwar chancellor Konrad Adenauer through to Gerhard Schröder, has been for chancellors to make full use of those powers. This has been called a Kanzlerdemokratie, a chancellor-democracy. But the constitution, and the federal political system as it has evolved, also places considerable checks on the chancellor - far more than on any British prime minister. Ironically, a political system designed, with its elaborate checks and balances, to prevent the emergence of another Adolf Hitler, is now helping to prevent the emergence of necessary reforms.

The upper house, or Bundesrat, composed of representatives of the federal states, can restrain and even block government initiatives far more than the House of Lords. Since there are elections in several federal states every year, there's effectively no such thing as a "mid-term" period when a government can make unpopular but necessary reforms without the fear of being immediately punished at the polls. With proportional representation, the country always has coalition governments, which means more compromises. Never more so than when you have a so-called grand coalition between the two main opposing parties, with the Social Democrats actually having more cabinet seats than the Christian Democrats. Just imagine a Labour-Conservative coalition government, with foreign secretary Hilary Benn and chancellor of the exchequer Gordon Brown serving alongside home secretary David Davis under prime minister David Cameron.

Fifteen years ago, as Germany was uniting and Angela Merkel was starting her political career, a perceptive observer wrote that the great test for the federal republic was whether its tradition of "change through consensus" could produce enough change. Looking at the outcome of this election, I fear the question is being answered: more consensus, less change. And many observers have a sneaking feeling that this is the answer much of the German electorate still feels most comfortable with, even though no one actually voted for it. Over the next few weeks we shall see what detailed understandings Christian and Social Democrats can reach, as they try to reconcile their starkly contrasting positions on taxes, healthcare and labour market reform. Don't hold your breath.

Those who are more optimistic than I am about Germany's capacity for change point to what is happening already among the young and in business. Now it's true that one meets a lot of impressive, highly educated young Germans, able to tell you, in fluent English or French, what their country needs to do. The trouble is that you are most likely to meet them in Oxford (which has lots of outstanding German students), Harvard, Paris or Tokyo rather than in Heidelberg, Munich or Berlin. Today's genuinely free German youth have seized the chances offered by an integrated Europe, and a globalised world, to vote with their feet. Many of the brightest seem likely to make their professional careers largely outside Germany. Unless something changes back home, that is.

As for German business, the country's larger companies have certainly made big changes over the past decade. They have internationalised aggressively. Several hold their board meetings in English. They are leaner, meaner, fitter. They have export performances that most British or US companies would die for. But they have done this, on the whole, by cutting jobs in Germany and creating new jobs in the Czech Republic, Poland, India or China. This has not done much to help Germany's more than 5 million unemployed. Watching one of the endless TV discussion shows (Germans may not like change, but they love talking about it) I saw a former minister in Helmut Kohl's government, Norbert Blüm, throw up his hands in incomprehending horror at the notion that the stock market rewarded German companies for getting rid of 10,000 employees.

Well, exactly. The market alone won't do it. It does need the German state to create the conditions in which German companies will create the jobs - at home and not abroad. This means changing labour laws, taxes, welfare contributions and the like. These are the things that an alliance with the free-marketeering Free Democrats would have encouraged, and that with the Social Democrats will slow down. This at a time when Germany faces a fierce double competition: regionally, from the low-wage, low-tax economies of central and eastern Europe, and globally, from Asia. Now more than ever, I suspect that what Germany does will be too little, too late.

In German, there's a nice phrase for giving something a mixed greeting: "with one laughing and one weeping eye". I greet the prospect of chancellor Angie with a laughing eye. But as for the prospect of her walking stalemate of a government: it makes me weep. www.freeworldweb.net


The German chancellor thanks its neighbors for 60 years of partnership – By Angela Merkel

On May 23 of this year the Federal Republic of Germany will turn 60. The coming into force in 1949 of the Basic Law, the constitution of the then-West Germany, laid the foundations for our country’s free and democratic development. A destroyed Germany was rebuilt following the horrors of the World War II. The decision to opt for the social market economy brought about a breathtaking economic boom.

This successful combination of political and social stability and economic success was initially limited to the western part of Germany. For many decades, the Berlin Wall and barbed wire divided our country into two worlds. People in the East were oppressed and told what to think by a Communist dictatorship that denied them the fruits of their labor.

Twenty years ago, however, the citizens of East Germany achieved their freedom in an unprecedented, courageous and peaceful revolution. The Berlin Wall fell and German unification became a reality.

This anniversary year makes us realize that being able to live in peace, freedom and prosperity is a great gift and that it certainly cannot be taken for granted. Today, Germany is firmly integrated into the international community as a reliable partner. We know that our country’s freedom and unity would not have been possible without the trust of our neighbors and partners in Europe and the rest of the world. We are grateful for that trust. We believe that, as a result, Germany has a duty, indeed a moral obligation, to work unfailingly to achieve freedom, peace and prosperity in the world.

At the same time, history has taught us that politics need humane principles and democratic values. The founding generation of the Federal Republic knew from its painful experience of Nazi dictatorship and the World War II that a humane and free society can evolve and survive only if it is based on abiding fundamental values. That is why our Basic Law states: “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”

However, people want more than freedom and democracy. They also aspire to economic security and rightly demand opportunities to achieve prosperity. With the social market economy, Germany opted for an economic and social order that not only engenders economic and entrepreneurial freedom but also provides the necessary measure of social security.

The principles of the social market economy are very simple but also very clear. Freedom is the key tenet but the individual’s personal responsibility must be inextricably linked to it. Economic competition is necessary but only beneficial if it is coupled with social responsibility and if the same rules apply to everyone. A strong and effective state is needed to act as the caretaker of this economic and social order.

In my view, we could also agree on these principles at the international level. Particularly the current financial crisis has shown that economic freedom, common standards and rules guaranteed by the state are not irreconcilable, indeed that they must be reconciled with one another.

In development policy, these principles are reflected in the “helping people to help themselves” approach. Germany is the world’s second largest donor of development aid and has its own national development efforts. We are helping to ensure that development can take place in a free environment marked by responsibility and solidarity.

The principles described here characterize what could be called the “third way,” a system that contrasts with unbridled capitalism involving great financial and other risks but has nothing in common with a socialist command economy, whose failure I experienced first hand. I am firmly convinced that we need such a “third way” throughout the world.

As a country at Europe’s heart and with an open, export-oriented economy, we Germans are aware that many challenges can only be resolved through intensive international cooperation. We realized this early on in the spheres of climate protection and development cooperation.

However, the considerable importance of a common economic order with internationally recognized principles has only now been brought home to many by the international economic crisis. I believe that learning the right lessons from this is the tremendous opportunity this crisis affords us.

During its G-8 presidency in 2007, Germany launched the Heiligendamm Process. This enables the major emerging economies India, China, Mexico, Brazil and South Africa to cooperate with the G-8, with the OECD acting as a platform. Yet the global architecture of joint decision-making and reconciliation of interests is still inadequate in some regards.

Germany will remain strongly committed to ensuring that tangible progress is quickly made in this field. For us, this includes the formulation of a charter for sustainable economic governance, which could be advanced by the G-20 countries. Only a social market economy that promotes open markets, prevents protectionism and remains focused on fighting climate change and poverty worldwide will make sustainable growth possible in the global economy.

Naturally, mastering the economic and financial crisis is our priority at the moment. As the world’s biggest exporter, we know that we ourselves have to make a key contribution – not only to help the German economy get back on its feet but also to provide impetus for growth through international cooperation.

The German government has therefore adopted an economic recovery package that will result in billions of euros being invested in research and technology, education, infrastructure, the energy-saving refurbishment of buildings and environmental protection. It will also bolster the innovative drive of small and medium-sized companies in particular.

All in all, Germany will be providing financial stimulus equivalent to 4.7 percent of its gross domestic product in 2009 and 2010. We are thus making a contribution toward mastering the crisis that surpasses those of most of our European and global partners.

And Germany is focusing firmly on the future in other ways, too. The German government has developed a national High-Tech Strategy to take Germany to the top of the key markets of the future. In doing so, we want to focus on our special strengths.

Just one example: The reason we are so successful in the field of mechanical and systems engineering is because we have a tradition in the skilled trades and engineering that is unique in the world. We Germans set great store by precision, also when it comes to small details. That is one of our strengths. We are determined to ensure that “Made in Germany” remains a global hallmark of quality in the decades to come.

We continue to work on the future. That is something we have in common with the Federal Republic’s founding generation. And given our past achievements, I am optimistic that Germany will seize its opportunities to advance freedom and responsibility, the social market economy, European integration, the transatlantic alliance and close cooperation with our partners in America, Asia and Africa.

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