By Enya Levy & Alan Martin
Editorial Note: Since the time of writing, Jamaica coalition talks have fallen apart due to a failure to come to an agreement on immigration or energy. Merkel is now faced with the possibility of forming a minority government with either FDP or the Greens, or re-entering the ‘Grand Coalition’ with SPD (Social Democratic Party), which formed Merkel’s Government for the last two terms.
Derek Scally is the Berlin correspondent for the Irish Times, focusing mainly on German and European politics as well as business and cultural affairs. A graduate of DCU Journalism, Scally first found himself in Berlin on his Erasmus year, where he improved his German through frequenting the many Dive Bars of Kreuzberg rather than attending the compulsory language classes at Humboldt University, which he described as a “waste of time”. He returned there having secured the position after a number of years working domestically for the Irish Times. He has now been there for nearly 20 years, during which he has, according to him, “gone through at least three Berlins”. On November 16th, Scally spoke to TCD Germanic Society on the political shift in Germany from centre to right, and Angela Merkel’s “Jamaica Coalition”.
It is now eight weeks since Germany’s Federal Elections, which saw the decline of the Germany’s long-standing mainstream parties, with the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands, or Christian Democratic Union (CDU), seeing their worst result in 68 years. Merkel has been left in a precarious position, with the options of forming a minoritygovernment, a feat which has never yet proven successful in Germany, or going back to the polls, with near certainty of personal political suicide. The only viable option for her political survival is to form a coalition between her own Christian Democratic Union, the Free Democratic Party, and the Green Party, notoriously known as “the Jamaica Coalition”, due to the colours of the parties in question. Its notoriety is not without reason, as the parties not only seem to be at odds in terms of policy (with clashes over the cap on emissions, the diesel scandal and European integration for example), but the coalition is unsupported by 52% of the population, a number which is constantly rising. Merkel will have to act as the “political mustard”, to bring this “salad dressing of political oil and vinegar” together, according to Scally. He credits Merkel with being strong, wily and not to be written off – but this, however will be her “last spin on the political merry-go- round”, unless she “sheds her skin” and re-invents herself as yet another politician. With the end of Merkel’s term as Bundeskanzler in 2021, the CDU will have to elect another leader. This will come at the worst possible time, just as Europe needs a stable Germany, to lead them through uncertain times.
More is at stake with the success of this coalition than may meet the eye. If Germans were forced back to the polls, says Scally, there will only be one winner: the AfD. The AfD, Alternative für Deutschland or “Alternatives for Germany”, gained significant traction in the last Federal Election, becoming the third biggest party with 95 seats. Originating on an anti-bailout platform, they are now the farthest right mainstream party, and a symbol for populism and xenophobia. According to Scally, there exists a conflict within the AfD, between its disillusioned and moderately conservative faction on the one hand, and
nationalist xenophobic faction on the other. Scally predicts that when this comes to a head, the xenophobs will win out. The AfD experienced windfall gain from the decline of the other parties - the CDU became increasingly centrist, they left members who were further to the right feeling unrepresented. This presented an opportunity for the AfD to win their support, offering a platform for anyone who identifies with the right and who have long been demonised by mainstream politics in Germany. Scally believes that ‘right’ has become a synonym for automatic extremism, fascism, even nazism, and the emerging possibility of identifying as a conservative, but not a fascist, offered by parties such as the AfD is key to their success. For the average German today, at least two generations removed from the horrors of the actions of their ancestors during the Holocaust, the notion that nationalism is taboo, and evil, no longer flies. Scally notes that Germany’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup marked a clear and sudden shift towards acceptability of national pride, with German flags to be seen everywhere for the first time since World War II. “Nationalism will always be a problem”, says Scally, however the denial of the right to its expression “can only end badly”.
Asked if the phenomenon is compounded by the far left, Scally agrees it definitely is, drawing on examples such as the actions of the Antifa during the Hamburg G20 protests and car-burnings in Berlin by anarchists. The recent success of 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz, leader of the right-wing Austrian People’s Party, the oldest and most successful populist party in Europe, is due in part to his marketability, says Scally, in an age of the “instagrampolitician”, shaped by figures such as Justin Trudeau and Leo Varadkar.
“Nationalism will always be a problem,” however the denial of the right to its expression “can only end badly.”
Despite the shift towards the right, growing criticism of the perceived German bankrolling of the EU, 86% of Germans still agree that the EU does more good than bad. In particular, Germany is watching the situation with Ireland and Brexit closely, which offers a unique opportunity for Ireland in the EU, according to Scally. For the first time, Ireland is no longer able to “hide behind Britain’s skirts” and can take a more prominent role on the European stage. Irish economists, for example, can offer a unique invaluable insight due to their differing approach in certain questions to most of our mainland neighbours. Ireland needs to take a more proactive role in defining our place in the new Europe, and this should include strengthening ties with Germany. “Germany needs Ireland”, Scally assures us, and hopes that they will be high on Varadkar’s list of priorities to come.
Originally published 1.12.17 in Vol. 1 No. 1.