The German elections and the role of Berlin in the EU

As the German elections of September 24 approach, many commentators across the continent focus on the largest EU Member State’s political landscape. Some French op-eds question the role of Germany in the European Union. On the Paris-based think tank Contexte, Luc André writes that 12 years of Merkel’s rule showed that the German Chancellor is more of an “administrator” than a visionary leader able to foster integration. Likewise, on Mediapart, Claus Leggewie argues that Berlin has not been too responsive when it came to strengthen the Union over the past few years. So, the German intellectual calls for Emmanuel Macron to push the German elites to deliver reforms at the European level.

Yet, writing for The European Institute, Markus Ziener, shares a different view. Merkel has been rather effective on the international stage and “proved to be the perfect crisis manager”. As for her shortcomings, Ziener believes that these relate more to the internal politics of Germany. Moreover, Ziener rounds on the electoral campaign of the Christian and Democratic Union (CDU). According to the expert, the ruling party has decided to spread a “feel-good atmosphere”, instead of tackling the real issues the country will face in the upcoming future.

In a similar vein, on Carnegie Europe Jackson Janes argues that the politics of Merkel “emphasizes process over proclamation”. The core message of the Chancellor is based upon the mantra of “trust and stability”. According to Janes there is little doubt that Merkel will win her fourth electoral competition in a row. But this does not imply that she will be ready to master future challenges.

Besides, in Germany, Martin Schulz’s lack of leadership seems to be a more prominent topic than Merkel’s success. In the pages of the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Oliver Georgi analyses the likely defeat of the SPD candidate. Georgi argues that Schulz has been unable to come up with a clear electoral message for German citizens. So much that even Merkel’s sober “You know me” slogan is proving more powerful than it actually deserves.

What will the consequences of the German elections on Brexit be? Leopold Traugott tackles the issue on the British liberal think tank Open Europe. Traugott argues that the for the UK the best outcome would be a coalition formed by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Liberal party (FDP), as the latter has most connections with the German business environment. Such an alliance would be keen to listen to the pragmatic concerns of employers, eventually leading to a positive free-trade agreement between the EU and the UK.

On The European, Wolf Achim Wiegand, a German journalist and member of the Liberal party (FDP), warns about the pitfalls of the electoral campaign. Nowhere in German media has a discussion on the future of Europe taken place so far, Wiegand writes. The journalists of the leading EU Member State are failing to address a key issue. The absence of Europe from the debate is all the more striking considering that in two years German citizens will vote in new EP elections, Wiegand claims.

The Athens speech and Macron’s legacy

Last week, Emmanuel Macron visited Athens and outlined his vision on Europe. The French president said that he wants to foster the EU integration project by means of introducing a Eurozone budget and a joint investment initiative.

On The New York Times Chris Bickerton blasts the French President. According to the Cambridge scholar, Macron is revealing “the emptiness of his political program”. The French leader suffers from “Macronism” – a political method based on rhetoric authoritarianism -, Bickerton writes. Bickerton also argues that in France Macron in enacting nothing but neoliberal reforms. At the end of the day, these will lead to mounting inequalities. Concerning the likelihood of new EU-wide reforms, Bickerton recalls that any progress depends on German elites and not on the French leader’s desires.

Yet, a long editorial piece by Martina Meister, published on Die Welt, praises Macron’s Athens speech. Meister argues that with hindsight, Macron’s visit might prove to be a historical juncture. The German writer claims that Angela Merkel is underestimating her French counterpart. While the Chancellor is stuck with the national electoral campaign, Macron is establishing an EU wide alliance for major changes in the governance of the Union.

Other German newspapers feature commentaries on the future of the European Union. On the left wing Taz, Ulrike Guérot claims that the nation state represents the main obstacle on the way to a fully-fledged EU democracy. Guérot argues that in the past the formation of nations was driven by political decisions and legal instruments rather than by an underlying popular will. So Guérot calls for the development of the European Monetary Union into a wider Political and Social Union, based upon a renewed social contract between European citizens.

UK migration policy

As The Guardian revealed that Downing Street plans a major crackdown on EU immigration, in the UK many commentaries are focusing on the post-Brexit migratory policies of the Government. On The Conversation, Emma Carmel argues that the leaked document, although not being official UK policy yet, reveals important details on the future status of EU citizens in the UK. According to Carmel, a so called “implementation period” that is outlined with some details in the text, will make it harder for low-paid and precarious workers to stay in in the UK. Nevertheless, it is not possible to say if this will bring down immigration numbers, she writes. Moreover, even if the document highlights the many uncertainties of the Home Office, Carmel argues that within the document regional and business-sector specific interests find a place for the first time in the Executive’s policy reflection.

The editorial board of The Guardian criticises the migration policy outlined in the leaked document of the UK Home Office. According to the British daily, Theresa May wants to stay true to an old promise of British politics, namely: lowering arrivals to the UK down to 100,000 units per year. At the cost of making the UK a poorer country.

The refugee crisis and EU values

Last week the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled against an appeal submitted by Hungary and Slovakia that was aimed at exempting the Eastern countries from abiding by the EU refugee relocation scheme. Shortly after the news spread across the media, Hungarian authorities defined the decision as “meaningless”.

On the German newspaper, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Stefan Ulrich argues that the facts prove that Europe needs to go into the direction of a two-speed architecture. According to Ulrich a stronger and more cohesive EU would move faster along the path of EU integration and give incentive for external countries to adapt.

The editorial board of the The New York Times rounds on the Hungarian Government. The US based media highlights the paradox of a former URSS country to build up new fences against migrants. The editorial board underlines the principles of human rights are not optional.

Taking a wider approach on the migratory matter, on Social Europe Matthias M. Mayer discusses potential solutions to the current refugee crisis (see also this video). Mayer claims that migrants undertake illegal routes because of the absence of sufficient legal immigration opportunities to enter Europe. At the institutional level, the author argues that it would make sense to plan the establishment of independent Ministries for Migration, Refugees and Integration across Europe. Moreover, Mayer calls for national institutions to simplify their legal pathways for entrance. Once this happens, a sensible EU system could be set up.

Catalunya: A European issue

Catalunya is becoming an issue not only for Spain, but for the whole of Europe. On the German left-wing newspaper, Taz, Jost Maurin writes that the Regional government is pushing for a risky and “illegitimate” secessionist process. In case of success, Catalan independence would trigger similar projects in Spain country as well as other parts of the continent, e.g. Scotland, South Tirol, Flanders, and Northern Ireland.

On the other hand, in the leftist Spanish magazine, La Marea, Iñigo Sáenz de Ugarte argues that unless a popular vote takes place, the Catalan secessionist movements will not stop their efforts to tear Spain apart.

This Ideas Monitor is by Carlo Burelli and Alexander Damiano Ricci

Photo Credits CC Thomas Dämmrich

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