Other Views: German government is important to Europe—and Janesville

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Arthur I. Cyr
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The maneuvering by Chancellor Angela Merkel and other senior politicians in Germany to form a viable new government is important for Europe and beyond. These developments are of immediate interest given Wisconsin’s large German population. During World War II, Camp Janesville housed German POWs.

In Germany’s national elections Sept. 22, the ruling conservative Christian Democratic Union and partner Christian Social Union won the most seats in the lower house of parliament but fell five short of a clear majority. Their coalition partner Free Democrats, advocates of liberal free markets, lost all seats in the election.

While several weeks have passed with no new coalition, there is no sense of imminent crisis but rather an orderly search for compromise. On Oct. 17, Chancellor Merkel’s parties and the left Social Democrats publicly announced agreement to begin formal negotiations to create a coalition government.

The Social Democrats, the other major political party, advocate a nationwide minimum wage as one price of a new “grand coalition” government. Higher taxes on the wealthy are another contentious issue.

Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the Social Democrats, is adamant in defending policy positions but also willing to talk. German politicians well understand that stressful and unpleasant negotiations are unavoidable if democratic politics are to function effectively.

The talks begin begin today (Oct. 23), the day before Chancellor Merkel departs for a European Union (EU) summit. Germany has largely succeeded in securing greater financial discipline within the EU, especially on heavily indebted nations of southern Europe. Chancellor Merkel is adept at limiting domestic nationalist political pressures to abandon this leadership role.

In Greece, fierce public resistance to austerity led to growing support for the far-right Golden Dawn party, widely viewed as neo-Nazi. In 2012 elections, the party received enough votes to enter parliament but has since become mired in controversy over alleged criminal behavior. Despite these tensions and others, the EU has remained intact.

 Given the present interconnectedness of the global financial system, the financial failure of Greece and other debt-burdened EU member nations could result in another recession, perhaps even a world crisis. This reinforces the role of Germany, especially but not exclusively in Europe.

 Germany’s politicians likely will establish a national governing coalition soon. Chancellor Merkel’s disciplined, low-key and sensible style is especially popular with today’s Germans.

Washington politicians should learn from this example.

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen distinguished professor at Carthage College in Wisconsin and author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). He can be reached at acyr@carthage.edu.

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