By Ron Fraser
By When Germany’s parliament resumes after its summer recess, its greatest challenge will be deciding who will lead.
Germany is a nation in transition. It sits atop Europe economically, financially, militarily and bureaucratically in its dominance of key areas in European politics. Yet Germany has a problem at home. Its own national political leadership is in disarray.
The burning question that will be on everyone’s lips early during this autumn session of parliament will simply be, how long will the leaders of the two key parties, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP), last?
CDU leader Angela Merkel, long having dragged behind Germany’s most popular politician, Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, in the polls, has now been overtaken by her old nemesis, Social Democratic Party leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At the same time, the popularity of the leader of her senior FDP coalition partner, Vice Chancellor Guido Westerwelle, has tanked. There are calls from within his own party for him to step down and make way for another FDP leader.
This all presents an interesting scenario as we approach a seething autumn political season in Europe, amid a foreign-policy nightmare. On the international front, there’s the ongoing global economic crisis, a nuclear assertive Iran, the United States in retreat from Iraq and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, not to mention China expanding its industry right on Europe’s doorstep. Underneath all of these lead issues are a whole battery of destabilizing trends within Africa and South America, plus a rising power on the Indian subcontinent. Across the Yellow Sea there’s the provocatively unpredictable North Korea. In the Sea of Japan, the island peoples of Nippon are reviewing their defense policies seeking a more aggressive role on the world stage. On top of all that is a newly resurgent imperialist Russia.
In such a world, a global power such as Germany needs strong, assertive political leadership. The days of a fattened Germany, grown large on the undoubted fruits of its labors, being content to cuddle up to the motherly image of “mutti” Merkel, are past. The chancellor’s days are numbered. She is now being overtaken by events she is simply not geared to handle—and it has certainly shown in her poor performance since her reelection with reduced support last October.
Merkel’s downfall comes at a very interesting and challenging time in German politics—a time when three tried and proven politicians await their moment to move in for the kill. That moment may be closer than most realize.
We have featured three personalities quite heavily in our continuing analysis of Germany in relation to its final drive to lead the European empire: Edmund Stoiber, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and, lately, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.
Edmund Stoiber is far from a spent force. The political champion of Bavaria, he took over the leadership of the Catholicized Bavarian Christian Social Union from the former strong man of Europe Franz Josef Strauss and developed the state of Bavaria into the economic powerhouse of the German nation. After leading in the polls, he was narrowly beaten by Gerhard Schröder in the 2002 election for the chancellorship. He later declined the office of economics minister in the first Merkel government and was then hired by the EU as its Mr. Fixit, charged with cutting the mass of red tape that chokes the plethora of mushrooming European institutions and departments. Stoiber is a supporter of Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who in turn has shown Herr Stoiber a deal of favor.
Edmund Stoiber is an arch Catholic conservative of the first order, a rank supporter of his fellow Bavarian Pope Benedict XVI. Stoiber mentored Baron Guttenberg’s rise in Bavarian politics within the Christian Social Union, even as he himself was previously mentored by Strauss. Though seldom in the limelight of recent years, one gets the feeling that he is a man waiting for a return to active political involvement in Germany and Europe.
Steinmeier is another kettle of fish altogether. Known as the eminence gris of German politics, he has headed its secret service, been foreign minister in Chancellor Merkel’s previous government, and was a confidante and personal aide to Chancellor Schröder during his term in office. Steinmeier is closely attuned to Russian politics and foreign policy and is personally acquainted with Putin. Russian-German relations are crucial to Germany’s role as the dominant player in the European Union.
After losing the chancellorship and the lead in coalition membership to Guido Westerwelle’s Federal Democrats, Steinmeier has been busy in opposition taking every opportunity to stab at both Merkel and Westerwelle in the political quagmire that has resulted since the 2009 election. Recently his popularity has spiked; public opinion now has him the second-most popular politician in Germany.
Of course, as has been the case for the past year, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, baron of the Holy Roman Empire, maintains his position as the shining star of politics in Germany and is now being touted as the ideal new chancellor. Guttenberg runs an extremely high profile in Germany’s press. He has visited Afghanistan on five occasions in 10 months. He has been preparing for a flight in one of the Luftwaffe’s high-tech Eurofighter jets this summer. He has launched the Bundeswehr’s own online television station and endorsed Germany’s new military veteran’s association. This is all in line with his determination to develop a positive public image for the Bundeswehr in the process of seeking wide public support for its growing profile, particularly for its increased deployment overseas.
Guttenberg has it all: charisma, pizzazz, high energy, high intellect. He is articulate in both German and English, of aristocratic bearing yet with a touch with the common people. Most important in this highly visual age, he has great camera presence.
These three—Stoiber, Steinmeier and Guttenberg—would make a formidable triumvirate in German politics today. Together they could complete the trifecta at any upcoming German election. What a powerful team they would make! A team for Germany’s moment of domination on the world scene—a moment that has been prophesied to come for over 3,000 years through the inerrant prophecies embedded in your Bible. It’s an inevitable moment that the signs indicate will arrive sooner, much sooner, rather than later.
Will this be the team to dominate German and European politics when Merkel’s coalition falls apart? We honestly don’t know. What does seem inevitable is that Steinmeier is on the comeback trail, Merkel and Westerwelle are on the wane, Guttenberg’s star is shining brighter than ever, and a politician molded in the style of that grand old strong man of Europe, Franz Josef Strauss, bides his time in the wings.
Watch Germany this autumn. The political fallout may eventually prove earthshaking! •