Hans-Peter Friedrich. Photo by Michael Lucan (Wikimedia Commons)
What is politics for? You can't help wondering. Is it running things and organizing stuff and making society fairer, or is it mainly just trying to not look venal and corrupt while staying in power? It's hard to tell.
To paraphrase someone famous or other, "German party politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low." That might just be a clever banter, but it works well for Angela Merkel's government and the talent it has developed for wasting time. She's as good as me and my weekly blog – thinking of new and elaborate ways to distract everyone from the fact that I'm not really doing anything important, just sort of filling space. That must make me the most suitable week-by-week commentator on Merkel's tenure, for she is a space-filler chancellor, and now, at the head of an opposition-less grand coalition with the SPD, she is the ultimate space-filler, filling a space bigger than ever before. A space-filler that the nation deserves. Her role at the moment is basically creating a perfectly smooth, friction-free government.
But for two political parties so basically the same as the CDU/CSU and the SPD, they really hate each other quite badly. There are Hezbollah fighters and Sunni militias who think Horst Seehofer and Thomas Oppermann could chill out a bit. That's if they've found the time to leaf through Der Spiegel's 8-page spread on the "Edathy Affair". If you haven't bothered to read it – if you've got something better to do with your life, like watching box-sets all day and eating Haribo, here's the quick capsule version: gentle-hearted Agriculture Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich, of the CSU, got sacked because last year, when he was interior minister, he told Sigmar Gabriel, then the leader of the opposition SPD, that one of their more prominent MPs, Sebastian Edathy, was potentially under investigation in Canada for downloading videos of naked children off the internet. Friedrich phoned Gabriel and said, "Listen, don't make this Edathy man a minister or anything, because he might be a paedo." That is a nice thing to do for your coalition partner. He was only trying to help. The only trouble was that it was illegal. Interior ministers aren't meant to do stuff like that (so why do they get told in the first place?). So he lost his job.
Friedrich was very angry about this. His party, the CSU, were very angry about this, because they think the SPD just told the press and let Friedrich walk over the cliff. But Merkel was not angry. It wasn't just that she doesn't care much who is agriculture minister, she has taken her apathy to a new level of Zen. She doesn't care on a spiritual level. Her single-minded drive towards total political heat-death means that she must ruthlessly wipe away even a smudge of wrongdoing in her project of trying to create a government that actually does nothing at all. In fact, sacking ministers, the political equivalent of dusting your apartment every day, is all that she, in fact most governments, do anymore. Not that anyone really minds. Except Friedrich. He's spitting Mineralwasser. That's the last time he does anyone a favour.