Photo by Armin Linnartz (Wikimedia Commons)
Angela Merkel’s re-election two days from now seems to be as inevitable as death. In the last three weeks of her campaign, the incumbent chancellor could have fiddled her taxes, shagged an intern, slapped a cheeky child, become involved in a drunken altercation with a CDU voter, and a solid 43 percent of the German public would still vote for her.
Peer Steinbrück can strut and struggle and flip the bird all he likes, making sweaty exhortations in market squares up and down the land, but every night, he will return to his hotel room and feel like his soul is disappearing into the zero in that unreachable, ever-receding 30 percent mark.
Because she’s so nice. Because her aura is like a wall of sensible competence. Because she offers no Angriffsfläche, as the Germans say, no surface for attack. But there’s more to it than that. The real reason why Germans love Merkel is because she’s so passive. Of course, especially in an ageing country like Germany, voters are naturally conservative and prefer to stick with the old coat no matter how much it itches and stinks, but Merkel has found a new level of passivity. She’s a trouser-suit Buddha. Her governing style on every issue – from the NSU murders to the NSA scandal – is about doing as little as possible until she really, really has to.
On the Euro Hawk debacle, where her government ended up wasting €1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money on a flying weapon that it’s not allowed to use, the genius of her passivity became a spectacle. Not only did she make sure that none of the blame touched her, but Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere somehow managed to keep his job. All she did was idly extend her benevolent, soothing wing, and her little chick was safe.
And there are so many other things. The European Union, that international community on which Germany’s prosperity depends, is falling apart all around her. Her neo-liberal solution, pursued so mercilessly that it has driven whole countries to the point of collapse, is to force debt-ridden nations to privatise everything, and cut all social benefits and pensions, in exchange for bailout packages. Meanwhile, she has avoided pursuing the same methods inside Germany because that would actually make her unpopular. Austerity is for people who aren’t eligible to vote in Germany.
The CDU’s election manifesto is a study in obfuscation. Every issue is bleached, washed out and hung out to dry. The biggest scandal of her tenure was undoubtedly the revelations about endemic racism and incompetence in German security forces, who failed to find – or even notice the existence of – a far-right terrorist cell that bombed streets and shot people in the head for nearly a decade. There is a desperate need for reform in the German domestic intelligence agency, for the sake of national security, as well as for the sake of, you know, having fewer Nazi policemen.
But the CDU only refers to the NSU murders in the most vague of terms, and promises no actual measures. It’s the same with the revelations related to the NSA scandal and the debate on privacy rights that Edward Snowden provoked. After briefly paying lip service to the problem, Merkel’s manifesto eventually admits it sees no reason to change current laws, since mass online surveillance is a necessary tool against crime.
Merkel is a black hole, consuming the energy of all these problems and debates but letting nothing out. She is just waiting for the election to be over. And the voters? They are waiting too.