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Konrad Werner: Why Schulz is an upgrade on Merkel

There's more to the centre than just centrists – Martin Schulz is a real alternative to Angela Merkel.

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Photo by Claude Truong-Ngoc (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Relief, spring, and a bit of optimism have set in after the Dutch election result. Not only that, it seems as though expressing enthusiasm about Donald Trump being president of America hasn’t lifted Marine le Pen and Frauke Petry much in the opinion polls: the AfD has plateaued at about 10 percent, about the same as the Greens and the Linke – in other words, after the election in September they will become a noisy opposition party, which is what they are now thanks to their massive media coverage.

Germany will have a choice between Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz as chancellor, which the cynics of left and right will tell you is no choice at all. But they are wrong. For all her current international status as the pro-democracy barricade against the Trump-Erdogan-Putin axis, it’s easy to forget how Merkel’s austerity policies, and the brutal treatment of Greece, helped make Europe so vulnerable to nationalism and exposed how little she was committed to a democratic, federalist Europe.

A political scientist called Oskar Niedermayer once identified the moment when the AfD seed was planted in Germany: March 25, 2010, he said – that was the day when Merkel told the Bundestag in the morning that Greek bailouts would only be used as a last resort, and then in the evening passed the first Greek bailout package at an EU summit, because such measures were “alternativlos“. That word quickly spread as it was used by Merkel and other members of her administration, and ended up being named the 2010 “Unword of the Year” – the German annual doublespeak prize. “Alternativlos” became a maypole for the anti-EU economists who founded the AfD, and eventually gave them the name of their party.

Obviously it’s not Merkel’s fault the AfD went on to transform into a wretched pool full of mean racist eels – but her European policy, and the way she was willing to let Wolfgang Schäuble railroad Greece into poverty, gave the AfD more ammunition. The CDU’s economic policy was nationalist, not European, for Germany’s stability in the past few years was bought with the punishment of Greece and the other flailing economies, who paid the price for German stability – and it all fuelled arguments that brought about Brexit too.

So much depends on the strength of the centre-left now. I’m not saying he’ll make it all better, but Martin Schulz, the former European Parliament president who is now the SPD’s chancellor candidate, would not continue the Merkel doctrine – he’s a more committed European than either Merkel or Schäuble. And if you believe what he is saying about correcting Agenda 2010 and fighting poverty in Germany, his election might open the space for a rebuilt European welfare state and a stronger European Union. Anyway, given that the SPD has a lot fewer nationalists to pander to than the CDU, at least Schulz might not impose massive restrictions on immigrants’ lives in this country. Oh yeah, and if Schulz were chancellor, we’ll hear less from Horst fucking Seehofer too.

For some audio Konrad, listen to News des Nachrichtens, the German news podcast with Drew Portnoy: