All Quiet on the Election Front: Merkel’s CDU is plodding tediously to victory, but the Germans will regret this sooner than they realise.
There’s an eerie feeling of Phoney War around the EU and US markets at the moment, and by far the biggest factor (I suspect) is the German election. The German media in turn seem largely uninterested in the Election itself, regarding yhe entire event as pretty much a foregone conclusion. Over the last few months, it’s probably fair to say that Peer Steinbruck (leader of the Opposition SPD) has done an excellent job of making himself a credible alternative to Angela Merkel – should she ever stumble. But at the moment, she shows little sign of doing so. Although Steinbruck won the TV debate hands down, the polls later showed her still way out ahead on most dimensions. On absolute voter intentions, her CDU has 39% to the SPD’s 28%.
However, some in the CDU rank and file are showing signs of the jitters. This is because they foresee two potential problems on election day. The first is that passive CDU supporters among the electorate will stay at home because they regard their Party’s victory as a certainty. The other – perhaps more potentially upsetting – is that support for the anti-EU Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) is being understated in the polls.
It is a very common feature of opinion research that people often won’t admit to voting for a Party that seems to many a bit madcap. That said, the latest poll of two days ago had AfD on just 3% – some way down from the 5% it was getting shortly after its formation in the March/April period, albeit a solid figure that has changed little since the early summer.
In European politics, however, eurozone problems (often self-inflicted) can change everything very quickly. We have seen the UKiP breakthrough in England; and lest we forget, six years ago Syriza in Greece was polling 3.5% – now it’s the biggest Party there. “The electoral potential of AfD has been underestimated,” says Bettina Munimus, Professor of Political Science at the University of Kassel. “The party is a haven for all the conservative voters disappointed by the CDU and its European policy.”
A third of all German voters are retired, and a growing percentage of them are suffering from more difficult living conditions. These electors are scared by the cost of eurozone meltdown: they worked hard up until retirement, and look back nostalgically to three decades of growth they associate with a dominant Deutschmark.
This conservative retiree – devotee of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) and Die Welt – is sensitive to the AfD’s doubts about ClubMed, which have found a wide echo in those newspapers. What’s clear, however, is that the EC/ECB news bollocks system is working flat out to sustain the impression that all is well in Euroland: “events” (in the classic EC sense of “cock-ups”) are strengstens verboten….until such time as Geli and Wolfie are safely back in the saddle.
The best example of this is the complete drivel being handed out in relation to Greek debt – which is being ignored by everyone, but must – no buts, must – require a further bailout by Spring 2014 at the latest. Another is the flight of capital from the eurozone, an off-key mandolin that Capitaino Draghi has kept locked in a cupboard for the last three months. Ulli aus dem Volke’s brain is clearly still holidaying in Spain and Greece, and so none of this is being treated seriously by the German media – obviously a major blow for AfD. That could change over the next eleven days, but frankly I can’t envisage what would cut through the obfuscation enough to make a serious impression.
In the Suddeutsche Zeitung, Heribert Prantl is likening this electoral non-event to the 2009 version, when pretty much all the candidates were in strict denial about the fundamental problem in the West: Friedmanite financial capitalism’s risk mania alongside EC inability to react either quickly or realistically to crisis reality. But this is equally true of the French Presidential Election of 2012, and the British General Election of 2010: there’s an awful lot of brittle tree-bark out there hiding the rotten wood underneath. But while Bernanke, Obama, Osborne, Draghi and Schäuble continue to offer bland bromides about turning corners, steering ships and mending economies, there is still one wild card.
This is the Bankfurter tendency as a whole, and the Bundesbank/Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) axis in particular briefly referred to earlier in relation to Herrenvolk wrinklies. This niche élite remains as Merkelsceptic as ever: and generally, it might even be described as the group regarding ‘ClubMedseptic’ as the core unexploded bomb Germany faces. There is just an outside chance that this influential opinion-forming club might detonate the UXB in some form in what remains of the election. But if so, one is left asking why it hasn’t done so already.
I suspect this is because the most compelling data available do not support the Bankfurter/FAZ obsession: A recent opinion poll showed that pro-European sentiment among Germans has actually increased over the last few years. Most surprisingly, considering the whole euro crisis, the number of people who want a return to the trusty old deutschmark is at an all-time low. The tub-thumping FAZ itself has grudgingly admitted that this trust in the single currency is the main reason why AfD remains on 3% – nowhere near enough under the Bundesrepublik’s List PR system to gain access to the Bundestag.
But as is so often the case, the external data suggest that the German majority is hopelessly wrong. There is in fact every chance that a broader ClubMed insolvency will lead to 0utright default in Italy and Spain. Germany couldn’t afford this, and that’s why – bizarrely – Merkel the faux Euro-unionist may within two years be taking Germany out of the ezone, and splitting the financially incontinent continent into two diametrically different halves. The riddle – and the dilemma – remains which one France is going to wind up in. The Germans who love to go a-wanderung are, in truth, meandering towards disaster with the same blasé optimism of the Weimar middle class after 1931.