Political Tremors In Germany And Spain
The datacenter hosting my VPS’ decided to hand me and a bunch of its client a crate of lemons when moving all its servers to a new location without previously advising its sub vendors. Well at least that is what mine is claiming and if you search for quickpacket on twitter you do indeed find a bunch of angry complaints on how the migration was handled. Now for me that means most of my VPS’ have been down since Sundays, leaving me hanging high and dry. Fortunately the Zero’s VPS is hosted somewhere else, so at least all you Zero subs will not be deprived of the signals today.
Now you probably know the old saying: if life hands you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade! While I unfortunately won’t be able to properly post my usual charts and campaign updates I believe the political crisis currently unfolding here here in Spain as well as in Germany may be worth summarizing as there appear to circulate a lot of myths and misinformation on both ends. And as a born German come American now living in Spain I do feel that I am somewhat qualified to offer my perspective on what is going on and where I believe things are heading here in Europe.
So let’s start with Germany, a subject pretty dear to my heart as I was born there and spent about 12 years of my life living in various parts of the country. Apologies for the picture but that is literally the friendliest snapshot of Chancellor Angela Merkel I was able to find. She’s not exactly a people person and the sweeping changes to Germany she spearheaded over her past three administrations do to some extent reflect the fact that she grew up under the East German regime in which she was a low level player in her early youth. She’s an extremely smart woman who holds a degree in quantum chemistry and was awarded prizes for her proficiency in Russian and Mathematics.
After the unification of Germany in 1989 the Democratic Awakening party Merkel had previously joined merged with West Germany’s CDU. Then Chancellor Helmut Kohl took her under his wings as sort of a protégé and the rest is history as the saying goes. After 12 years in power she is now embarking on her fourth term as German chancellor, but due to various controversial policies during her reign, mass immigration and a shift in energy policy being the most salient, a new nationalist party called the Alternative Für Deutschland (AfD) managed to more than double its percentage from under 5% to slightly over 12% during yesterday’s federal elections. Plus several of her allies and previous coalition partner SPD are now starting to distance themselves from Mrs. Merkel, not surprisingly so as their own election results yesterday took a major hit as well.
It is difficult to project forward from here as, just with the Federal Reserve, one should never under estimate the political skill of Angela Merkel. She has repeatedly run circles around her opponents and I am pretty confident that she will once again find a way to form a coalition and determine the course of Germany over the next four years to come. However that said, the easy days are over for Mrs. Merkel as she now will face not only the conservative AfD but also a strengthened FDP as well as both an embattled CDU and CSU (the Bavarian version of the CDU) which are now realizing that they are facing a fight for political relevancy.
Now I do have a pretty unique perspective on the situation as I left Germany in 1991, just after the reunification. The way I still remember Germany is what some people today may call antiquated and backward as much of the political shift toward the left happened after I was long gone. I suspect that previous chancellors like Helmut Kohl or Willy Brandt would be considered political extremists in this day and age but if one peruses the election program of the CDU or SPD from about 25 years ago then you’ll find that there’s a lot of overlap between them and what the AfD stands for today. You may disagree on that front but there simply is no way that Germany will be taken over by Neonazi right wing extremists. The German people have learned from history and they would never ever let this happen again.
I actually think that this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise, not so much for Mrs. Merkel and her CDU, but for Germany, as it once again gives the political center a chance to reassert itself. The last thing the liberals want to do is to continue ignoring or outright ostracizing a large percentage of its own population for political opinions that were considered mainstream just two or three decades ago. Because that is exactly what has happened over the past few years and once the center disappears completely what you may get is polarization on both fronts, which puts you on the fast track to civil war. And Germany in chaos always means Europe in chaos. I hope the Germans will continue to remember their lesson and use the coming four years as an opportunity to engage in mutual dialog and to prevent the rise of political extremism on both sides, the right and the left.
When it comes to Spain I am somewhat stunned by the overwhelming international support that Catalonia seems to be receiving in its struggle for independence. I wonder if California or Texas attempting to secede from the United States would receive a similar response. Be this as it may, this has been a train wreck in the making for a good part of the past decade now and the independista movement is just now receiving global recognition. Which always surprised me a little as a break off from Spain may send shockwaves through the entire European Union.
As I am a guest here I will not post my personal opinion on the subject as I believe this is something that Spain and Cataluña will have to sort out amongst each other. You will probably come across a lot of opinion pieces on the subject with both sides presenting very compelling arguments. All I would like to offer however is this: Although I do believe that secession would be terrible for both Spain and Cataluña as well as the rest of Europe, I also believe that all people have the right to self determination and to decide their own future. If a large part of a region wants to establish independence then it should be allowed to at least pursue that course.
It’s a bit like owning a dog and keeping it on a leash at all times. The more you try to exert control, the more eager it will be to run off at the first opportunity. The more space and love you give it the more it wants to stick around. Clearly a lot of political mistakes have been made and instead of demonizing Cataluña Madrid should take a good look at itself and ask why the Catalans are so eager to separate themselves from Spain in the first place. On the other side the Catalans of course need to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of secession, especially on a long term basis. A decision made as a result of regional pride and frustration about unfavorable policies coming out of Madrid may in the long term lead to unintended consequences.
But the die is cast now and increasing exchanges between pro-independence groups and Spanish loyalists will only accomplish exactly what I have warned about in my chapter on Germany – increasing polarization on both sides. Whether this in the end devolves into another regional civil war remains to be seen but I do believe that the potential for violent conflict exists as the Catalans are very proud and politically engaged people, and are not expected to simply stand by idly if they feel treated unfairly.
It’s important to remember that the Catalans always have considered themselves to be Catalans first and then perhaps Spaniards. Unlike down here in Valencia where Valenciano is used actively alongside with Spanish the Catalans insist on speaking mainly Catalan and will often refuse to engage you in Spanish. This shows a lot about their passion and the importance they put on their own regional language, culture, and of course their political future.
In closing, I wouldn’t worry too much about Germany at the current time and instead look at Spain for future signs of trouble. While Merkel will continue to dominate the international headlines it is Spain that is sitting on a proverbial powder keg that could go off at a moment’s notice.