Never since the 1950ies have so many parties been elected to the German Bundestag as this year. Other countries envy us for that. But are the citizens’ essential wishes adequately represented and expressed in this way? Or are very similar concepts just emphasised differently for the respective group of voters? Are the alternatives at the “edges” the ones that promise a more democratic future? A review of the French elections shows a reorientation of the political agenda, which can also be observed in Germany. This can be used to deduce essential tasks for a democratic reorientation.
In France, a newly founded political movement just won the presidential office and subsequently also the parliamentary elections on the ticket of a neo-liberal Europeanisation of French politics. The ruling party system has imploded. The new movement has not received a broad support but was still able to push conservatives and socialists to the far edge. The Front National served as a whipping boy to make the day for the new star Macron. The Le Pen party which his campaign found so easy to defame turned out to be the perfect platform which put him right into the train to Brussels.
Polarisation in France
In France, the system of majority voting and a divisive element among the well-known political organisations have contributed to this polarisation. In Germany, the proportional representation system will hardly permit such radical changes in the party landscape. But does this reorganisation on the political stage also indicate a new policy? Or are they just the new tailor-made costumes for the same play that has long been on stage for some time already?
Macron has already had responsibility as a minister and, as a president, does not announce anything new, but merely that he intends to pursue a more consistent continuation of social cuts, a stricter orientation towards the EU Commission’s guidelines and the dissolution of national sovereignty. His parliamentary majority consists of mostly inexperienced members of parliament, who had to commit themselves to his presidential decisions without any programmatic commitments. One of his first steps was to streamline not only “his” members of parliament but also, if possible, the press1 and, apart from that, to indicate boastful but unrealistic announcements about climate policy, for example.2 His further neo-liberal reform plans, which can be followed in the daily press, have long been known in Germany under the keyword “Agenda 2010”. In France, too, the socialist president Hollande had already tried to put similar things on track. Old wine in new wineskins, one could say, praised with exaggerated advertisement and accompanied by a dictatorial attitude.
In France, the old wineskins (parties) have been put aside in the store room. They themselves had long ceased to take their own goals seriously, be it social democracy or conservatism, but had already prepared and practiced what Macron now wants to implement more clearly and consistently. The barely veiled announcement reads: We are rebuilding Europe, we are starting the next round in the dismantling of state regulations, of national democracies and in the construction of the EU administration. For that we need neither a real legislative power nor a sovereign electorate, but all the more a strong supranational executive power, which we will equip with sovereign rights and budgets and military. In this policy of the big banks and international corporations with their disregard of borders, social responsibility only seems to be an appeasing promise – the mantra that once the “reforms” have been implemented, everyone will somehow be better off.
In Germany, too, political parties have long waved good-bye to many of their old values and goals of the past. It was a social democrat who as chancellor implemented the social cuts which granted a special hausse to some big actors in the German economy, to the detriment of other national and international competitors. The first wars which Germany participated in after 1945 were led and propagandistically promoted by the same social democratic chancellor, in breach of international law, aided by his foreign affairs secretary from the Green party. Measures meant to protect civil life and functions of state sovereignty are degraded step by step, privatised and “deregulated”. A preserving political force which propagates and maintains the spirit of freedom-loving citizens, decent traditions of education and the rule of law in the nation state are hardly detectable any longer.
No, contrary to rumours, the German conservatives are not turned into social democrats, but rather they lost more and more of their own old principles. Only in campaigns and coalition negotiations the old slogans pop up as part of the poker game, but in the political daily routine other priorities are set. What are all the parties with those black, red, yellow, green and recently even blue colours good for after all? Most of all, it seems, to keep up appearances and the acceptance of the citizens for what is going on at the stage where this play called democracy needs to provide illusions of the old differences associated with these political colours, while there are hardly differences left in their acts and deeds.
Members of the German parliament from all parties have – with two thirds majority – removed the passage dealing with the political aim of national and political unity from the preamble of the constitution (Grundgesetz) already 25 years ago. And with an amendment of Article 23 they solidified the dismantling of national sovereignty and the division of powers.3 Unlike France, in our party system the problem is not so much old wine in new wineskins: The old wineskins are still intact in Germany, but for some time now new wine is being served – as compared to the old party values. Or rather - Euro vinegar. One could say, the political guidelines haven´t changed for a long time, Macron In France only changed gears and even accelerated the process instead of changing direction, and Germany will follow suit, regardless of whether the vice chancellor is called Schulz or Lindner.
Radical market policies oriented towards maximum profits for big business and big finance are the common denominator for the leading political forces in both France and Germany. They consider socially responsible politics, federal and national democracy, promotion of small and medium enterprises, ethical values in education etc. to be useless antiquities. Only the political costumes differ. In France a “modern” movement triumphed against a nationalistic straw puppet, although 80% of the electorate didn’t vote for them in the first place and antipathy has grown in the meantime. In Germany we see a more stable party landscape with political parties trying hard to keep the various layers of society on board and maintain political stability.
In both countries the same guideline is obvious: the old Right-Left-divide is supposed to be replaced by a decision between pro-Euro (= without alternative) or nation (= nationalisms = reactionaries). A new party called Alternative for Germany (AfD) seems to be most welcome as a new kid on the block to be pushed around by all the others and disguising their real agendas. Labelled as “progressiveness” liberal models of society including genderism insanities are promoted to ever increasing heights, and at the same time radical market policies with its urge to quantify anything and everything are sold in the same package. All in the name of freedom. Traditions, orientation towards values etc. ride on the “reactionary” ticket, together with all uncountable qualities, including democracy and the rule of state law – by now already defamed as twin sisters of nationalistic racism between the news headlines.
The Left, too, are playing their part in this masquerade. With national democracy – or any kind of democracy, for that matter – they never had a very close relationship. Their agenda has always been that of all-knowing elites or experts dragging the people behind them towards their brighter future. The existential – not just ideological – distaste of big business and big finance towards nations and borders and the fact that they are riding first class on the train to Brussels is no big deal for the Left. At least one has common interests, which is the anti-national stance. The German party The Left (Die Linke) joins those chanting the Euro hymn with ease, see for instance their former party leader Gysi on the occasion of him being awarded the carnevalesque “Medal against deadly seriousness” in Aachen in February 2017.4
On the other hand, Madame Le Pen, whose voters in France should be supporters of the left cause according to the old theory because most of them belong to the socially disadvantaged, has no problem to demand social justice and will perhaps one day even revitalise the old Georg Büchner slogan: Peace to the shacks, war on the palaces! And she would certainly be more efficient than Martin Schulz in Germany, provided she were allowed to. In Germany, too, a right-national movement evolved when it became clear that from the liberal camp no opposition to the radical market march to Brussels was to be expected, unfortunately this movement includes some rather sinister proponents of antidemocratic emotions.
The French elections suggest that nothing is more welcome to the EU strategists than such national movements. However, within those movements there are certain elements who aim for more polarisation in this regard. This may be logical as a matter of fact, but politically they are falling into the trap. Because that makes it easy to defame the anti-EU arguments by pointing towards supposedly inhumane or racist followers of these movements. Although AfD, Pegida and the Identity movement do issue statements on a regular basis to distance themselves from racism, the narrative is still widely accepted that these statements were “not strong enough”.
There seems to be no real representation for those opposing the EUisation of Germany from a truly democratic standpoint and who find themselves at the right edge of the spectrum only for the lack of alternatives. This includes people like the political writer Monika Maron5, whose experiences reach back as far as to the German Democratic Republic.
Where is the democratic force that cannot be dragged off the track, neither towards the Brussels Leviathan rising, nor into the swamp of inhumane positions? A force aware of the facts that
Does this force exist, this awareness in the middle of our society, mighty and non-ignorable? Yes and No. There are many citizens who would sign all the point above, but in the political arena their voices are always silenced by propagandistic noise, trumpeting out the opposite view to many of these points. Were this awareness present within a self-confident and capable citizenry rather than just the heads of many individuals, no political party colour trumpeting fuss would be able to distract a sovereign electorate towards the wrong track.
There is this elephant called EU in the room openly aiming to replace democratic sovereignty and division of powers by a practically uncontrollable executive - but too many look the other side and choose to mistake him for some cuddly kitten. Instead, the citizenry has the task to evolve into an elephant themselves and reduce those political mis-leaders to kitten status. In order to achieve this aim, we have to support those actors in politics whose hearts still burn for the right issues. Most of all we as citizens have to revitalise the basics of democratic life as outlined above and once again start to gain self-respect from them. We have to discuss ways together how to erect them firmly in the political arena of our countries. This is a long-term labour of (Self-)enlightenment towards civil responsibility, independent of parliamentary election dates. •
1 Macrons Mühe mit den Medien (Macron’s Trouble with the Media). In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (international) from 25 July 2017, p. 32
2 Tzermias, Nikos. Frankreichs Energiewende – grosse Ziele und ungewisse Umsetzung (France‘s energy turnaround - major targets and uncertain implementation). In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (international) from 24 July 2017, p. 5
3 Fischer, Christian. Demokratie braucht Nation (Democracy needs nation) from 24 September 2017, https://zeitgeist-online.de/exklusivonline/nachdenkliches-und-schoengeistiges/1040-demokratie-braucht-nation.html
4 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoAFg9n95Rk oder https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3W40IAW6Xc
5 Maron, Monika. Links bin ich schon lange nicht mehr. (It has been a long time since I have been left-wing). In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung (international) from 1 July 2017, p. 21
(Translation Current Concerns)
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