The Brief: The ‘Made in Germany’ bottleneck

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

It was almost indifference with which the international public seemed to take notice of the election results in Germany. The only important thing, it seemed, was that Angela Merkel, albeit scarcely, managed to climb to the top again. Especially because for Europe, the German chancellor stands for stability.

But that has proven to be a fallacy after coalition talks burst early Monday morning. Merkel’s negotiating strategy, which has earned her so much recognition on the international scene, does not work in her own country.

Too deep are the rifts between the “parties of the centre”, too big their fear of another loss in favour of the electorate. With the end of the coalition negotiations, the German chancellor suffered another defeat in her 12-year term.

Both the election campaign as well as the talks about a potential Jamaica coalition were also rather bloodless. There was no atmosphere of departure a la “En Marche”, no reform promises, no vision on where and how Germany will position itself in the future when it comes to domestic and foreign policy.

The failure of last night’s discussions must have echoed like a warning shot across Europe, because without a government in Germany, Europe lacks stability.

Macron’s comment, that “it is not in our interest that the whole situation becomes tense”, is more than true, because even he can only honour his reform promises if a German European policy supports them.

At the same time, the end of the exploratory talks could have been foreseen. The Conservatives, refreshed liberals and pragmatic greens took an approach to their potential alliance that was too compartmentalised.

You could think that the parties thought it was more important to profile themselves in the coalition talks than to find an agreement on the future of Germany. None of the established parties has made a name for itself in that regard during recent months.

The result: a chancellor weakened on the domestic and European levels, a Green party that during the negotiations abandoned some of their core points and Liberals and Social Democrats who want to avoid their government responsibilities.

With all the established parties’ struggles to profile themselves, there is one thing they haven’t tackled: their mandate to take responsibility for Germany and therefore also for the European project.

The failure of the negotiations for a democratic compromise plays into the hands of right-wing populists and dictators like Erdogan; it is just what they were waiting for in order to reduce democracy to absurdity.

The established parties in Germany are walking on thin ice. The consequences emerging out of that promise, for Europe, anything but the ability to count on a politically predictable Germany in the future.

The country lacks ideas for a possible minority government, and there are changing majorities in the German Bundestag, possible snap elections, a strengthening of the populist AfD…

European reform won’t become any easier depending on what government constellation comes together in the future. On the contrary. In Germany, the one thing that’s lacking is political stability. Europe will hear the signals.

EURACTIV and Ogilvy&Social.Lab look forward to welcoming you to their event on social media “Social is the new black. But do you know how to wear it in Brussels?” on November 29 at EURACTIV. More information and registration.

The Roundup

Chinese investors aren’t put off by the thought of Brexit but one agriculture expert warns the UK’s grain sector simply cannot compete by itself outside of the EU. New rules for organic farming were approved ahead of a vote in Parliament this week.

Member states were still voting on where to relocate two key EU agencies when we published The Brief, so check the site later for the result. Milan, Amsterdam and Copenhagen are through to round two of the medicines agency vote.

An upcoming vote on energy efficiency continues to drip with political intrigue and the Greek government has been told to fix Greece’s “distorted” renewables market.

Bulgaria’s president talked all about his country’s upcoming stint as holder of the EU’s rotating presidency and Europe’s attitude to Russia, while the Eastern European nation’s former king said he first talked about the EU presidency a decade ago.

Germany may be stuck in coalition talk woe but Austria is making progress in forming a government. This analysis of the German situation believes Merkel’s party will now start talking up the socialists, in order to have another stab at a Grand Coalition.

Climate finance was the sticking point of the recently-concluded COP23 summit in Bonn but there was a decisive lack of climate justice on the menu.

The WHO agency that concluded glyphosate is ‘probably carcinogenic’ is sticking by its opinion. EU member states and the Parliament agreed on the 2018 budget but development aid was cut.

How do you stop people avoiding tax? Educate them from an early age, apparently, if this handy EU tool is anything to go by. We’re also puzzled by this official Facebook page’s choice of stock image for treating eating disorders.

Look out for…

A flurry of action on important digital single market files this week. A crunch trilogue meeting will take place tonight on the controversial geoblocking proposal. Tomorrow, MEPs in the Legal Committee vote on two files affecting broadcasting rules and, with the Internal Market Committee, on the supply of digital content.

Views are the author’s

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