Heinrich von Rustige: Unterbrochene Mahlzeit, 1838 (Interrupted Meal)

A comment on the political crisis in Germany

Over the month of June the political business of the German bourgeoisie has been dominated by the outburst of a long-smoldering conflict within its government apropos of issues of migration and refugee policies, which has put the historic party alliance between the CDU and its Bavarian junior partner CSU in jeopardy and has risked the fall of Merkel’s coalition government on the very threshold of its first 100 days in office.

The clash was initiated by the German “Homeland Secretary”, the acting CSU party leader Seehofer, threatening to turn back certain categories of refugees and asylum seekers at the German border in a go-it-alone approach, without any prior EU agreement. As Seehofer publicly announced to defy the declared will of his chief in office, chancellor Merkel was left with no other choice than to point to her constitutional right to decide on the orientation of government policies, giving rise to speculations on Seehofer’s dismissal should he persist in his demarche.

Thus the conflict had been set to escalate into an open power struggle within the German government and the Christian Democratic party alliance, risking both the fall of the government and the break-up of their party alliance. As this crisis has held the country in its grip for 3 weeks, such an outcome could only be averted by means of a presumed “compromise” between the two conflicting members of government reached “in overtime” in the evening of Monday July 2nd.

Finally, Merkel’s coalition government was saved by the SPD who, as the third partner in the ‘grand coalition’ government, had been sidelined by this paralyzing and rather surrealist row – but succeeded in bringing about a policy agreement with its christian-democratic coalition partners on Thursday July 5, one day before the parliamentary summer recess.

This agreement is presented to be in full support of Merkel’s multilateral approach within the EU framework (stopping Seehofer’s self proclaimed unilateralism), puts a “labor immigration law” (convened in the coalition treaty) concretely on the agenda, and contains measures to speed up the asylum procedures and to increase police surveillance.

The ominous “transit centers” at the country’s border with Austria, propagated by Seehofer’s mysterious “Master plan on immigration” which served as the crisis’ ignition,  had suddenly vanished in thin air, and were substituted by a “transit procedure”.

Whereas the SPD has seized the occasion to slip into the role of the “savior” of the Merkel government, nobody believes that this conflict within the latter’s ranks has really been resolved. (1) On the contrary, it is widely expected that this kind of wildfire will reignite rather sooner than later, as long as Seehofer and his allies are around to cause havoc. The days of the present ‘grand coalition’ remake appear thereby as numbered even before it has really come off the ground.

Moreover, the rift across the center of the political landscape of the German bourgeoisie, now temporarily smothered, threatens to break up the historic, strategic partnership between the two christian-democratic parties CDU and CSU, which has been a sheet-anchor of stability in its post-War political order.

This would open the gates for a further destabilization of the line-up of the political forces of the bourgeoisie, which has already been weakened by the AfD’s entrance in the country’s regional parliaments, and in the Bundestag since the national elections of September 24 last year. A profound shake-up of its party landscape, alliances and coalitions is looming in its wake.

Some informed commentators (2) hold that such an outcome would have been not just a consequence, but the very aim of Seehofer’s maneuvering against Merkel and the SPD in government. The former would be envisaging a deployment of the CSU at a national level, in preparation for a coalition with the AfD at the image of Austria’s government of ÖVP (Kurz) and FPÖ (Strache).

It may be doubted whether this has been the agenda behind Seehofer ‘going berserk’ as,  in that case, it would have been more adequate for him to simply resign, instead of staying in office stranded. (3) Such a dynamic is however diametrically opposed to the interests of the German bourgeoisie, as a policy of ‘re-nationalization’, rabidly advocated by the CSU leadership and its allies – and cheered from the sidelines by the right-wing populist AfD (4) – would clearly jeopardize its orientation towards the revival of the Franco-German axis, without which the EU itself would suffer its definitive shipwreck. This may very well have been the abyss the “sister parties” have just avoided to slide into.

H.C., July 9, 2018


1 See for instance: A. Sauerbrey in The New York Times on July 5: Germany’s Political Crisis Has Just Begun.

2 … like A. Görlach in The New York Times on July 3: The Political Earthquake About to Hit Germany.

3 In fact, in a much quoted interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Monday July 2, Seehofer still fanned the flames of conflict in view of scheduled inter-party talks that afternoon, by stating that Merkel would only have become chancellor because of him. In fact he was publicly applying for his dismissal.

4 At the AfD’s party congress in the same weekend, a cynical joke by its chairman compared Merkel to Honecker in the last days of the Stalinist DDR regime, demonstrating  the wishful thinking applauded by Germany’s populist swamp.

Illustration:  Heinrich von Rustige (1810-1900): Interrupted Meal, 1838; Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe / Germany

Discussion  Topic: Where is Europe going?

(Last Updated: August 15, 2018)