Germany, the Days After. We Speak with Luca Crescenzi

The European elections. We get a first analysis of the German vote with the president of the Institute of Germanic Studies.
SANDRA PAOLI
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Versione Italiana

Our conversation with the Germanist Luca Crescenzi can only start from the most striking and talked about political fact about the outcome of the European vote in Germany. We ask him, paraphrasing a quip from the Italian political scene: did they see the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) coming?

That the AfD was on its way – says the president of the Institute of Germanic Studies – has been understood since the last regional elections in which it earned very high numbers, 22-24 percent. Then it reached notable percentages in the eastern areas of Germany, where it is electorally strongest.

Luca Crescenzi in a recent image in Venice where he is a full professor at Ca’ Foscari University.

Yes, it was “seen coming” but it could not be stopped… The discussion should be extended to all of Europe. It’s not just about Germany. There is a confused need for security that pushes an average electorate towards parties that seem to guarantee this need. In the case of Germany there is naturally the combination determined by the political – and historically disadvantaged – situation of the Eastern regions, which at this point seems to have reached a situation of clear discontent. It is not a protest vote. It is a vote that calls for a different policy, and it is a brutal request, from which – in the German case – the bulk of the AfD’s electoral result comes.

AfD supporters celebrating after the outcome of the European vote

According to the first findings in France on the reasons for the vote, Le Pen’s voters put the economy and purchasing power first, with international politics as secondary. Considering that in Germany the far right gets the bulk of the votes in the East, is it possible that also in the German case the economic situation and the reduction in purchasing power for families have weighed more than ecological issues and the international situation?

I believe that the answer to this complex question must be contemplated in the context of the request for greater security, which is linked to a growing distrust towards European migration policies – and specifically national ones in Germany – which have long given rise to discontent.

We hear that international politics matters little, but shouldn’t large migratory flows be considered within the framework of international politics? Think of Eastern Europe and the massive flows following the invasion of Ukraine. And paradoxically they are going to reward a formation, the AfD, which has a – let’s say euphemistically – conciliatory policy towards Russia and Putin.

Of course, there is certainly concern about the economy which, however, in Germany has seen significant salary increases, on the order of ten, twenty, up to thirty percent in the last year due to previous inflation.

So, yes, there is a decline in purchasing power, and it is certainly true that there is a loss of the widespread well-being in which the German population found itself until recently, but to me the problem seems more historical.

It is the Länder in the eastern part of Germany that are complaining. They are the ones that have historically enjoyed the least of German well-being, the regions where there is a significant part of the population that does not feel represented in Berlin. And which paradoxically – compared to all the other European areas that suffered submission to Russian-Soviet power during the Cold War – does not seem to have any fears in this sense.

Of course, historically it is true that those have always been poorer areas than those of the old Länder, and it has been like this for a long time. The pockets of real poverty are precisely in that part of the country, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the poorest Land in Germany.

The problem is historical. We need to go back to thirty years ago, when a two-tiered economic integration policy was implemented, with salaries in the East twenty percent lower than in the West, with planned economic differences which also led to numerous exclusions of people from the production circuit, even of qualified figures such as intellectuals who worked in the universities, situations which then were not remedied.

In the long run, other reasons for discontent of various kinds have added up, such as immigration from Syria, but even more so from the East, the reason for greatest fear in Germany. Now there is no doubt that historically and rationally justified drives are confused with completely irrationally unjustified ones.

ScrFriedrich Merz, leader of the CDU

After Angela Merkel’s exit from the scene, a ruling class has established itself in the CDU/CSU which is going in a different direction, to the point of raising fears of a possible opening to the far right. Is this a well-founded fear?

Well, no… The CDU/CSU owes its successes to the fact that it is a solid bastion of German democracy and I highly doubt – especially until the AfD clarifies its internal extremist misunderstandings – that the Christian Democrats have any intention of making alliances with them.

It is also true that there may be policies of interest to the AfD’s electoral base and that may push CDU-CSU representatives to more conservative positions. However, if the CDU-CSU were to renounce its role as a democratic bastion it would pay in terms of loss of support. They had an honorable result in these European elections, the result of a campaign of moderation and caution, and no one then dreamed of calling for new elections other than the representatives of the AfD. Certainly not from the CDU/CSU.

Since the war, Germany has experienced a condition of overall convergence of the main political forces on basic issues concerning the national interest, in the name of stability, a value in which the Germans have always believed, at least according to the dominant narrative in Germany. The European vote suggests that this condition is being brought to an end. Maybe because it was only an apparent condition…

I don’t think it was apparent. Various guarantees that come directly from the Constitution make stability a primary value of German political culture, an essential factor.

The impression of instability that these elections gave is most likely due to the fact that they voted using pure proportional representation. There was no barrier and therefore there was a splitting of the vote which, not surprisingly, the Social Democratic leaders complained a lot about after the elections. This voting system, unusual in Germany, where there is a five percent threshold in all other elections, has undoubtedly penalized the SPD.

It may be true that Germany, like all of Europe – and for the reasons we said before – also suffers from the temptation to cede to pressures that tend to reduce the historic dominance of the traditional parties, but this result for the CDU/CSU seems completely at odds with this perception.

Yet Germany seems like a confused country today. And it should be said that it demonstrated, especially in the last two decades, a considerable ability to adapt to changing times. Just think of the arrival of many immigrants who, despite difficulties and problems, have generally integrated well into the fabric of society, to the point of even occupying important positions. Was there an excess of optimism in thinking that these processes were taking place in a constructive and overall non-conflictual way?

I think it’s too early to jump to such conclusions. We should analyze the results, we should see what and where the largest oscillations occurred. I imagine that these more specific analyses of the vote will be done in the coming days.

For now, more generally, certain historical factors and issues that date back a few decades and were only partially addressed are now coming home to roost and must be taken into consideration. If Germany historically has a conservative profile, its flexibility must also be highlighted; this must be recognized, and it has often produced successes for the SPD. However, it is also true that the concerns for Germany are less cyclical than structural. For some years now, towards the end of the Merkel era, a certain backwardness, even technological, had been felt in some fields which worried international observers, who already by around 2020 believed that the European country with the worst prospects for growth and development in the following decade would be Germany.

Which leads me to say that the Scholz government, in addition to its own political errors, is also paying, so to speak, for the end of the Merkel era, which is also the end of the pursuit of European stability linked to the stability of Germany. This political path has hidden structural problems that will now probably emerge forcefully, without however forgetting that Chancellor Scholz’s most courageous undertaking, the rearmament of Germany in the face of the Russian threat, is a choice that also weighs heavily on the delicate economic points, and which alienated some sympathies. Germany, and it must be said in its favor, has traditionally been a country that has not been militaristic since the Second World War and has tended to be inclined towards diplomatic accommodations in every crisis situation. This is what Merkel interpreted very well in her time.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz

What might be the reverberations of the aftermath of the German vote on the European picture? There is a crisis of the Franco-German axis in the presence of the changes in France. And, as regards Italy in its relationship with Germany and Europe, could the affirmation of right-wing sovereigntist forces in the two countries paradoxically create more misunderstandings and difficulties than there are today?

Though the Franco-German axis may appear to be damaged by these elections, this is due to the crisis of the two parties that the leaders of the two nations, Macron and Scholz, express at the moment. It doesn’t seem to me that the Franco-German axis is structurally in crisis. I think it will probably reorganize itself around new figures and new political forces. We can already see a softening of the tone of the Rassemblement National in France, which suggests that perhaps there will still be a convergence, if nothing else of sentiments, between whoever emerges victorious in the next elections in France and Germany in its future structures.

As regards Italy and its relationship with Europe, I observe that the two parties on the right which at the moment appear closest to Europe won, especially Forza Italia, which had a result I would say was almost unexpected, perhaps due to its proximity to Europe.

If certain results in some European countries, in addition to France and Germany, are due to a dissatisfaction with the European policies pursued and the centrality of the Franco-German axis, a result that is truly worrying in this sense is that of Austria.

In Austria, although the traditional parties held sway, FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) emerged as the leading party. It is the party founded by Haider, who then distanced himself from it in a more moderate way and in any case continued with a decidedly extremist line. Austria is a very particular country: there is historical dissatisfaction with the rest of Europe, there is the ambition to count more, to be central in European policies, while its role is inevitably subordinated to that of Germany and often had to go along with it. Furthermore, Austria has always been part of the so-called “Frugal Four” group, therefore always getting crushed into positions that were those of countries larger and stronger than it. And now maybe they’re scared.

Translation by Paul Rosenberg

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Germany, the Days After. We Speak with Luca Crescenzi ultima modifica: 2024-06-10T20:00:31+02:00 da SANDRA PAOLI
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