In Brussels last week, I ' found everyone waiting for Berlin. In Berlin, I found everyone electrified by a open elections . One thing, however, is clear: the new German government will be a coalition, and almost certainly three, rather than two, parties.
This points to the deepest question underlying this pivotal European event: Can democracy deliver? More precisely: can the European model change by democratic consensus, including Germany is an excellent example, producing the actions that Europe badly needs to keep itsfit for the 21st century?
The European Union is like a giant slot machine. The more pineapples or oranges lined up on the screen, the better the results. The German election will count for about four fruits in a row; The French presidential election next spring will turn three more. Italy and Spain contribute maybe two each, with the rest being generated by other European countries and European institutions.
According to the EU 's own treaties, in practice the alignment of national governments remains the key to any major initiative it takes. My Brussels friends constantly talk about “the Germans” pushing this or “the French” pushing that. Most of the commissioners thEuropeans retain a national tinge. Even the b ig the transcontinental party groupings in the European Parliament are strongly influenced by the national parties of the larger Member States. For the union to work well, there needs to be a coalition of coalitions made up of coalitions.
Critics constantly speak of a "democratic deficit" within the EU but in reality almost the opposite is true. The system is so complicated and so slow, precisely because it requires the consent of 26 democratically elected governments plus Hungary, as well as a democratically elected European parliament and sometimes also subnational states and regions. The EU is a permanent negotiation. The amazing thing is not that he moves slowly, but that he doesn't move at all.
A seizure can help. Without the Covid pandemic, we would not have the 750 billion euros (640 billion pounds sterling) ofe grants and loans, drawn from shared European debt, into the stimulus fund known as Next Generation EU. A giant poster on the side of the European Commission Berlaymont building in Brussels shows a young European leaping happily, with the words Next Gen EU splashed on one shin; but really a thorny virus should also be up there in the lights. An optimist would say that the floods in northwestern Europe and the forest fires in Greece have woken Europe up in the face of the climate crisis. Yet it is a strange policy that relies on successive crises for its survival.
In the capital of Germany, the central power of Germany Europe, the speech focuses on the different possible coalitions that could emerge from what will likely be months of inter-party talks after the federal elections on September 26. Wits remarks that long after the publication ofIn all obituaries on her 16 years in power, (acting) Chancellor Angela Merkel could still deliver the 2022 New Year's speech, wearing another of her colorful jackets.
Speaking of colors, the two most likely coalitions are described as" Jamaica "(the colors of the ag island fl: black for Christian Democrats, yellow for Free Democrats and Greens) or “traffic light” (substituting the red of the Social Democrats for the black of the Christian Democrats). The two coalitions are said to be resolutely pro-European. A analysis of party manifestos shows that the Greens and the Free Democrats have the most favorable federalist visions of integration for Europe, albeit with important differences between them. Armin Laschet, the Christian Democrat candidate for chancellor, is a West European orClassical East German, with a statue of Charlemagne in his office. (His brother asserts that the family actually descends from Charlemagne.) There is no doubt that his personal European commitment.
Overall, however, it seems to me that the traffic light coalition would be the most likely to give Europe the green light. Last Sunday's televised debate between the candidates for chancellor apparently reinforced the view of a plurality of Germans that Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats - the strong, stable and experienced finance minister and vice-chancellor - is the best qualified to succeed Merkel. I tend to agree with them.
All parties from the two most likely coalitions seem to have finally grasped the urgency to fight against climate change andin their own way, are determined to work with the powerful German business sector to organize the necessary economic transformation. The devil is in the details, but it will undoubtedly strengthen the EU's own green initiatives, led by Commission Vice-Chairman Frans Timmermans.
Where the traffic light coalition scores points over Jamaica is in the eurozone. Either one of these tripartite coalitions would almost certainly be a hardline German finance minister in Christian Lindner of the Free Democrats. (He once told me 'there is only one ministry in Berlin', which is the finance ministry.) But a Chancellor Scholz would be more susceptible than the Democrats - fiscally conservative Christians to show the pragmatic flexibility that will be necessary not only to prevent the eurozone from collapsing - any German governmentd would - but to make it work better for the long-suffering southern European economies.
Nonetheless, difficult coalition negotiations between three the parties will necessarily produce complex compromises and therefore a less clear and energetic impulse towards Brussels. And Germany is still only four pineapples. Assuming that French President Emmanuel Macron ends up fighting in the last round of the presidential election next spring against nationalist populist Marine Le Pen, we hope he wins. But having spent some time in France recently, I feel a lingering unease. The populist witch brew that combines themes of immigration, Islam, terrorism and crime into one spooky tale is very powerful in France. An unforeseen event, such as a terrorist attack on the eve of the second round, may well cause the unthinkable to happen.e produce.
Europe also needs the Italian "Super Mario" Draghi to remain prime minister, rather than become the country's president, possibly triggering an election in which nationalist populists might also do well. And he needs a sane government to stay in power in Spain. Then and only then would you have, by the middle of next year, the necessary alignment for a post-Covid period of dynamic European reform.
All of this is possible, but very far from certain. The emerging government in Berlin is the first, but only the first, test of whether the European model of change by democratic consensus can bear fruit. If democracy does not measure up, young Europeans will look for alternative models. In an EU wide opinion poll carried out last year for my research team in Oxford, 53% of young Europeans said that 'they believed that authoritarian states were better equipped than democracies to fight global warming. Europe 's challenge is to prove otherwise - and not just for the climate crisis.