Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
WHEN politicians seek to portray themselves as saints, trouble is around the corner. Given the manner in which politics is conducted across the world, it is impossible to excel in that blood sport without cutting several corners. In the case of the first female Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, this included her going against the individual who had ensured her rise for over 15 years, Helmut Kohl. When it became clear that Kohl was becoming unpopular, Frau Merkel began distancing herself from him, finally leaving him in the ditch to get elected as the leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at dawn of the new century. Since then, she has shown herself to be ruthless in dealing with potential rivals, as is clear from the fact that no fewer than five politicians have each served as her Deputy since Frau Merkel became Chancellor in 2005.
Each was removed not for not so much losing ground as in developing a base independent of their boss while holding the position of her deputy, thereby potentially becoming her successor. The result has been that the second line in the CDU is so lacklustre and unattractive to the electorate. The Chancellor wants only a single star within her party (and indeed the country) and that is herself. Those close to Frau Merkel say that she secretly covets the Nobel Peace Prize and has tried to work out a strategy to get the honour. This would explain her otherwise inexplicable move last year to absorb what will finally balloon before 2020 into three million refugees from North Africa and West Asia entering into her somewhat insular country in case the Open Door policy favoured by the German Chancellor continues into the next months. Of course, the gesture ensured global headlines for Frau Merkel, including TIME calling her the “Chancellor of the Free World”.
Clearly she has read TIME, for recently she gave a somewhat pompous lecture to incoming US President Donald Trump about “democratic values”. It will be noted that the policy favoured for migrants from terror-stricken and terrorist-infested areas is the opposite of that pushed by the German Chancellor. The terror attack on a Berlin Christmas market by a young Tunisian migrant has begun a process of rethinking within the German electorate that appears certain to ensure the defeat of Angela Merkel and her party next year. In like fashion, the terror attacks in Paris have given Marine Le Pen the best chance within the contestants for becoming President of French Republic next year, despite the commentaries awarding the prize prematurely to Francois Fillon, victor over Nicholas Sarkozy in their party primaries.
The French seek change, just as US voters did, and Fillon does not represent much change from the past, no matter how sharply he seeks to delink himself from the past. More than Fillon, it is Le Pen who resembles Donald Trump, with her sharply defined views on national and international affairs. Although her rivals have sought to paint Marine Le Pen as a political extremist and a bigot, such a characterisation would be unfair. The reality is that the lady has substantially steered the National Front party away from the extremely reactionary and racist positions taken by her father Jean-Marie. Indeed, the daughter of the National Front founder has been determined in ensuring that her father and those subscribing to his extreme views no longer have a safe space in party he dominated for decades, and voters in France have sophistication needed to find this out for themselves.
To discover the difference between Jean-Marie Le Pen and Marine Le Pen, hence the prospects for a victory by her in Round Two of the Presidential polls is high, mainly because making it to the ultimate round will convince many “soft” supporters of her that there is a high chance of Marine Le Pen becoming Head of State of one of the most internally civilised countries on the planet. In Round Two, such voters are likely to come out of the closet and openly support her, way soft Trump voters emerged once billionaire businessperson got nominated as the Republican candidate for the Presidency of United States. Angela Merkel is very similar to Hillary Clinton, in that both are highly scripted politicians who clearly speak out of cue cards and who talk in Politically Correct-speak.
In contrast, Donald Trump has never hidden the fact that he is confident in being himself, despite being advised against this repeatedly throughout the Presidential campaign, including by those close to him. Finally, it was this courage to speak his mind , even about Russia, that charmed millions of voters across the US to choose him over Hillary Clinton, who ended up as the candidate of the two coats of her country while being rejected by its heartland. However, unlike in France, where the unpopularity of a sitting Head of Government will lead to the election of a “Right Wing” successor, in Germany it is the Social Democratic Party (SPD) that is likely to emerge the gainer out of a Merkel collapse.
Indeed, the individual who was her predecessor, Gerhardt Schroeder, was possibly the best Chancellor that his country ever had since Bismarck more than a century ago. Schroeder forced through the changes in policy that led to the success of the German economy after his term, a success for which Frau Merkel took the credit. The present German Chancellor is so determined to stamp out all or any influence of Gerhardt Schroeder that she has inspired several negative press reports about him, especially his friendships in Russia, a country also loathed by the political foes of Trump.
So deep is her hatred for Schroeder that Chancellor Merkel has kept away from top jobs in Berlin even outstanding individuals just because they have been ( or still are) close to the former Chancellor. An example is Michael Steiner, who was Foreign Policy Advisor to Chancellor Schroeder, and who understands the world far better than most of his peers do, but who has been sidelined by Chancellor Merkel as a consequence of her Schroeder Phobia. Ironically, it will be the SPD that may be expected to come to power in the coming polls in a victory made possible by the unpopularity of a CDU led by Merkel.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.