The Battle for Berlin

There is a battle raging for Berlin. It is not only an internal struggle between German elites and the parties that represent their interests. This battle has an international dimension. For the last 70 years, Germany has lived in a tandem with the United States. The deal was such: in exchange for the Marshall Plan and access to American markets, Germany agreed to integrate into the West. President Trump’s speech at Davos this February marked the end of that era.

WEF-2018: Everybody First Fyodor Lukyanov
If America, with its power, influence, capabilities and share in the world economy proclaims itself "First", it thereby sets the tone. So everyone will have to follow it and also to become "first of all." It's hardly worth to be glad about it. But we must be ready, writes Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club about results of the World Economic Forun in Davos.

To understand the battle of Berlin we cannot separate internal and external processes. Trump’s “come to America” call sent shivers through the Berlin establishment. Trump’s programme is simple at its core: to make America “great again” at the expense of the wealth and talent of the rest of the world. This “great hoover” strategy will deepen the rifts and challenges faced by the rest of the world. Its prime victim will be prosperous Europe. 

The European Union and its locomotive Germany cannot compete with American tax cuts. German businesses will flee across the Atlantic where they can earn greater profits. What Trump declared is not a trade-war, it is worse in the long-run: a financial war in which Europe cannot retaliate. Although Germany currently runs a budget surplus, it is crippled by political divisions. What will the political picture look like when recession hits the country?

Grand Coalitions are the ultimate symbol of the epoch that is fading before our eyes. That epoch was the epoch of one hegemon, one dominating opinion and one mainstream party consensus. It was marked by a retreat of “big ideas” in politics and the advent of fine-tuning. Parties no longer clashed over the different futures for society. Rather, party debates became centered on numbers: “Shall we raise taxes by 2%? Shall we increase social aid for single mothers?” The debate was lost in technicalities, as the mainstream parties, who shared the same guiding star, dominated. The base of the mainstream’s power was political apathy among voters who had become more concerned about their income at the end of the month than by ideas of social justice, or of societal progress. Today, this foundation of the mainstream’s power in Germany and across the West is fast eroding.

Fighting against historical current, Merkel and Schulz are desperately trying to hold together the Grand Coalition. If an election were held now, Afd and die Linke would gain even more votes than they did at the September election. The SPD and CDU/CSU would be in even greater complications than they are now.

The Germany of today, at the centre of a European economic empire, is the child of Angela Merkel, Steinmeier and their allies in Brussels. At all costs, Merkel is fighting for the survival of the system that she has built. Merkel’s attempt to engineer another Grand Coalition is not only an attempt to maintain her party in power. It is an attempt to buy time until a worthy successor can be found to nurture her project of a European Union “of the people, by the people, for Germany.” If Merkel were to fall now, her system of “Germany first” would be plunged into chaos.

The Days of Chaos in Berlin Mathias Brueggmann
Formation of a new government in Germany opens up opportunities for a stronger Europe and more cooperation with Russia.

Merkel’s hopes are empty: a successor will not emerge. Germany cannot escape the onset of a new political era. Trump’s domestic reforms have launched an unavoidable global process. As the “greater hoover” begins to operate, existing political and economic troubles across the world will deepen. As a result, the “politics of ideas” will reemerge. Artificially prolonging Germany’s period of Grand Coalitions will only strengthen the far-right and far-left. As in 1918, revolutionary clouds are gathering from below. The more the centre holds on to power, the more dramatic will be its fall at the next elections. There is no light at the end of Merkel’s tunnel.

But there is light beyond her. Trump’s administration, through their America-centric reforms, are pushing the world towards multi-polarity. Those states that suffer most from the flight of capital and of people will be pushed to collaborate by necessity. Germany holds a chance to survive. That chance is a pivot East towards the Middle East and Greater Eurasia. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.