BERLIN — The legacy of Konrad Adenauer, the first ever chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, was quite tangible, namely a stabilized albeit largely destroyed and indebted nation deeply tied to the West. Willy Brandt's legacy was Ostpolitik, the lean eastward as well as his unforgettable genuflection at the Warsaw Ghetto uprising memorial. Helmut Schmidt left behind a stable and strengthening economy. Helmut Kohl brought about Germany's reunification. And Gerhard Schröder gave us the "Agenda 2010" and the refusal to join U.S. President George W. Bush in the hare-brained scheme that was the second Iraq war.
But what about Angela Merkel's legacy? The economic powerhouse that Germany has become is not necessarily her doing. So what else will she leave behind? How about the sudden nuclear power phase-out, the scrapping of compulsory military service, the demonstrative opening of Germany's borders, a culture of welcome that most recently has also extended to the passage of gay marriage. To cut a long story short: the modernization of her CDU party towards a Christian, green, socially-democratic people's party.
Is this Angela Merkel's real legacy?
This is arguably the single most important change within the German political party landscape. But it's not, of course, without its consequences. The Social Democratic SPD party must, for the first time in its 150-year history, fear for its survival as the party of the people. The new CDU has taken its place in the political landscape, which in turn was left behind by the Green Party and The Left party.
On the conservative end of the spectrum, however, the new CDU has left a sizeable gap, and it is this gap that the nationalist AfD is now trying to fill, quite successfully in fact. What has long been a missing right-wing alternative now exists, though it's open for question just how democratic the AfD is given the racist, nationalist, xenophobic and loutish conspiracy theorists it has attracted. This is the consequence of a seismic change within the German political landscape. And it begs the question: Is this Angela Merkel's real legacy?
Anti-Merkel protest in Berlin on Sept. 9 — Photo: Omer Messinger/ZUMA
Ahead of the coming parliamentary elections we do not really have the choice between two candidates, two parties or two different coalitions but only the choice of possible coalition partners for Merkel's CDU, which is well ahead in the polls.
Those who want to get rid of Merkel only really have the choice between voting for the extremes of The Left party or the AfD. That is what I call caught between a rock and a hard place. A rainbow coalition is the only viable alternative. And the potential coalition partners are doing everything in their power to put on a controversial election show on the political stage to distract us from recognizing this as true and lulling us into a false sense of security. It's their way of making us believe our vote still counts.
Let's face it: Merkel will stay in power.
SPD's Martin Schulz hurls his demands, such as gay marriage, at the masses and is utterly perplexed when the chancellor has beaten him to it, just like the tortoise beat the hare in the famous fairy tale. He also nonchalantly demands the withdrawal of all U.S. nuclear missiles from German soil, hoping to snatch a few votes away from The Left party, with whom he refuses to enter into coalition because of its demand that Germany leave NATO.
Cem Ӧzdemir of the Green Party is trying to ingratiate himself with the CDU, while the party's would-be theologian Katrin Göring-Eckardt is brimming with moral self-contentment and unctuous self-promotion. All of these people, and I really mean all, are hungering for a position, no matter how insignificant, in Merkel's next coalition government. Even Christian Lindner of the FDP, the only alternative to Merkel for bourgeoisie voters, is really angling to be part of Merkel's cabinet in the end.
So let's face it: Merkel will stay in power. She has rendered the opposition innate and leaves voters no choice but to vote for her. One of the fundamental principles of democracy, namely to be able to vote a government out of power, has been side-lined by all parties in the fight for who will become mummy's next darling.
Thus this pantomime of an election campaign is finally drawing to a close with only one true novelty: The AfD, it is safe to say, will be in parliament, no matter what. With that in mind, it may yet be an historical election after all, albeit one with an unwanted result. For the first time ever, a far right wing party will be sitting in the Bundestag in the Reichstag building. Sadly, yes, this too will be part of Angela Merkel's legacy.
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