Wherever German Chancellor Angela Merkel goes, protests follow. So when she landed in Lisbon two days before the Southern European general strike on November 14, 2012, the international press expected similar scenes to that which took place in Athens when tens of thousands demonstrated against her visit to the Greek capital.
Unfortunately, the demonstration on that Monday afternoon only attracted a couple of hundred leftists under the banner “Fora Merkel!” – Merkel must go. Riot police and metal fences separated protesters from the Presidential Palace where Merkel met with members of the Portuguese cabinet.
In Athens, placards and posters read, “Merkel in Athens is like Hitler in Paris.” These would be echoed later in Cyprus where teenagers took to the streets earlier in 2013.
Outside the Presidential Palace in Lisbon, a small group of rebel clowns carried a Merkel effigy with a large swastika covering her torso. When protesters couldn’t break through the lines of riot police, they burnt the effigy. Interestingly, there were actually more police present at this small demonstration than on the day of the general strike itself, when protesters laid siege on parliament and even attempted to storm it. The message was clear: Merkel is worth protecting more than the institutions of Portuguese democracy.
If the Treaty of Maastricht is synonymous with the neoliberal Europe, then Merkel’s name will become synonymous with the break-up of Europe.
The world’s most powerful woman – if one is to believe Forbes – is a figure of deep-seated hatred in Southern Europe. Yet, she can rely on subservient heads of states. In the Greek press, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Deputy PM Evangelos Venizelos have been aptly labelled “Merkelitses” – Merkel’s followers. Most recently, Manuel Barroso stated: “We need many Germanys in Europe.”
End of the European project?
The fundamental changes occurring in the eurozone have put “Europe” as a political entity into question. Some commentators have argued that the casualties of the current crisis are the so-called “European project” and “European integration”. Previously on Al Jazeera, I wrote that if the Treaty of Maastricht is synonymous with the neoliberal Europe, then Merkel’s name will become synonymous with the break-up of Europe.
Both fall short of what is ultimately happening at the moment. Instead, Merkel has redefined the parameters of the European project. It was telling that Merkel didn’t mention the euro-crisis once during her election campaign but the day following the elections, she reiterated that she is everyone’s chancellor and added that the vote represents a clear mandate to pursue her European policy. The crux of this European policy is to create a new type of Europe, a Merkel-fied Europe.
Merkel is shaping countries in her own image. With Germany’s exports accounting for more than 50 percent of Germany’s GDP, the New Europe will be Merkel’s paradise.
This Europe is not going to be based on any kind of US model. It will not need army bases all over the planet. It will not have to conquer half of the world like Britain once did. It will be based on high productivity and low wages. The devaluation of the euro, twinned with the high productivity of the German export industry and low labour costs, resulted in a competitive advantage for Germany’s export industry. It has created creditor nations in the centre and indebted states in the periphery complementary to the German model. As President of the Employers, Dieter Hundt said, “No European country unilaterally owns enough power and potential to compete with the strong and rising world regions. Either Europe will hold itself together against the USA, China and Russia or it won’t play any role in global politics.”
The Hartz-model developed by the SPD-Green coalition and optimised by Merkel is “alternativlos“[De] – without an alternative – as Merkel has stated time and again. Now it’s time to export it. Merkelmania will mean that no one will “live above their means” any longer. Merkel doesn’t want to solve the crisis of capitalism on its old terms. She wants to create a new kind of capitalism – on the ruins of the old welfare states and democracy. She cloaks this promise of a new world in the language of “European values” which amount to nothing other than Deutschmark-nationalism transposed to the European level.
The EU needs a new vision. The old community of peace doesn't convince the young generation any longer.
In this context, the calls for a European social contract, more integration or a supra-national state, are not only utopian but, more importantly, are a fig leaf for continued German domination of Europe. In whose interest would such a US of Europe be? In no one else’s other than that of those who have caused the current trade imbalances and the ensuing political polarisation. As long as interstate rivalries and competition between states continue, it remains mere wishful thinking to hope for a US of Europe.
There is no turning-back to the old days of social-democracy and the welfare state. The economic meltdown of 2008 did not culminate in a new era of reformism and social democracy, let alone bring about a European-wide Tobin tax or a European minimum wage. Instead, we witness how in the name of productivity and competitiveness, wages in the European South are slashed by 25 percent in some cases. Does anyone even remember French President Francois Hollande’s promise to introduce a 75 percent tax on the wealthy, which immediately found itself outlawed by the French High Court?
There is no turning back for capitalism. There is no return to the golden years of the 1960s. For Merkel there is no turning back to political stability coupled with economic growth. In the new Europe it’s either capitalist growth or political stability. In order to achieve one, she has to reconfigure the other. Germany’s internal market cannot realise new value so it has to create new markets and new debtors. The countries in the periphery of the EU are being reduced to places where surplus value can be invested profitably. Thus, it should be no surprise that Former Vice Chancellor Phillip Roesler continued to argue[De] for the fire sale of Greek state assets and low capital taxation, or that Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann says, “The EU needs a new vision. The old community of peace doesn’t convince the young generation any longer.” Is he arguing for war?
Merkel has created the European “Union” in Napolean’s image. While Napoleon spread the official values of the French Revolution to other countries, Merkel spreads the German values – efficiency, productivity and competitive advantage – today. Leading CDU member, Volker Kauder, once said, “In Europe they now speak German.” Unfortunately it is true that the language and values of capitalist growth and fiscal stability are now common currency.
The parallels with Napoleon are striking. During Napoleon’s reign there were local ruling classes and sections of the enlightened view that saw Napoleon’s and France’s values of egalite, liberte, fraternite as superior to their own values. Napoleon’s French nationalism spread like wildfire and led to the development of nationalism around the globe, and now, Merkel’s German values are infecting a whole world. In doing so, she is reshaping the continent in a way that only Napoleon Bonaparte did. This might be inadvertent, but the outcomes will be comparable. Much like the Napoleonic Wars in the first decade of the 19th century that involved every European country, Merkel is engaged in a series of conflicts with every European country.
Napoleon led France to a number of victories that secured its hegemonic position in continental Europe. While Napoleon maintained the French sphere of influence through the formation of extensive alliances and the elevation of friends and family members to rule other European countries, Merkel has her friends in the IMF, ECB and the European Commission. She has been able to seamlessly act through them. Just as Napoleon’s personality was described as mesmerising, so is Merkel’s personality key to her success. Henry Kissinger once famously stated that, “Germany was too small for the world and too big for Europe.” Under Angela Merkel this no longer holds true.
Mark Bergfeld grew up in the suburbs of Koeln, Germany. He holds a Bachelor’s in PPE and a Master’s in Sociology, and is an activist and writer.