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Sunday, February 22, 2004
Germany on the decline

Much is going wrong these days here. A high-tech truck toll system that was intended to be implemented on Germany's autobahn collapsed because the plans were too ambitious (even though abroad, people are rather shaking their heads concerning our can deposit frenzy). Though in a recent newsweek ranking of the power of nations, Germany came in second, the nation is on the decline, as Tom Goeller points out:
If no one has the courage to end the economic recession with deep, sharp cuts of the welfare state, Germany not only will continue to hurt itself but also kill the European single currency. For three years there has been no economic growth in Germany. It is easily foreseeable that Germany's deficit will continue to exceed the limit of the 3 percent of gross domestic product that the euro zone countries agreed to. Finance Minister Hans Eichel admitted recently that there is no way he'll meet his goal of balancing the national budget by 2006.
Schröder has stepped down as party chairman (he still is chancellor), but this is only going to accelerate his fall. He is perceived as a strange fellow by many Socialists in his party, the SPD, and the new chairman - Franz Müntefering - has already announced he would "slow down" reforms (what an expression! Imagine a farmer sitting on a truck driving with 5mph at you, shouting at you from a distance of 200 meters: "CAREFUL THERE, I must slow down!"). Germans are - deep down in their hearts - extremely Conservative people (even the Socialists); every change is seen as an intrusion, everything has to remain as it is. The freshness and the optimism that the US are famous for would be very helpful here.

The gravest mistake is and remains the deliberate strain of the relation with the US, though the average opinion concerning Germany has recovered recently. But Schröder seems to have noted that France alone is not an option, so he is trying to add Britain to the French-German axis. As EURSOC (fine blog on European affairs) writes,
Germany, which bridges western and central Europe and symbolised the continent's division for over forty years, deserves a pivotal role in the EU. Hitching its horse to France's wagon is clearly not the best way for Germany to win friends with central Europe's nations.
Blair can certainly help Schröder to open some doors in the US, though only a new chancellor will be able to clean up the mess of the current government. This year, 14 elections will take place in Germany; in contrast to the results in Iran, I hope the current government will get punished again for its incapability.