Friday, September 16, 2005
The German Election & Hurrican Katrina
In 2002, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, facing a tough re-election resorted to a tried and true formula in the "Old Europe"--run against Bush. Throughout 2002, the Bush administration had been sticking its finger in Berlin's eye over global warming, trade, and the International Criminal Court. The result was that, according to a poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the German Marshall Fund of the United States at the time, 62 percent of Germans rated American foreign policy as either fair or poor. And that led Schroeder, facing a tough reelection challenge, to curry public favor by slamming the Bush administration's Iraq policy. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, Schroeder faces another election and it is no secret that the Bushniks are supporting his opponent, Angela Merkel of the Christian Democratic Party.
In Today's editions, Deutche Welle ran an article entitled Merkel's Fans In Washington which states (in part)
After riding a wave of anti-Bush sentiment to victory in 2002, Germany's miserable economic state has forced Schröder to focus on domestic issues in his uphill battle to re-election. Opinion polls show that Merkel, candidate for the Christian Democrats, has a good chance at becoming the country's first female chancellor. But up to 30 percent of the electorate remains undecided. Merkel, 51, has said that one of her priorities if elected would be mending the poisoned relationship with the United States, while still not sending troops to Iraq. Washington is also interested in her aggressive pro-free market agenda. Although Bush officials refuse to publicly comment on the outcome of the Sunday vote, privately they say a Merkel victory would be a welcome change.
"If the administration representatives are honest they'll tell you 'Well this is a fresh start and Merkel's victory would be a good thing'," said Jackson Janes, director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.
"We got a lot of leftovers with the Schröder team and we'll probably never be able to change that, so if we get a new team in Berlin it's an opportunity." Janes and others warned, however, that if Merkel wins on Sunday, the Bush administration shouldn't rush to pop the champagne corks. "I don't think that we here in Washington should escalate our expectations that her parameters would be significantly bigger than Schröder's," Janes said.
The Bushniks were, undoubtedly, rubbing their hands with glee mumbling "Rückzahlung ist ein bitch!" as they laundered support to the Merkel faction hoping to "pay back" Schroeder for his independence from the White House. Then Came Katrina.
Just as he leveraged the electorate's dusgust with Bush's foreign policy culminating in the saber-rattling over Iraq in 2002, Katrina provides Schroeder with an important disconnect between the German psyche and the Bushniks supporting Ms Merkel.
Images of poverty, social safety net failures, and bungled leadership suddenly soured the milk of closeness between the Christian Democrats and the American Republican party and their advisors. Striking at a pivotal issue for the Greens and the Social Democratic base, Shroeder's supporters were quick to link Katrina with the Kyoto Accord and global warming.
The Bush administration's withdrawal from Kyoto is highly unpopular in Europe. Jürgen Trittin, a Green Party member, who takes space in the Frankfurter Rundschau, a paper friendly with the Social Democrats, to bash US President George W. Bush's environmental laxity. He begins by likening the photos and videos of the hurricane stricken areas to scenes from a Roland Emmerich sci-fi film and insists that global warming and climate change are making it ever more likely that storms and floods will plague America and Europe.
"There is only one possible route of action," he writes. "Greenhouse gases have to be radically reduced and it has to happen worldwide. Until now, the US has kept its eyes shut to this emergency. (Americans) make up a mere 4 percent of the population, but are responsible for close to a quarter of emissions." He adds that the average American is responsible for double as much carbon dioxide as the average European. "The Bush government rejects international climate protection goals by insisting that imposing them would negatively impact the American economy. The American president is closing his eyes to the economic and human costs his land and the world economy are suffering under natural catastrophes like Katrina and because of neglected environmental policies."
But the impact from Katrina on the German Elections doesn't end with the environmental parry. Merkel's economic assumptions are in jeaprody.
The shockwaves from Hurricane Katrina reached the German electoral campaign yesterday as economists warned the sharp rise in oil prices could throw the next government's economic reform plans into disarray. Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, the frontrunner ahead of the September 18 election, could come under pressure to delay a planned rise in value-added tax once in power because of concerns about the damping effect of record petrol prices on consumer demand, they said. "The [petrol price] rise could make it easier for the FDP [the CDU's likely coalition partner, which opposes the VAT rise] to persuade the CDU not to raise VAT as much as it wants to or to delay the increase," said Holger Schmieding at Bank of America.
Katrina blows cold on German reform plan By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin Published: September 2 2005
The latest polls on election eve still predict a Christian Democratic victory, but Chancellor Schroeder has found new momentum as the precepts a strong public institutions gain new currency.
Will we see the same at work in the United States in 2006?
One can hope.